THE GOOD NEWS, Hendrix fans, is that on November 16 we get a four-disc box set chock full of rarities, West Coast Seattle Boy, marking the 40th anniversary of the guitarist’s passing. The bad news: Things have never looked worse in the Hendrix-verse.
In April, Hendrix’s former bandmate Lonnie Youngblood sued Experience Hendrix LLC (CEO’d by Jimi’s stepsister Janie) and director Martin Scorsese for including a song—for which Youngblood allegedly owns the copyright—in the collection Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Jimi Hendrix. More unsettling is a sex tape of a threesome reportedly involving and made by Hendrix himself shortly before he died. In September, Vivid Entertainment, which owns rights to the footage, sued a website for $1.2 million for allegedly allowing users to illegally download the clip.
The suits surfaced just as the angel dust settled from two other cases. Last year, Janie successfully sued to stop the production of a Jimi—inspired vodka called Electric Hendrix. And in 2004, in one of the most high-profile civil trials of the decade, Janie and Jimi’s brother Leon duked it out for control of the $80 million estate. (Janie won.)
Those and dozens of cases before them make for “the single most litigious estate in rock and roll history,” says Charles R. Cross, author of the 2005 Hendrix biography Room Full of Mirrors. “There have been more lawsuits and more legal fees in Jimi Hendrix’s estate than in any other estate of a single rock star.”
Reason one: Jimi himself was an awful businessman, so uninterested in legal contracts he distractedly inked them on the hoods of cars, and, most infamously, notes Cross, “gave away the rights to a number of his early master recordings for—and I’m not making this up—a single dollar.”
Second, the Hendrix family tree is a gnarled, multitrunk behemoth. There are half siblings and stepsiblings and rumors of illegit children. “Jimi has three other siblings who are still alive and live in Seattle and who no one really knew about until my book. I run into them occasionally. It’s shocking to see somebody on a Number 43 bus and think, God, she looks just like Jimi Hendrix. And then you go, Oh, that’s his at least half sister.”
The numerous claims to the name have resulted in products that the guitarist—ever the purist—would’ve likely found embarrassing, including Jimi boxer shorts and Jimi golf balls.
And the new West Coast Seattle Boy box set? We just hope it doesn’t spur another spate of lawsuits.
“People have been arguing about this stuff since before Hendrix died,” says Cross. “If he were still alive, it’s likely that he’d be at the King County courthouse today dealing with some lawsuit or another.”