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Hendrix Family Feud Continues

Jimi’s brother battles step-sister over estate, image

The rights to Jimi Hendrix’s music were returned to his family
seven years ago, prompting fans to believe that the plundering of
his recorded legacy would end and legendary unreleased tapes would
finally see the light of day. Today, however, it is clear that the
Hendrix family is not one that plays together.

Following the death of Al Hendrix (Jimi’s father) in April, the
survivors are playing out a battle scenario with million-dollar
stakes. Brother Leon Hendrix, 54, sued the estate in August,
claiming that he was denied his rightful inheritance and seeking to
wrest control of the estate from Janie Hendrix, 41, who is
president of Experience Hendrix, the company that owns and controls
Jimi Hendrix’s music and image.

Janie Hendrix, however, says she is only carrying out Al
Hendrix’s wishes. “It’s too bad they couldn’t have settled their
differences,” she told Rolling Stone. “Leon and Dad were very
different people and, as Dad would say, they never saw eye to eye.
I was surprised at Dad’s will (where he only left Leon one gold
record), but it was his money and he decided where it should
go.”

In preparation to strike a better royalty deal of his own, Al
requested that Leon sign over his rights to the music in 1992, and
Leon complied. However, according to Leon’s attorneys, the document
granting those rights — for which Leon was paid $1 million — was
not a relinquishment of all of his rights.

On October 9th, Leon slapped Janie with an additional defamation
suit for her alleged claim that Leon and Jimi were only half
brothers. As refutation, Leon pulls out a copy of his birth
certificate listing Al as his father. “He was my dad,” Leon says.
“And he never said or thought any different until Janie put that
into his head.” Experience Hendrix’s The Jimi Hendrix
Experience
box set, released in 2000, fanned the flames, as
the liner notes refer to Leon as Jimi’s “troubled
half-brother.”

Even if the degree of Leon’s relationship to Jimi can be argued,
Janie’s is clear: She is an adopted stepsister with no blood
relationship to any member of the Hendrix family. “Janie is family
in the legal sense,” says attorney David Huber, who represents
Leon. “But actual blood relatives deserve a share of this
money.”

Leon’s latest suit also accuses Janie of defrauding the public
by her claims that that Experience Hendrix was a “family company”
intent on winning rights back for musicians. “Leon and other family
members were not allowed to participate in the company’s function
or operation, or to receive the benefits of those operations,” the
suit states.

Should the court rule in Leon’s favor, he would be granted
control over Jimi Hendrix’s archival tapes and videos. Aside from
allocating funds to the “real Hendrix” bloodline, he claims he
would give back to the community and pay the musicians their
due.

The two bass players who shared the stage with Jimi Hendrix
during his fame have very different perceptions of the power
struggle. Billy Cox, Jimi’s army buddy who dominated during the
latter part of his career, says he is “very proud of how Janie’s
handled Jimi’s legacy. She’s done it all in a very professional
manner. I did the San Diego Street Scene for her, and was paid very
handsomely. I like Leon, he’s good people, but I stay away from
controversy. This bickering, this stress is killing a lot of
people.”

Noel Redding, who played on Hendrix’s three studio albums, is
less charitable. He said he relinquished his rights for $100,000 in
1973 when he was told there were no more recordings forthcoming. He
has spent the subsequent years trying to recoup some of the money
earned by the estate.

Redding says he helped Janie gain control of the estate from
previous owners Alan Douglas and Leo Branton with the understanding
that he would receive back royalties, which he claims now total
more than $20 million per his original contract. Seven years later,
Redding says he is still waiting, adding that he did not receive a
penny for the box set. “I got a letter saying that I wasn’t getting
any money,” he says, “and then they sent me a copy of the box set
C.O.D.” Experience Hendrix catalog manager John McDermott refutes
the latter claim: “We’ve never sent anything out C.O.D. Mr. Redding
has received each release issued by Experience Hendrix at no charge
to him.”

Since 1997, Experience Hendrix has released a steady stream of
CDs. Most are reissues or expanded versions of what was once
available, aside from the four-disc The Jimi Hendrix
Experience
, which featured rare material. However, spurned on
by talk of hundreds of lost tapes, many fans have expected
more.

“[Janie has] promised a lot of things that haven’t
materialized,” said Steven Roby, a former Experience Hendrix
employee and author of Black Gold: The Lost Archives of Jimi
Hendrix
. “But the fans aren’t too happy with her. Aside from
putting out an occasional disc for collectors, we get things like
golf balls, furniture, boxer shorts. It’s pretty embarrassing.”
Adds filmmaker David Kramer, who is preparing a Beatles
Anthology
-style Jimi Hendrix documentary (although without any
material licensed by Experience Hendrix), “If Leon was in charge,
he wouldn’t put Jimi on a cushion so you could sit on his
face.”

McDermott disputes the depth of Hendrix’s lost catalog. “If one
considers the total amount of concert, demo and studio recordings
in the entire Hendrix tape library, the statement [that there are
hundreds of unreleased tapes] is simply absurd,” he says. He does
acknowledge that substantial material exists in the vaults, enough
for one album of unreleased or updated material annually for the
next fifteen years. Hendrix’s former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham
ruefully backs up the more modest estimate. “I know there aren’t a
lot of unreleased tapes,” she says, “because I personally threw a
lot of them in the dustbin. We had no idea that they would ever be
worth anything.”

Of the legendary “holy grail” recordings, McDermott states that
Hendrix and Miles Davis never recorded together. Also, the recently
recovered “Black Gold” tape may be something less than what fans
make it out to be. “It’s wonderful music,” says McDermott. “But it
doesn’t solve the Hendrix riddle. It won’t make you put away your
copy of Are You Experienced? It just reminds you that his
life was cut short, and indicates what he would have done had he
lived.”

While Experience Hendrix promises one new album a year, at least
one aspect of Hendrix’s recording legacy will not yet get a proper
release. Craig Dieffenbach, a forty-one-year-old Seattle real
estate developer and Leon Hendrix’s business manager, secured
rights to the “PPX Tapes,” sixty-six titles recorded between 1965
and 1967 for PPX Enterprises that feature Jimi Hendrix backing
singer Curtis Knight. While first promising a release of all the
tapes, Dieffenbach now says he may release fourteen of the songs on
a “nonexclusive” album once certain licensing and copyright issues
are cleared up. Hendrix himself was no fan of these recordings,
going so far as to take legal action to block their initial
release.

The final Hendrix battle is the one over Jimi’s image. Leon
still sees his late brother as a free spirit who embodied the drug
use and casual sex of the times, and claims that Janie, a devout
Christian, has actively suppressed that image.

“The people who are running Experience Hendrix are just trying
to whitewash history,” Leon says. Adds Etchingham, who has aligned
herself with Leon and Redding. “Janie is offended by Jimi’s
lifestyle. So she doesn’t like Leon’s lifestyle, and won’t allow
Hendrix music to be used in any context that suggests sex or drugs
. . . Janie doesn’t want people to see the truth about Jimi.”

[Editor’s Note: This is a revised version of a story that was
first posted on October 25, 2002, before Rolling Stone was
able to speak with Experience Hendrix]

In This Article: Jimi Hendrix

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