The rock legend's estate focuses on projects meant to reveal the man behind the myth.
By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
"Are you any relation?" You can imagine how often Janie Hendrix has heard that question from strangers who see her last name on her credit card or a restaurant reservation list. The answer is yes, she's the sister of the late, great Jimi Hendrix. There's often a second, unasked question in the eyes of those strangers: How could the guitar demigod have an actual human being as a relative?
"There's this view of him that he was some alien that just appeared on Earth and started playing guitar," said the woman who is president and chief executive of Experience Hendrix, the family-run company that acts as steward for the icon's legacy and image. "People know the music, of course, but they don't know what Jimi was really like as a person. They don't picture him calm and happy, they don't know about the wonderful sense of humor and the little trickster sensibility he had about him."
Documenting the voice of Jimi the Man as opposed to the sound of Jimi the Legend is the emphasis of "Jimi Hendrix: An Illustrated Experience," which Janie Hendrix cowrote with longtime Hendrix scholar John McDermott. More than yet another biography, the $45 volume is a lavish archival package with reproductions of his original drawings, diary entries, handwritten lyrics and previously unpublished photographs. There's also a 70-minute audio CD with interviews and rare tracks.
McDermott is a legacy gatekeeper of sorts in his post as the catalog manager of Experience Hendrix. He's also the author of two books and countless essays on the star who died at age 27 in September 1970. He said that while a small library could be filled with Hendrix tomes at this point, this new collection is special for its presentation of primary documents.
"I think it does humanize him, and, despite all the tremendous influence he exerted on music, he was truly outside the mainstream and a cult figure during his life," McDermott said. "Only at the very height of his popularity did he appear in a mainstream medium with his appearances on 'The Dick Cavett Show.' It was a very small window into his personality and views of the world and life. With this, our goal was to give those types of insights and get out of the way and narrow the space between the fan and Jimi."
With the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love this year, there has been a surge in all things Hendrix, and there's more coming. Next Tuesday, a seven-date East Coast tour kicks off in Washington, D.C., celebrating the music of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. The concerts will feature Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and others. Also appearing: drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Billy Cox, who backed Hendrix at Woodstock.
There are more echoes of the past. On Tuesday, a major new documentary titled "The Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at Monterey" made its world premiere at the Egyptian Theatre. The documentary, available next Tuesday on DVD, is a blend of footage from the firebrand June 1967 performance that made Hendrix a sensation in the U.S. and built on the searing success he had already enjoyed in Europe.
All of these projects have Janie Hendrix "feeling pretty excited" about the vigor and reach of Experience Hendrix and the $80-million estate of the rock star. That hasn't always been the case.
Controling a legacy
Jimi Hendrix died with no will, and his estate went to his father, Al Hendrix. In the years that followed, though, the elder Hendrix ceded control of many major decisions to others, and the results left Hendrix devotees grumbling about the way the icon's music and image were handled. Al Hendrix wrested control back in federal court, which led to the creation in 1995 of Experience Hendrix, which most observers credit with a more reverential handling of the musician's legacy. Then Al Hendrix died in 2002 and more legal conflict followed.
At the center of the battle were two children of Al Hendrix: Janie, whom Al Hendrix adopted when he married her mother (making her a half-sister to Jimi) and Leon Hendrix (Jimi's half-brother). Leon had been excised from the will by ailing Al Hendrix. In the court fights that followed, Leon claimed that Janie manipulated her ailing and naive father to push Leon out and that she paid herself an exorbitant salary; Janie, meanwhile, claimed that her father had left Leon out of the will because he fretted that his son's gambling and addictions would undermine the future of the reinvigorated estate. A judge found in favor of Janie Hendrix and, in June, the Washington State Supreme Court declined to review that King County Superior Court decision.
The legal issues aren't resolved, however, and Janie Hendrix is still bristling over the recent use of Jimi Hendrix's name to sell vodka, a venture affiliated with Leon. "Sadly, this all still goes on. People try to use his image in ways that aren't approved and aren't appropriate," she said. "But that happens, you see with other estates and other stars. You have to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is to fight."
Janie Hendrix said there is enough material to keep a steady stream of "exciting projects" for another decade. She's circled spring of 2008 for the release of a project built around Jimi's February 1969 performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The concert was filmed for a theatrical feature that never materialized, but the project also has footage shot by a crew that followed the star for "about a month."
"We have Jimi as he hasn't been seen before, and not an actor playing Jimi. This is him as he was, with his guard down and on the road," Janie Hendrix said. "We feel fabulous about this project. You see him flying coach, going into hotels -- and it's him checking himself in, he's carrying his own bag, there's no people handling it for him -- you see people asking him for autographs. His charm comes across, the pressure he's under and just his life in moments backstage."
She said there will be a theatrical release as well as a DVD and pay-per-view release for the project.
"It will be huge for us, and it will be huge for Jimi and his legacy," she said. "The music is alive and well, and we want to make sure the memory of the real Jimi is alive and well also."