A Piece of Jimi Hendrix's Rainbow

Page 4 of 5

As for Jeffrey's view, he always said he, too, had been cheated. In an unpublished interview conducted shortly after Hendrix died, Jeffrey said the apparent rip-offs began after Eric Burdon signed a management contract with Yameta. Jeffrey said: "I examined it, his attorney examined it, my attorney examined it, and it seemed okay for him to do so. For whatever reason – we're still not sure what happened – either this corporation in the Bahamas fucked up and were inefficient or they flipped some money off . . ."

Either way, why did Jeffrey continue the relationship with Yameta after he'd stopped managing Burdon? Yameta got a quarter of a million dollars when the Hendrix recording contract with Warners was renegotiated, and Jeffrey got more than $150,000 of that; was that "salary"? Where next? Well, Dicker said in parting, "If you really want to get into the situation with Jimi, Steve Weiss is the guy."

Weiss is the lean and sort of rawboned former lawyer for Jack Paar who represented Herman's Hermits, the Rascals, the Yardbirds and Dusty Springfield before Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin since. In the hall outside his spacious Madison Avenue office there is a large framed photograph of Hendrix with the inscription: "To Steve, who understands . . . Love Happiness & Peace of Mind to you forever, Jimi." Underneath were three little hand-drawn hearts.

Weiss opened with a speech. "As an attorney," he said, "I have no idea what you are going to ask me. As an attorney, if there are matters that arise during the interview which would not be proper for me to discuss or at least for me to discuss without getting permission from the estate, I hope that you will not feel that I am being uncooperative."

That out of the way, he performed much the same dance that Dicker did. Except that now astonishment was added to frustration. He said he knew nothing of Yameta, denied that he'd been paid anything by the company, although there were canceled checks made out to him totaling $21,000 in the files of Yameta in Nassau. And what of his handling both artist and manager at the same time? "I never represented Michael Jeffrey in any situation," he said, "that conflicted with my representation of Jimi Hendrix."

For half an hour, Weiss threw out incredible statements, answering most questions with a phrase or two and no more, dodging many questions entirely, claiming only Henry Steingarten could help with those. Like Leon Dicker, Steve Weiss seemed to subscribe to the theory that it was less suspicious to grant an interview and then say nothing than to deny the request entirely.

Weiss' former partner, Henry Steingarten, who was Hendrix's personal attorney after Weiss, took the opposite tack. "I have consistently refused to become involved in any manner and to any extent with articles and books on the life of Jimi Hendrix," he wrote in a brief letter. "Furthermore, I do not believe I have anything which would be of interest."

There was another lawyer's name on many of those letters copied from the Yameta files. This was Barry Reiss, a young associate of Steingarten and Weiss who'd worked his way through law school as a trumpet player. He was willing to talk about Hendrix's generosity and how amused the guitarist was when other musicians began to copy him, but Reiss wouldn't say much about the law firm. And when the subject of Yameta came up, he asked that the tape recorder be turned off for what he termed "a vague recollection."

Reiss said some U.S. tax advisers hired by Hendrix told him to leave Yameta because it wasn't working for him. "It didn't cost Jimi anything," he said, "but it did him no good to use a British tax shelter." To all specific questions about Yameta and Hendrix's legal representation, he said nothing: "I was just in the office, so to speak, doing what was asked of me. I really don't want to comment on what the internal relationships were. If Steve or Henry asked me to do something, I did it."

That left John Hillman, the socially noticeable, middle-40ish British solicitor who set up Yameta to begin with. He owned pieces of several Bahamian holding companies and was a respected Londoner known for his expertise in taxation and international law. According to Leon Dicker and Sir Guy Henderson, Hillman was The Man in the thick of the plot. But, of course, Hillman was not available for comment.


Part Three: The Heir

Jimi hendrix was dead less than a month when his father was approached by a lawyer, William Lockett. The elder Hendrix knew Lockett, trusted him. Lockett said he had some friends who wanted to start a nonprofit memorial foundation.

The friends were Gary Culver and Buck Austin, two Seattle lawyers who were supposed to put up some of the money; Harold Greenlin of Los Angeles, owner of a small chain of skin-flick movie houses in California; and a bearded, balding fat man called Tiny Becker, one of Greenlin's theater operators who came from San Francisco to run the foundation.

Mr. Hendrix, accompanied by a family friend, Mrs. Freddie Mae Gautier, attended a meeting at which photographs of some land outside Seattle were produced. Mr. Hendrix was told that rock festivals would be held there and a museum would be erected and a campground would be established where underprivileged young blacks could come without charge. All Mr. Hendrix had to do, they said, to make this dream come true was sign a paper giving the foundation the right to use his son's name.

Mr. Hendrix was nodding his head, saying it all sounded good to him when Mrs. Gautier interrupted. What's in it for Mr. Hendrix? she asked.

Mr. Hendrix said the lawyers then produced "more cash money than I ever saw before. There was ten hundred-dollar bills. And they said something about a salary, after the money started to come in."

Mr. Hendrix signed a contract and a receipt for the cash.

The contract sold "To the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Foundation, Inc., a Washington corporation to be formed at once by Raymond Becker, the exclusive right to use the name of his deceased son, Jimi, in the promotion of a permanent memorial to him and for any other use whatsoever deemed necessary or advantageous to the aforementioned corporation."

As part of the agreement, Mr. Hendrix was named vice-president and Mrs. Gautier was named a director. But the foundation's operation was given totally to Tiny Becker, the president. Soon after that a suite of six offices was rented in downtown Seattle.

A Portland, Oregon, carnival booking agent named Ted Coates was brought in to run the phone room. "They had about a dozen, 15 telephones in one of the rooms," Mr. Hendrix recalled. "They had people to sell advertisements in a Jimi Hendrix Picture Book." William Lockett had Mr. Hendrix sign a sworn affidavit stating that Coates and his boys weren't being compensated, a requirement for the foundation to get a city permit to operate a charity. It wasn't true. Later Coates said the pitchmen were working on a 25% commission, while he and another room manager were splitting an additional 20%.

The pitch was direct. The Official Jimi Hendrix Memorial Foundation Souvenir Photograph Album offered a half-million guaranteed circulation. The foundation was said to own 146 acres of land which were to be dedicated to the state within three years as the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Park. Half a dozen music scholarships were promised.

By now, Becker and his foundation were attracting some attention in the Seattle newspapers. But when Becker was asked about the mysterious 146-acre parcel of land, no one challenged the foundation president's answer: "We can't disclose the location at this time, because we're trying to buy the adjacent land and don't want to drive the price up." Later, Walter Wright, an investigative reporter for Seattle's Post Intelligencer, exposed, in a series of articles, all the sordid details of the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Fund.

It was clear that the foundation was being run with big money in mind, but first Becker had to learn his job. The first benefit show was held in Seattle's now defunct Phoenix Club, a second in the much larger Eagles Hall, which held about 2500 uncomfortably. This one ran nonstop for two days and offered more than 20 bands. Rarely was a band paid – most of them were talked into appearing either in tribute to the dead guitarist or for the "valuable exposure." Still, the shows were well attended. Teenagers hired by Becker sold buttons and pillows and bumperstickers that said Jimi Hendrix Lives – For The Jimi Hendrix Memorial Foundation. Memberships were sold for $10 or $20.

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