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A Piece of Jimi Hendrix's Rainbow

Page 3 of 5

One of the first things to be sorted out was the Electric Lady Studio in New York, jointly built by Hendrix and Jeffrey. The Hendrix lawyers felt the estate needed a solid cash position from which to operate and decided to sell. Jeffrey agreed to pay the Hendrix estate $240,000, the figure he and Hendrix originally invested. He also agreed to assume responsibility for what remained of a $300,000 loan from Warner Bros. Maxwell Cohen, who represents the Jeffrey estate in the U.S., says the studio is now operating at a comfortable profit.

Another matter was the Chalpin trial. Chalpin was complaining that the Band of Gypsies album, released in 1970, wasn't as good as he'd been promised, a claim which seemed laughable since it was the biggest Hendrix album up to that time.

At the conclusion of the trial the judge said Chalpin had no credibility and ordered him to pay the Hendrix estate's attorneys' fees (the loser always does so in England, unlike in the U.S.), and promptly. Chalpin agreed to pay Branton $150,000. In addition, Chalpin was required to deliver to the Hendrix estate all the tapes he hadn't released. However, he was permitted to continue to exploit the albums already on the market. It was thought to be a fair settlement by both sides.

The Hendrix file remained active, the money poured in and washed out again. Some of the "losses" were great, as when Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, both members of the Experience, sued for royalties not paid on posthumous albums and said they hadn't been paid for their appearances in either of the Warners documentaries; Redding won $100,000 and Mitchell $300,000. Still, the value of the Hendrix estate increased until the $21,000 in cash had become $2 million.

The biggest asset was the music, of course – the hundreds of hours of unreleased tape. The estate had located nearly 600 hours in a warehouse in New Jersey and more was being held by a number of recording studios in London as well as the U.S., awaiting payment of bills for recording time.

Branton then got the unreleased tapes legally into the hands of Al Hendrix. After shopping around, Branton sold them to Presentaciones Musicales, S.A., a Panamanian corporation that had been founded in the Fifties by Branton's former client, Nat Cole, and jazz promoter Norman Granz. Then, as now, the corporation serves American companies as a tax haven, although Branton insists that P.M.S.A. got the world rights because "they offered us the best deal." (P.M.S.A. also owns world rights to Werner Erhard's est teaching program.)

Of course, P.M.S.A. cannot do business in the United States, so Branton had to find a company that would enter into an agreement with P.M.S.A. to make masters from the edited Hendrix tapes and market them through a U.S. distributor. The firm that got this contract was called Depaja Inc. Depaja then hired Alan Douglas to produce the records and made a deal with Warner Bros. to market the finished product.

Depaja is a New York corporation, incorporated March 28th, 1974, designed to carry on a variety of activities in entertainment, from production to management to marketing, but specifically to exploit the Hendrix material in the U.S. The officers are the two black lawyers Branton hired to represent the estate in New York, Ed Howard and Kenny Hagood, and Leo Branton himself. When pressed for details, Branton clams up, while Hagood and Howard claim the money "passes right through."

In their efforts to build the Hendrix legacy, there was one area that Branton, Hagood and Howard ruled out. This was the Yameta Trust Company, Ltd., an offshore holding company formed in 1967 by Jeffrey through his London attorney, John Hillman. It was started with a $50,000 check from the Animals' record label, MGM, was based in the Bahamas and was designed, Eric Burdon says, to serve as a tax haven for funds that would await the musicians' retirement. When Jeffrey signed Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell, much of their money went to Nassau, too – although how Hendrix, an American citizen, could benefit from a British tax dodge was never made clear.

Yameta served another function as well – as the production company (ostensibly Jeffrey's) that originally was contracted by Warner Bros, to provide Hendrix's records. Even after that recording contract was renegotiated and Warners began dealing directly with Hendrix, all royalty checks – as well as some European performance fees – were sent to Hendrix care of Yameta's Bahamian address.

If the account was empty at the time of Hendrix's death, where did the money go? Hagood, Howard and Branton decided not to investigate Yameta, realizing that the legal battle would have to be fought in Britain and believing that even if any blame could be placed, there wouldn't be any money to collect and the estate would be out the cost of the fight.

But a personable, fast-talking attorney in Beverly Hills, Mickey Shapiro, did ask those questions. He claims that upwards of $1 million gushed into the account, and that all of it gurgled out – without one immediately apparent penny ever going to anyone in the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

In 1974, Shapiro went to call on Sir Guy Henderson, a tall, thin, aristocratic former chief justice of the Bahamian Supreme Court who was Yameta's lawyer in the Bahamas and a member of Yameta's board of directors. When the meeting was over, Shapiro had an armful of documents which speak for themselves. Fifty-three were statements from the Bank of Nova Scotia in Nassau, where Yameta kept its wildly fluctuating and somewhat suspicious account, canceled checks, minutes of Yameta's board meetings, correspondence and statements from the Price-Waterhouse accounting firm (famous for its participation in counting ballots for the Academy Awards). Even Price-Waterhouse seemed confused, concluding its examination in 1968 with a barrage of questions. Whenever Mickey Shapiro pressed Sir Guy Henderson to explain any of these transactions, the former chief justice replied that he was merely following instructions.

A visit to Leon Dicker's office was no more satisfying. Dicker, Yameta's lawyer in New York and the Yameta/Experience paymaster, is a gregarious but suspicious Rotarian. His corner skyscraper office is decorated in American Bicentennial, with a stuffed marlin and autographed pictures of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson looking down paternally from the walls. When one of Shapiro's associates requested a look at Yameta documents in New York, Dicker asked John Hillman in London for advice and Hillman said nothing doing. When I visited Dicker, he asked to see my driver's license, "so I'll know I'm not talking to the FBI or the CIA."

Whether this was a joke or he was serious is unimportant. The interview revealed little. He said Michael Jeffrey was only an employee of Yameta who had a contract with the holding company to "find talent," and when Warners renegotiated with Hendrix in 1968, Hendrix's and Jeffrey's involvement with Yameta ceased.

What of all the heavy check cashing and the large sums paid out after that date?

"Well," said Dicker, "Yameta continued to exist, you know, for stopovers and things like that . . ."

The question remained: who owned Yameta? If Jeffrey and the members of the Experience were employees, who were the employers? John Hillman in London, of course, and possibly Sir Guy Henderson and Ralph Seligman in Nassau, all members of the Yameta board. But who did they answer to? Some say Yameta was owned by Caicos Trust Company, Ltd., still another tax haven, named for one of the smaller Bahama Islands. And what was Caicos? No one was talking.

Others hinted darkly of Mafia involvement, indicating Hendrix's accounts were brutalized by professionals. They whispered of Jeffrey's fascination with the hoodlum type and insisted that one of the guitarist's worries was the unavoidable Mafia scene in Greenwich Village, where he lived and Electric Lady was built. Organized crime was also known to use Bahamian banks and, according to Ed Hagood and Kenny Howard, the Yameta account was used similarly; it was, they said, "just a sink hole into which the money was . . . well, not thrown, but . . . dry-cleaned." Most puzzling of all was the newspaper clipping found in the middle of the Yameta files, a story about a change in Mafia leadership in New York. All interesting, but proof of nothing; to date, no one has been able to link the Mafia and Hendrix.

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