Michael Hill say fans were eyeing the skies when Jimi Hendrix played the national anthem at Woodstock


By Steve Newton

Ever since Woodstock happened, the music world’s been hearing about Jimi Hendrix’s performance at the fabled ’69 rock fest. I’ve seen some of the film footage and heard the recordings, and indeed the legendary guitarist appears in good form—but sometimes I wonder if his set was really as transcendent as the historians would have you think. According to Michael Hill, singer-guitarist for Michael Hill’s Blues Mob, it sure as hell was.

“Absolutely,” says the 47-year-old blues-rocker from his Brooklyn home, “absolutely. He played last, and it was, like, Monday morning, so the crowd had thinned out a lot and I got to be a lot closer to the stage. It was the kind of thing where, when he did ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, you were looking up for planes, ’cause there was nothing like that happening then. When you hear it now it’s fascinating, but then it was really amazing.”

After witnessing Hendrix use his Strat at Woodstock to imitate the sound of jets and bombs, Hill managed to get out to see him perform four more times, and the master’s influence is evident in the heavy brand of blues Hill practices today.

The guitarist—whose band makes its first Vancouver appearance at the Yale on Wednesday (April 26)—has released three albums on Chicago-based Alligator Records, including 1998’s speaker-shredding New York State of Blues. But while Hill says in his current bio that it was Hendrix who made him want to play guitar, he also points out that it was Bob Marley who made him want to write songs.

“Well, he was one of the people,” Hill clarifies. “Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield were also influences. But my father had a great record collection, and my mother played piano and sang, and they raised my brother and my sisters and myself to be cognizant of the civil-rights movement and to have a strong sense of identity, so the ideas for writing songs came from that.

“I mean, pop music is basically a medium that only talks about romance, but in the tradition of the blues, music was always about life—it wasn’t just limited to romance. It was about joy, about pain, love, sex, death. You know, lynchings. It really was the news of the day, and it was a voice for people who didn’t have a voice. That made it a really rich thing, and so we’re just trying to honour that tradition.”

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