Experiencing Jimi – Part 1: Janie Hendrix
Chapter Two: Aftermath; Taking Care of Business
BR: We’re here today to talk about Jimi and the new projects that are happening, of course. But it’s hard to get from 1970 to 2010 without some acknowledgment of what happened in between. There’s already been much written about the handling of Jimi’s estate through the years and I don’t feel like we have to go into great depth. Your father Al passed away in 2002, leaving you as president and CEO of the family-owned Experience Hendrix. Maybe we could talk just a little about how and why Experience Hendrix was formed.
JH: Well, Experience Hendrix is run by the family members that my father chose himself. It’s our mission – our goal – to maintain, protect and preserve Jimi’s music and his persona.
After Jimi died, the whole estate was in shambles. Jimi owed a lot of money for the Electric Lady studio; there were cars wrecked in different states; there was so much to get in order and my dad just didn’t have the skills, the resources, or the connections to get everything done. Jimi’s apartment in New York was full of things, along with the studio – clothes, instruments – and a lot of that just disappeared. My dad had arranged for all of Jimi’s stuff to be packed up and shipped home to us. Much of it never made it. In hindsight, he should have packed everything up himself, but he’d just lost a son … he was trying to deal with that while all these other things needed to be dealt with, as well.
In the meantime, there were all these questions put to my dad, like, “What are you going to do with all this stuff?” “Why do you want it?”
And my father couldn’t believe it. “Why do I want it? Because it was Jimi’s.” I mean, why would anyone even ask why? As far as my dad was concerned, those material things were Jimi at that point. That’s all that was left. And it began to disappear.
BR: So, before the family-owned Experience Hendrix was established, Jimi’s estate was being handled by …
JH: In the beginning, Jimi’s managers and another attorney. Actually, Chas Chandler was mostly out of the picture by then; it was mainly Michael Jeffery. [Note: Michael Jeffery was killed in a mid-air plane collision on 3/5/73.] From 1974 to 1992, we had an attorney who was handling everything. My dad and I founded Experience Hendrix in 1995 after three years of fighting the lawsuit to get the rights back.
BR: And how about you? What went on with you in the years leading up to the formation of Experience Hendrix?
JH: After high school, I went to college for a degree in education. I got married – since divorced – and have four children. I stayed at home with them while they were little, but was actually getting ready to start teaching about the time we got involved in the lawsuit.
BR: And the impetus for that?
JH: There was rumor on the street about this “10-million-dollar deal.” Basically, by signing over the control of everything, my dad was going to get 8 million and my brother and I were to receive a million each. I kept telling my dad, “Don’t sign anything.”
I took the agreements to another attorney. After about four months of research, we discovered that the lawyer who had been representing my dad for years was running these offshore corporations. He was trying to convince my dad to sign this “10-million-dollar deal” – that was the plan. But it wasn’t a 10-million-dollar deal – it was a 75-million-dollar deal. And my dad’s attorney was going to receive the remaining 65 million. That’s when we initiated the lawsuit.
At that point, I just put everything else on hold. I spent 10-hour days every single day reading documents. We have a legal law library now in our office that is three walls – ceiling-to-floor – of binders that had to be gone through.
My dad was always more of an audio learner; he had me read all the documents to him aloud. We’re not attorneys, you know, so we didn’t know a lot of legalese, but I feel like I earned an honorary law degree from everything we went through. (laughs) I’d have the big Webster’s dictionary sitting there and my dad would go, “What does that word mean?” and I’d look it up. Together we were learning what all the legalese meant. And that’s how we got through those years of the lawsuit. God bless [Microsoft co-founder] Paul Allen, as he lent us the money to be able to fight to get our rights back.
Chapter Three: Treasures In The Vault
BR: Let’s swing things back to the music. These days, all of the archives are kept where?
JH: In a temperature-controlled vault – which is a big improvement over where they used to be …
BR: Which was?
JH: In my dad’s basement. (laughter) You have to understand that my dad really didn’t know anything about the music business – why would he? We had all the tapes at our house for years. My dad kept them in a cool, dry closet in the basement. Now we have safety copies of everything – both digital and analog – and we’ve listened to it all. We’ve never had to bake a tape, which is great.
BR: I’ll be talking to your archivist, John McDermott, later. I see him as your version of the Dead’s Dick Latvala.
JH: You’ll have a good time talking to John. He won’t tell you this, but he has a photographic memory.
JH: Absolutely – you can hold up any tape in our vault and say, “What’s on this at 24:38?” and he’ll tell you exactly what it is. (laughter)
BR: Well, that’s cool to know – thank you. If it seems appropriate, I’ll bring it up.
JH: He’d never tell you that, but I’ve figured it out over the years of working with him. He admitted it, finally. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” he said. (laughter)
BR: I can’t help but think about the library of live Grateful Dead recordings out there – and how, from early on, they had some pretty serious sound people working with them. And then I think about so many of the shows Jimi did where the sound systems just weren’t ready for what he was doing … there has to be a lot of his music that was played well, but was totally at the mercy of less-than-capable sound systems at the time.
JH: I really think that in some ways, the technology still hasn’t caught up to Jimi’s music, really … not to the level that he wanted it to be.
But there’s still a lot of live music in the vault that hasn’t been released that will amaze you; it really is in pristine condition. Plus, there is everything from studio sessions to apartment jams with friends. Basically, any opportunity there was to record, Jimi was recording. He had a little 4-track that he would carry around.
BR: We should probably mention the Dagger Records label, which is basically Experience Hendrix’ official bootleg label, correct?
JH: Exactly. The name, of course, comes from Jimi’s song “Dolly Dagger”. She’s a bad girl, you know, but she’s tough and that’s what we see Dagger Records as being. Before Experience Hendrix ever existed my father and I spent a lot of time and money buying bootlegs as the regular Joe consumers. And we didn’t know that many of those CDs either didn’t have Jimi on them at all or he was on them as a sideman – even though his name was on the cover. If we could be fooled, the average person wouldn’t have a chance knowing what was what.
We’ve really tried to clean that situation up with our Dagger Records releases, which are only available on our website. One of the things we want people to know is Dagger Records is not for the new fan – we don’t carry the core releases. If one of these albums was your first exposure to Jimi’s music, you might not appreciate the mono sound. The Dagger releases are really for the hardcore fans – bootlegs at an affordable price. We’ve gone in just like we have with the frontline releases and fixed and mastered them appropriately to give the fans good quality recordings.