Director John McDermott Talks New Jimi Hendrix Documentary, 'Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui'

Jimi Hendrix

Photo: Daniel Teheney/Authentic Hendrix LLC


Director John McDermott Talks New Jimi Hendrix Documentary, 'Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui'

Ahead of an exclusive premiere of the film this week, presented as part of the GRAMMY Museum's COLLECTION:live programming, caught up with McDermott to discuss how the documentary continues Hendrix's lasting legacy

GRAMMYs/Nov 17, 2020 - 06:45 am

Jimi Hendrix accomplished more in five years than most artists achieve in a lifetime. Songs like "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze" and "Voodoo Child" are classic rock staples. His innovation on the electric guitar influenced generations. He's responsible for seminal moments now emblazoned in the annals of rock: the time he set his axe ablaze at the Monterey Pop Festival or the time he played an instrumental version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" on a Sunday morning coming down at Woodstock. In the late 1960s, Hendrix was also the pensive leader of America's counterculture movement. 

The Seattle-born musician left us far too soon. On Sept. 18, 1970, the 27-year-old died at the bohemian Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill, England. The cause: asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates. Fortunately for fans, old and new, Hendrix left a cache of unreleased music. Now, thanks to archivist John McDermott and the Experience Hendrix family-run company, his lost music allows us to discover another untold chapter in the life of this mercurial musician. 

The new narrative: the backstory on the making of Rainbow Bridge, a bizarre and controversial independent movie released in 1971. Directed by Warhol acolyte Chuck Wein, the project was financed by a $500,000 advance from Reprise Records, with the promise of a Hendrix soundtrack. 

In his new documentary, Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui, McDermott attempts to set the record straight about this boondoggle. The feature-length film, which drops Nov. 20, includes never-before-released original footage and new interviews with those who were there. (Live In Maui, a two-CD/three-LP package that includes the free Maui concert at the foot of the Haleakalā volcano on July 30, 1970, in its entirety, arrives the same day.) 

On Wednesday (Nov. 18), the GRAMMY Museum will host an exclusive premiere of Music, Money, Madness as part of its COLLECTION:live programming. The event will also include a live panel discussion featuring some of Hendrix's closest family members and associates, including younger sister Janie Hendrix, former bassist Billy Cox, engineer Eddie Kramer and McDermott.

Ahead of the premiere, caught up with director John McDermott to discuss his personal Hendrix history, his insights on Music, Money, Madness … Jimi Hendrix in Maui, and why, 50 years on, the groundbreaking electric guitarist's music still resonates.

Before we talk about the documentary, I'm curious how you landed this dream job as "keeper of the Hendrix vault" in the first place.

In the late 1980s, I was working as a writer, producer and a director on various music projects. I was always fascinated by the Hendrix story. I had previously written about him for a major music magazine, and that opened up a friendship with Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer. From there, we worked on a book together, Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, which came out in 1992. It was not a traditional biography. We presented Jimi through the eyes of those closest to him. 

The idea of a tribute album came next [Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix]. Released in 1993, the record featured artists like Seal, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton. Some proceeds went to a United Negro College Fund scholarship fund created in Jimi's name. 

Shortly after, Eddie heard Jimi's father [James Al Hendrix] was involved in litigation over the ownership of his son's legacy, including the rights to Jimi's music, name and likeness. The Hendrix family asked me to help. Eventually, Al was victorious and all rights were returned to the Hendrix estate. That's when Al asked me to manage Jimi's music catalog. It's hard to believe that was 25 years ago. Since our first archival releases of unreleased Hendrix music in 1997, our mission has remained the same: keep Jimi in front of as many fans as possible. As a fan myself, I only came to truly appreciate Hendrix after his death … I never saw him live. For me, he was always this extraordinary artist with a fascinating story.

Speaking of fascinating stories, Music, Money, Madness Jimi Hendrix in Maui certainly fits the bill. It's a captivating tale of a strange yet seminal time for the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
What makes this show so fascinating is its uniqueness. Three weeks before he was playing to 500,000 [people] at the second Atlanta International Pop Festival. Then, he arrives on Maui to play for 700 people seated by astrological order at the side of a volcano … that was something only Jimi could do.

Why did you decide to tell the story of the making of Rainbow Bridge and the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Maui sojourn in the summer of 1970?

We've told the arc of Jimi's story before: from birth to death in Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child [2010]. In other archival releases, we've examined temporal moments such as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. 

The Maui performance is always one fans request the most. With this film, we wanted to drill down and recalibrate what this whole thing represented. If we were going to do it, we wanted to do it in a way that provided the context for this story and share all of what exists of film—using the complete concert performance at Haleakalā to tell the real story. Rainbow Bridge was clearly not a Jimi Hendrix project, but it only could have taken the form it did with him dying. Had he lived, it never would have taken this form. Maybe it might have been just an instrumental score for a surfing documentary … no one really knows. 

Since Jimi died in September, less than two months following these concerts, the Rainbow Bridge movie and accompanying soundtrack played a larger role in Jimi's initial posthumous legacy. With this movie, we want to reframe that story.

How did you reframe the story to specifically focus more on Jimi's story and the free Haleakalā concert? 

First, we recovered original footage from Jimi's time in Maui. This documentary was more about extracting that new footage and providing fresh context. In Rainbow Bridge, there [were] only 17 minutes of performance footage that was haphazardly put in the movie. Mitch [Mitchell] had to overdub his drums at Electric Lady Studios just to save the audio. 

Read: Jimi Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland' Turns 50

At the same time, you wanted to present an objective story, correct? How did you achieve this balance?
Definitely. You get the Hendrix side of the story listening to new interviews with surviving bandmates Mitchell and Billy Cox; Warner Bros. record executives; his engineer, Eddie Kramer; and others close to Jimi. We chatted with some of the original participants in the movie and included interview clips with [Rainbow Bridge director] Chuck Wein to tell their side. 

Fans need to understand how this chapter in Hendrix's career became blown up because of his death. To hear his bandmates talk about that time in Maui … that fascination that attracted me decades ago happens anew for kids around the world who appreciate the phenomena that was Jimi Hendrix. Take the Beatles film Eight Days A Week. Those who lived through that understand about the girls screaming at their shows—the tsunami and energy about the creation of that music—but that movie showed a new generation of global audiences what The Beatles really meant. In the same way, you can't fathom how amazing Jimi was until you see, hear and learn more about him. 

Why now? Did you plan the film's release to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Hendrix's death?

Not at all. Restoring the footage and the original audio took time. This is a project we had on the broiler for quite a while. We wanted to take time to get it right and speak to the right people. There is a temptation sometimes to get the easiest folks to speak, but often these people don't shed the greatest light on a subject. Originally, we had hoped to screen it at the Maui Film Festival this past June, but because of the pandemic, that didn't happen.

Why, a half-century since the electric guitar innovator and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient died, is the Hendrix legacy still important to preserve?
First, Jimi alone keeps his legacy alive. He is the guy who does the heavy lifting. Why is his legacy still so important? Compare it to what people would give to hear just one more wire recording from Robert Johnson. Because Jimi died so young, he left so many questions unanswered. Every one of these projects we release is another clue to that puzzle, from both a sonic and a visual perspective. Hendrix's appeal [resonates] with young people and remains with original fans. They, along with a growing global audience, see him as an ongoing touchstone: No matter the country where they are from, their gender, their race or their age … something about Jimi cuts right through.

'Band Of Gypsys': 5 Facts About Jimi Hendrix's Final Living Release | GRAMMY Hall Of Fame

Universal language: Why humans need music


Universal language: Why humans need music

Learn why music is truly a common language that is key to human development and evolution

GRAMMYs/Jul 3, 2017 - 11:51 pm

There's no doubt music finds a way into nearly every moment of our daily lives, whether it's marking milestones such as a first dance at a wedding, the soundtrack to our favorite movie or singing in the shower for fun. In fact, it's hard to imagine times when we are more than an ear-length away from hearing another song.

But why does music mean so much to us? A powerful form of communication that transcends all barriers — music is our common language, but why?

A composer and educator with a lifelong fascination for music, Adam Ockelford has traced our connection with music back to infants and caregivers. Infants are unable to follow words, but they are developmentally primed to trace patterns in sound, such as through the songs a caretaker sings to them. Therefore, understanding music is intuitive for humans, even at a very young age, and it encourages healthy development.

In addition, there may be another evolutionary purpose for music. Music provides a sense of sameness between humans — if you can copy the sounds someone else makes, you must be an ally. This synergy plays a role in human survival because it evokes empathy and understanding, a lesson we still learn from music in today's culture.

"Music is central to the notion of what it is to be human, and spans cultures, continents and centuries," writes Ockelford. "My music, your music, our music can bind us together as families, as tribes and as societies in a way that nothing else can."

Need a playlist? Check out our favorite songs of summer 2017 

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum
Ryan Lewis, Zach Quillen and Macklemore

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/


Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum

Hip-hop duo discuss their career beginnings and creating their GRAMMY-nominated album The Heist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Current seven-time GRAMMY nominees Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, along with their manager Zach Quillen, recently participated in an installment of the GRAMMY Museum's A Conversation With series. Before an intimate audience at the Museum's Clive Davis Theater, the hip-hop duo and Quillen discussed the beginning of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' career, having creative control over their work and recording their GRAMMY-nominated Album Of The Year, The Heist.

"I met somebody [who] had the same dedication as me, [who] put everything into the music, everything into the craft," said Ben Haggerty (aka Macklemore) regarding meeting Lewis. "I wanted a career and Ryan was somebody [who] had the same discipline and sacrificed everything."

"I think it took a little while before it became clear to me who [Macklemore] was going to be," said Lewis. "I think the first indication of that was with the song 'Otherside' from the VS. Redux EP]. … That song … embodied so much. It was a story nobody was telling. … It was just somebody who was dying to be on the mike and to say something."

Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and DJ/producer Lewis have been making music fans take notice since they released their debut EP, 2009's The VS. EP. They followed with VS. Redux, which reached No. 7 on the iTunes Hip-Hop chart. The duo made waves in 2011 with the release of their hit single "Can't Hold Us" featuring Ray Dalton. The next year Macklemore was featured on the cover of XXL Magazine's coveted freshman class issue, and Rolling Stone dubbed the duo an "indie rags-to-riches" success story.

Released in 2012, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' debut studio album, The Heist, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the No. 1 hits "Can't Hold Us" and "Thrift Shop," the latter of which reached multi-platinum status and remained on top of the charts for six weeks. The album garnered a nomination for Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album at the 56th GRAMMY Awards, while "Thrift Shop" earned a nod for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. The duo's Top 20 hit "Same Love" featuring Mary Lambert earned a nomination for Song Of The Year and has been adopted by some as a pro-equality anthem. The duo garnered additional nominations for Best New Artist and Best Music Video for "Can't Hold Us."

Upcoming GRAMMY Museum events include Icons Of The Music Industry: Ken Ehrlich (Jan. 14) and A Conversation With Peter Guralnick (Jan. 15).

Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The Ventures


Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2019 - 01:44 am

Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago. 

The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums. 

“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."

Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater. 

"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."

The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum

2020 GRAMMY Awards: Complete Nominees List

Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Scott Goldman and Julia Michaels

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/


Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Go inside the bright mind of one of pop's most promising singer/songwriters and learn about her songwriting process, her transition to the spotlight and the three female artists she admires

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2018 - 11:57 pm

Julia Michaels' career has soared within the past year. Already a talented songwriter with writing credits such as Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran, and Fifth Harmony to her name, Michaels took a leap of faith with the release of her third solo EP, 2017's Nervous System.

Listen Now: "Required Listening," Episode 3 With Julia Michaels

Though Michaels has admitted to being nervous about moving to the forefront as an artist in her own right, the gamble paid off. The single "Issues" went gangbusters all the way to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and her EP cracked the Top 50. Plus, the Davenport, Iowa, native scored two nominations for the 60th GRAMMY Awards: Song Of The Year for "Issues" and Best New Artist.

What makes Michaels tick musically, how did she overcome her trepidation and why does she rely on feelings to guide her songwriting?

You'll learn the answers and so much more on the latest episode of "Required Listening," the new music podcast by HowStuffWorks and the GRAMMY Museum in partnership with the Recording Academy.

"It depends on the person. A lot of the times I'll just talk to them [first]," said Michaels regarding collaborating with other artists. "I mean we're all human. We all cry the same. We all bleed the same. So I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible to be able to tell me things, even if the artist that I'm with doesn't write, just having them talk is lyrics in itself. You know, them explaining their day or expressing how they feel. It's like, "That's amazing ... if that's how you're feeling we should write that.'"

As a matter of fact, Michaels told the host of "Required Listening," GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Scott Goldman, that she lets her feelings pilot her songwriting instead of traditional conventions — a process that has yielded gems such as "Issues."

"I'm not that calculated when I write," said Michaels. "I'm all heart when I write so I don't think about the algorithm of a song or the mathematics of a song. I just think, 'This feels good to me,' and just kind of go with that."

When peppered by Goldman with a question about coming into the limelight as a recording artist, Michaels was quick to point out that she has benefitted from plenty of help and encouragement.

"I think a lot of people have helped me get there," said Michaels. "My manager, Beka Tischker, she's been with me for six years. She's always believed in me. … And this year a lot of people have come into my life. I mean even my band — Dan Kanter, who's my guitar player … he's been with me since the beginning of the artist transition. I can't even do it without him at this point. ... There's a lot of people in my life, especially this year, that have made me feel comfortable and confident."

Speaking of confidence, Michaels has taken cues from plenty of her self-assured peers. She cited three artists, in particular, who have inspired her career path.

"I'm not that calculated when I write. I'm all heart." — Julia Michaels

"[Pink is] a bad*," said Michaels. "I love Fiona Apple. I love a lot of artists that are not afraid to say what they want to say. I love artists that write their own music. Laura Marling — she's very much from her point of view, very much whatever she wants to do. And plus her voice is so haunting and beautiful."

"Required Listening" launched on GRAMMY Sunday, Jan. 28, with the first episode featuring an in-depth conversation with GRAMMY winners Imagine Dragons and the second detailing "The Defiant Ones" with Allen Hughes and Jimmy Iovine.

Future guests will include Sean "Diddy" Combs, Dan Auerbach, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, and Lindsey Buckingham and Christie McVie of Fleetwood Mac, among others.

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