Anybody who plays a guitar and is a fan of blues rock has played Star Spangled Banner, Jimi Hendrix version. Of course not all are as successful as others. Simply playing the notes of the Star Spangled Banner without the Jimi Hendrix effects and feedback would already make some happy. But even the best versions could not come near Jimi Hendrix's powerful interpretation of the American national anthem at Woodstock.
The version Jimi Hendrix played was described by Dick Cavett, when he interviewed Hendrix in his show sometime after Woodstock, as unorthodox. It probably was, in 1969.
But the first controversial interpretation of the national anthem happened a year earlier during the 1968 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers. Jose Feliciano was invited to sing the pre-game national anthem in Game 5 of the World Series. With guitar in hand, Jose Feliciano rendered his soulful interpretation of the national anthem. He did not sing the national anthem "straight" as was expected.
By today's standards, any artist singing their own interpretation of the national anthem is already commonplace. Sports fans obviously enjoy it. But in 1968, it was considered by some as a serious offence. Jose Feliciano's career took a nosedive as a backlash. Some headlines referred to the soulful anthem as the Starry Spangled. But Jose Feliciano said, he sang it soulfully as an act of patriotism.
Jimi Hendrix said exactly the same thing to Dick Cavett, about his interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. He said, "I'm American, so I played it." He disagreed with Dick Cavett's comment that his interpretation of the national anthem was unorthodox and told him in turn, "I didn't think it was unorthodox, I thought it was beautiful."
It was indeed beautiful. The Star Spangled Banner Hendrix played on his Fender Stratocaster was the most riveting song he played at Woodstock.
Jimi Hendrix came on stage 8 a.m. Monday morning. He was Woodstock's closing act. He played some of his songs in the opening minutes, including Hear My Train A Coming, Red House, Foxy Lady, and Voodoo Child. Then he started playing Star Spangled Banner to the crowds amazement.
By the time Hendrix played Star Spangled Banner on Monday morning, the Woodstock crowd had considerably thinned out. There were only about 30,000 - 40,000 die hard stalwarts in the field. Many of the almost 400,000 fans who trooped to the Woodstock Music and Art Festival during the weekend had all but gone.
But Jimi Hendrix wasn't concerned at all with the number of people. "You can leave if you want to," he said, "we're just jammin, that's all." He was there for the love of music and freedom.
Jimi Hendrix played Star Spangled Banner on his 1968 White Stratocaster through Marshall amps. The music was loud, the sound reverberated, and Jimi deliberately created feedback. Jimi made his Strat wail like a suffering human, and he made anguished facial gestures to match the sound. He made his Strat sound like a helicopter, fire like a machine gun, and explode like a bomb -- a poignant reminder to everyone of the ongoing war raging in Vietnam, where young Americans fought and died, and many Americans protested.
In fact, many of the songs sung at the three-day Woodstock festival had political messages and were protest songs. It was an era of unrest and activism in America, and music was one of the avenues of free expression.
In the middle of the war-like noises Jimi Hendrix played on his guitar, he paused and played a line of Taps, before finishing Star Spangled Hendrix.