Jimi Hendrix: The Legacy

Two decades later, the late guitarist's estate woes are far from solved

February 6, 1992
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix performing at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in Monterey, California.
Ed Caraeff/Getty Images

Once you're dead, you've got it made," said Jimi Hendrix, and he wasn't joking. Since the visionary guitarist's death in 1970, eighteen albums of newly unearthed and recycled Hendrix music have been officially released in the U.S., and his is one of the biggest-selling catalogs in Warner Bros. Records' extensive library. Although precise figures are closely guarded, it's estimated that Hendrix will sell more than 3 million albums internationally this year; additional millions of dollars will be generated by publishing royalties, home-video sales, T-shirt merchandising and other deals.

Last November, the enduring commercial legacy of Jimi Hendrix was apparent when the late guitar god finally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A press announcement given to reporters at the ceremony not only included the requisite biographical information but also noted each album's catalog number and highest chart position. Hendrix himself probably would have been amused by all the hoopla at the event, which coincided with the release of a new four-CD box set called Stages.

Jimi Hendrix: The Man and the Music

"If he's watching these proceedings, he'd be laughing with us," said longtime friend and studio engineer Eddie Kramer as he observed the scene. "Jimi did have a very perverse sense of humor."

The bittersweet tribute attracted more than a hundred fans to the seedy corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Avenue, near the spot where the $4800 pavement pentagram – sponsored and paid for by Warner Bros. Records – was unveiled by the district's chamber of commerce. "Today we have the pleasure of honoring one of rock's groovy legendary artists," said showbiz old-timer Johnny Grant, the buffoonish "honorary mayor" of Hollywood who hosted the ceremony.

The day was not entirely without poignancy. Perhaps the most touching moment occurred when Jimi's seventy-two-year-old father, Al Hendrix, accepted the sidewalk star with a brief, emotional "Thank you." Watching him closely from the sidelines was Leo Branton Jr., a respected civil-rights attorney. Dressed in a conservative business suit, Branton appeared out of place among the audience of mostly young kids and aging hippies. But he could hardly have been in a more appropriate place. The tough-minded lawyer for Al Hendrix, Branton helped untangle the complex legal mess that followed Jimi's death. Today, Branton serves as president of Are You Experienced? Ltd., a production company that oversees the dead rock star's worldwide recording, publishing and licensing deals for the two foreign firms that now own the assets of the Jimi Hendrix estate. Running the day-to-day business of Are You Experienced? is longtime record man Alan Douglas, who called the sidewalk ceremony "degrading" and decided not to attend.

Following the brief ceremony, Warner Bros. hosted an intimate VIP reception at the retro-hip Roosevelt Hotel. Besides Al Hendrix and Leo Branton, another honored guest was Al's son Leon, an ex-con who served time for grand larceny. With a lean, youthful appearance that belied his forty-three years, Leon nevertheless looked nervous and intensely anguished. He said he was upset over continuing false allegations that Jimi, his older brother, was a junkie, and he was also miffed about the millions of dollars that he believes slipped through his family's fingers. (Although Al Hendrix has been compensated for the rights to Jimi's music, the exact amount has never been disclosed.)

"What I really want to know," said Leon, "is why my father was the sole beneficiary to Jimi's estate and he's getting a mere pittance?"

Leon isn't the only one questioning the trail of the Hendrix fortune. Across the Atlantic, a trio of men who once played integral roles in Jimi's artistic development – comanager and producer Chas Chandler, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell – also feel like they've been cut out of the guitarist's amazing musical afterlife. Mostly, they complain how they've been denied creative input into newly released recordings, yet they also talk about not getting their fair share of the posthumous financial windfall.

These days, the three former Hendrix cohorts are trying to break back into the music business with relatively modest new projects: Chandler is producing singer and guitarist Steve Graham in his hometown of Newcastle, England; Mitchell is planning to play some U.S. dates this spring with former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor; and Redding is gigging with his own small combo near his home in West Cork, Ireland, as well as performing with Jimi Hendrix impersonator Randy Hansen. Obviously, the shadow of Hendrix still looms over all three men. "I miss my friend as much today as ever," wrote Mitchell in the dedication to his lavishly illustrated coffee-table book, Jimi Hendrix – Inside the Experience, which was published in 1990. "Sadly, his legacy seemed to be lasting pain for those lives that had touched his, musically," mused Redding in his memoirs, Are You Experienced?, also published in 1990.

The bassist is blunt but essentially correct. While the music they created more than twenty years ago continues to be repackaged and sold in astronomical numbers, Chandler, Mitchell and Redding eke out a living these days with session work, the occasional record deal, the odd gig here and there. It was a lack of experience in business dealings that left all three men without a stake in the current Hendrix bonanza.

"We can't find out the exact figures, but by counting the number of multiplatinum records that the Jimi Hendrix Experience sold, it seems as though we're talking about at least $30 million to $40 million," says Redding, who admits that, out of desperation, he signed away all artist royalties in exchange for a flat $100,000 payment during the Seventies. "It would be nice to know what they did with the money. No one knows where it went."

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