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A Piece of Jimi Hendrix's Rainbow

How a calculating band of lawyers, promoters, cons and other vultures have plundered the grave of Jimi Hendrix

December 2, 1976
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
GAB Archive/Redferns

Part One: The Death

In the six years since Jimi Hendrix died, his legacy has become one of contemporary culture's most heavily trafficked "natural" resources. At last count there were four filmed documentaries; six books (one each in France and Germany, two each in the U.S. and U.K.); one magazine and uncounted boutiques and discotheques named after his song, "Foxy Lady"; eight albums from Warners and an amazing 49 bootleg LPs; two Jimi Hendrix archives (in Seattle and Amsterdam); a Jimi Hendrix Memorial Foundation (one of the sloppier rip-offs, about which more soon); and thousands of posters and pendants and T-shirts and buttons and busts, authorized and otherwise.

In addition, by spring of 1976, there'd been 165 different legal actions involving the Hendrix estate and perhaps as many more involving related figures, such as Warner Brothers and the estate of Michael Jeffrey, Hendrix's manager who died in 1973. Settlements have ranged widely, from $300,000 in back royalties that Mitch Mitchell claims he wrested from the Hendrix estate to $169 for telephone calls made by the distraught mother of an actress who appeared with Hendrix in one of his documentary films. A Swedish court recently ruled that Jimi Hendrix is the father of a six-year-old boy born to one Eva Sundkvist. Dozens of other actions are still pending and the lawyer keeping the running total says it isn't, over yet.

It's funny the way most people love the dead. Once you are dead, you are made for life.
– Jimi Hendrix

Eighteen months after he made this offhand statement, Jimi Hendrix was dead. So many of his friends and associates paraded through London's funky but fashionable Notting Hill Gate section in the month before he died, September 1970, it was as if the cliche about life passing before a victim's eyes had come true.

Jack Hammer, a musician and composer ("Great Balls of Fire") Hendrix had known in his early days in Greenwich Village, was there. His rap is a doozy; it goes on and on until, by his count, there are 22 coincidences in their lives, including an astonishing physical resemblance. Hendrix, he says, told him: "There are such things as two people who are so identical it's as if they were cloned one from the other." But Hammer believed it was nothing more than coincidence "until Hendrix died on my birthday, September 18th, two days after our conversation. The day we talked, the 16th, sitting at the same table at the Speakeasy with Jimi and me was Big Mama Cass, Janis Joplin and Jimi's manager, Mike Jeffrey, all now dead except me."

Hammer wrote and is intent on starring in a musical about Jimi's life, The Jimi Hendrix Story, on Broadway. "I was born to do it," he says. "If I can simply remind Jimi's fans of a great star whose fire burned out too soon, that'll make me happy."

Three days before he died, Hendrix appeared backstage at Ronnie Scott's, a nightclub in Soho where Eric Burdon was singing with his new band, War. Burdon and Hendrix had much in common, including Michael Jeffrey, who'd managed Burdon and the Animals before Hendrix. Hendrix told Burdon he wanted to sit in but he was too stoned. He did return the following night, straight enough to play. Burdon said later that Hendrix "really got into the last number, 'Tobacco Road,' but he never stepped out from War's back line."

That was the last music Hendrix played. Three days after the guitarist's death, Burdon was sitting in a BBC television studio, claiming that Hendrix had killed himself and that he, Burdon, was to go on, carrying "Jimi's legacy."

Also in London that month was Alan Douglas, a record producer who'd been associated with such diverse characters as Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, John Coltrane, Tim Leary, John Sinclair and Lenny Bruce, and whose New York apartment was a block from Hendrix's. Starting sometime in 1969 and up to the time Hendrix left for Europe a year or so later, they occasionally met at all-night jam sessions in New York. Some nights Hendrix played with guitarist John McLaughlin, then assembling the first Mahavishnu Orchestra; and Khalid Yasin (Larry Young), a mainstay, with McLaughlin, of the Tony Williams Lifetime; Stephen Stills, Johnny Winter and Little Feat's Lowell George; and his old friends Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums.

Douglas claims today that he began taking notes during those sessions. He says he introduced Hendrix to some of those musicians and claims he was marking down Hendrix's comments about various takes, insists that although he wasn't acting officially as producer, they were definitely planning the next album together.

Hendrix left New York at the end of August 1970, and played – with his original drummer, Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox – at the Isle of Wight, then went on a short tour of the Continent and ended up in London, where he supposedly met Alan Douglas and spent the weekend with him and his wife at Roger Daltrey's house. Then, Douglas says, he and his wife borrowed a friend's flat and Hendrix moved in with them.

Another version has Hendrix meeting an old girlfriend, Monika Danneman, in Germany while on tour and having her fly to London ahead of him. Which she apparently did, taking the flat in the Hotel Samarkand in Notting Hill Gate where Hendrix died. Hendrix took another room at a Park Lane hotel, the Cumberland. Other "witnesses" swear Hendrix spent some of his last nights in flats all over London, passing the hours with strange girls and drugs, the two things he was constantly being offered and seldom found the strength or inclination to refuse. The stories about his whereabouts that final week overlap and contradict each other, but it is probable he didn't spend two consecutive nights in any one place.

The day after he played at Ronnie Scott's, Hendrix reportedly called Henry Steingarten, his attorney, to say he wanted to leave Jeffrey, no matter what it cost. The same day, Douglas says, he and Hendrix went to Heathrow Airport, where Douglas caught a plane to New York for a meeting with Steingarten.

But Douglas never met Steingarten. When news of Hendrix's death reached America the next day, he returned to London, where he waited for more than a week for the coroner's report, then joined the others who accompanied Jimi's body to Seattle for burial.

Douglas is well-known as the man behind the two best-selling Hendrix albums of 1975, which both offered previously un-released songs that Douglas says he discovered and/or created while wading through nearly 800 hours of raw tape left over from Hendrix's long nights in the recording studio. He accomplished this by taking some of the unmixed, unbalanced and usually unfinished songs, and stripping away all the tracks but Hendrix's. He then hired New York studio musicians and backup singers and overdubbed new parts. This wasn't a new idea, but when the first Douglas-produced Hendrix LP was released in January 1975, it drew fire from Hendrix purists.

The reviewers and feature writers of the rock press were far more accepting. They, along with many others, noted the unusual circumstances under which Crash Landing was pasted together, but they also said they liked it. And so did the public. Almost five years after his death, Hendrix had a Top Ten album.

The second album, Midnight Lightning, was released in November 1975, and it, too, rapidly climbed the record charts.

(Originally, everyone hoped for seven or eight or more new albums, but after two, Douglas said there just weren't any more salvageable songs. So for number three, Douglas remixed a number of songs from some posthumous albums Warners had released earlier – arranging them, he says, as Hendrix originally planned. This time there were no overdubs and the sidemen were Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. The album, called Freedom, is set for release next spring.)

Warners mounted a tasteful publicity campaign for each of the new releases and recalled five earlier posthumous albums. Douglas says this was because those records were sloppily produced and mixed. Of course, by recalling so much product, Warners was also clearing the record bins of surplus Hendrix material.

And what of the oft-praised McLaughlin tapes? Douglas originally wanted them to be on the first album release, but McLaughlin withheld his permission.

Douglas says that once this final "jazzstyle" (instrumental) album has been assembled, his job will be complete. "There will be no more inferior reference points for Hendrix fans," he says. "Every album legitimately on the market Hendrix himself would dig."

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