A Piece of Jimi Hendrix's Rainbow

Page 5 of 5

Mr. Hendrix attended both shows. Each time, he was lead onstage by the 300-pound Becker and introduced to the audience. It was quite an experience for the quiet gardener. But what he remembers most vividly is the lack of backstage organization, the friction between his "partners": "They were squabbling over the money. It was a mess."

Indeed it was. Ted Coates had a fight with Becker, quit and went to the police. Another bitter employee told the state's Department of Labor that the foundation was breaking minimum-wage laws. The city permit to conduct a charitable fund-raising operation was canceled. About the same time, city license inspectors discovered Becker's police record, which included an arrest for trying to exchange $785 worth of stolen airline tickets – an arrest made in Seattle the same week that Becker was named president of the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Foundation.

Lockett immediately got Mr. Hendrix to sign another affidavit and told officials he had fired Tiny Becker. Mr. Hendrix, he said, was the new president. That wasn't true, either, but he was given a temporary permit anyway.

The benefit shows continued and so did the telephone calls to businessmen. A third concert was held in the Tacoma, Washington, Sports Arena, a fourth in another Seattle club. But that last one wasn't advertised and attendance probably was insufficient to pay costs.

When Mr. Hendrix went to the offices a few days later everything was gone, even the unsold candy bars and the little rubber stamps of Jimi's face that were used to stamp the backs of hands at concerts. Next day, he and Mrs. Gautier went to City Hall and solemnly withdrew their application for a fundraising permit.

And what of the money? There wasn't any, maybe never was. Much earlier, a $267 check written by Becker for city taxes bounced and Lockett had to make it up in cash. No one even knew how much money had been taken in; records simply were not kept.

It's been over five years since that last benefit show. Austin and Culver, who still practice law in Seattle, prefer not to talk to reporters and tell their friends that they never even got their investment back. Lockett was later indicted in connection with eight armed robberies and killed himself. Becker was shot to death by his wife.

Al Hendrix led the way from the front door into his suburban Seattle home. He'd just gotten home from his gardening route, and was still dressed in a worn checked shirt, baggy pants and a straw hat with a hole in the peak. He was surprisingly short, only 5'4" or 5'5" – Jimi had been six inches taller – and he moved with a jaunty, rolling gait.

He paused near the wall where four gold record albums were hung, along with a dozen or so photographs, some of his son as a little boy, others showing him onstage. On another wall, an oil painting of Jimi was hung over the television set.

Mr. Hendrix walked downstairs into the finished basement where he had a wet bar, went to the refrigerator, withdrew a can of local beer and started to reminisce.

When his son died, he said, he went to New York to see his son's apartment and to sign some papers for Henry Steingarten, then still the estate's executor. Mr. Hendrix said he asked the lawyer to send the guitars and clothes, but only a few of the least expensive items ever arrived.

At the same time he was told there'd be no money. Only about $20,000 had been found – the amount the guitarist had in his pockets when he died – and the U.S. government was asking ten times that in unpaid taxes.

Mr. Hendrix said he thought that was odd, because when he saw his son last, shortly before Jimi went to Hawaii to make Rainbow Bridge and then Europe, he "told me he had some money put away somewhere. He was going to tell me more about it when he got back from Europe . . . but he didn't get back."

Mr. Hendrix removed his hat and placed it on the end of the bar. He had an open, friendly face, like his son's; you believed him. After a while he matter-of-factly told the story of the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Foundation. If he ever felt abused by the experience, he certainly was good-natured about it now.

"You know what happened after Becker disappeared? Austin and Culver and Lockett came back with another piece of paper for me to sign. I forget what they were going to call this one. It was another foundation. I said, 'Hell, no, you must think I'm some kind of fool.'"

Later, somebody else called from Texas, wanted to do something. "There've been quite a few," Mr. Hendrix said. "They all say 'nonprofit.' I say, 'Talk to my attorney.' I give them his phone number and that's the last I hear from any of them."

His attorney, of course, is Leo Branton. Mr. Hendrix met him when he went to Los Angeles to accept an award made to his son posthumously. One meeting and Branton said he'd get into it.

Soon after that, Mr. Hendrix made a second trip to New York, this time to meet the young lawyers Branton hired to handle the estate, Ed Howard and Kenny Hagood.

"We had a meeting. They asked me what to do about the studio Jimi built. I said, 'Well, hell, I don't need no studio . . .'"

It was then, Mr. Hendrix said, that his new lawyers "started raking the money in."

The small, stocky gardener laughed happily, went to the refrigerator and withdrew a second beer. Once upon a time, he said, he worked from dawn until dark to save enough money for a down payment on a little house. That was in 1967, when his son was just beginning to make it in England. "It wasn't much of a house," he said. The price was $27,500.

Today Mr. Hendrix lives in a home that was built five years ago at a cost of $110,000. It's on a double lot in a pleasant upper-middle-class neighborhood, has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, a three-car garage, two living areas sharing a common fireplace, and in the basement there's the wet bar, a billiard room, a ping-pong table, another parlor and fireplace.

"I'm on an allowance, I get so much a year," he said. "Leo [Branton] sends me papers to sign, he calls sometimes, lets me know what's going on. I leave it up to him."

Was Mr. Hendrix ever concerned about the possibility that a lawyer might again take advantage?

He shrugged. "Everybody likes to get his finger in the pie," he said, smiling. "Leo, he told me I was well fixed for life."

(Branton said Al Hendrix is paid a "lifetime annuity" by Presentaciones Musicales, S.A., the firm he sold the unedited Hendrix tapes to.)

"Doesn't matter," Mr. Hendrix added. "It's just money that come to me. I still have my gardening.

"I have 15 people, some of them I've been doing their gardens for 20 years now. I do admit I been cutting back some. I don't work on Saturdays now, and only eight hours a day. I don't get up so early as I used to. I sleep in. But I wouldn't quit. I like the exercise. I like to get outside.

"When the money come in, Leo said I should get a new house over near the lake [Lake Washington], and I went over there but I don't think I could of got my truck in any of those garages."

This is a story from the December 2nd, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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