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Jimi Hendrix: The Valleys of Neptune

Forty years after his untimely death at 27, Jimi Hendrix's musical legacy continues to thrive.

"In two years, Jimi would have been 70," reflects his stepsister Janie Hendrix, president and CEO of Seattle-based Experience Hendrix, which safeguards the singer/guitarist's legacy for an estate worth over $80-million (U.S.). She adds, "That's hard to imagine."

Hendrix's catalogue sells about 1.2 million units annually worldwide. His songs have been recorded by Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow and Bob Dylan in recent years.

"People are still interested in picking up Jimi Hendrix's catalogue," reports Ken Kirkwood, director of purchasing at HMV Canada, which operates 128 stores. "Without any new releases last year, his catalogue sold a bit less than Bob Dylan's and half of what the Rolling Stones sell. That's still pretty big."

"The older fans are now teaching the younger generation about him," says Janie. "We now have pre-teens wanting Jimi's music."

Under a new eight-year licensing deal between Experience Hendrix and Sony Music Entertainment, the album Valleys of Neptune is being released worldwide March 9th. Produced by Janie Hendrix, John McDermott and Jimi's former engineer Eddie Kramer, it features 12 previously unreleased studio recordings by the Jimi Hendrix Experience band.

"The tapes were in excellent shape ... we didn't have to 'bake' any tapes or get into any extensive restoration," says McDermott. "Everything we needed was right there."

Valleys of Neptune chronicles a turbulent period for Hendrix in mid-1969 as the Experience was developing songs for an album left uncompleted when its bassist, Noel Redding left the band. (Redding died in 2003.) Hendrix then recruited an army buddy, Billy Cox. "There was a real shift in the music," says McDermott. "This record captures that shift."

Interviewing the Experience backstage at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver in 1968 for CBC-TV, Terry David Mulligan was startled when Hendrix asked, "Do they still have Dawson Annex School here? I used to go there … My grandmother, her boyfriend and my cousins are out there. I haven't seen them yet. I will see them later on tonight."

"I couldn't believe it," says Mulligan, now host of Mulligan Stew for the CKUA radio station in Edmonton. "The marketing of the Jimi Hendrix Experience had been out of London. Nobody made the connection between Seattle and Vancouver with him."

Jimi's father Al Hendrix was, in fact, born in Vancouver in 1919. His parents, Zenora "Nora" Moore and Bertram Philander Ross Hendrix, were vaudeville performers who had moved there in 1912 after their Dixieland troupe had disbanded in Seattle. All four of their children were born in Vancouver. In 1922, Ross and Nora Hendrix became Canadian citizens.

Ross Hendrix worked as a steward in two of Vancouver's most prestigious private clubs, the American Club and the Transportation Club of Vancouver, before becoming first porter at the newly opened Quilchena Golf & Country Club in Richmond, B.C., in 1925. He held this position until his death in 1934.

Following their father's death, the Hendrix children went in separate directions. After a few years of attempting to find regular work in Vancouver and Victoria, Al moved to Seattle, where he married Lucille Jeter on March 31, 1942. Jimi was born later that year on Nov. 27.

While much of her family came to resettle in Seattle, Nora Hendrix remained in Vancouver where she was a well-known figure in the city's black community. She helped form the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Vancouver's first black church.

Jimi had a close relationship with his grandmother Nora. His parents had divorced when he was 9; and his mother died in 1958 at age 32. Jimi often stayed with Nora in her home on East Georgia Street. He attended Grade 1 at Sir William Dawson Annex in Vancouver's West End.

"Jimi stayed with grandma because my dad was working such long hours," says Janie. "It was hard for him to be there for Jimi. He didn't want him to be a latchkey kid."

After a one-year stint in the U.S. Army in 1961, Jimi often visited Vancouver, playing as a sideman in local clubs, including Dante's Inferno with Tommy Chong's band, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers.

After Jimi's death, Al Hendrix continued taking his family to visit Nora. "Every other weekend, we were in Vancouver," recalls Janie. "We went to the PNE, rode around the bus for a dime all day long, and went to Chinatown."

Overseeing Jimi Hendrix's legacy is a massive task. Janie Hendrix, adopted by Al Hendrix in 1968 when he married her mother, has drawn unfavourable comparisons to John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. Janie laughs, "The evil one, right? Without me, my dad would have signed away everything."

The estate has been involved in conflicts for decades. "It is kind of like the Kennedy family curse; this is the Hendrix curse," says Janie.

Two years ago, Janie was sued unsuccessfully by Jimi's younger brother, Leon Hendrix, Leon's children and seven other members of the Hendrix family, who claimed Janie schemed for years to have Leon cut from Al Hendrix's will. Many of the estate's legal wrangles can be traced to 1966, when Jimi Hendrix appointed Yameta, a Bahamas-based company operated by British nightclub owner Michael Jeffery and producer Chas Chandler (bassist of the Animals), to be his manager; and he granted the company exclusive rights to his performances.

Legal tangles would ensue after Jeffery was killed in 1973 in a mid-air collision over Nantes, France, while aboard an Iberia Airlines DC-9.

At the time of Hendrix's death on Sept. 18, 1970, in London, a coroner recorded an open verdict, stating that the cause was "barbiturate intoxication, and inhalation of vomit."

However, details about Jimi Hendrix's death have remained in dispute for decades. In 2009, there were even reports in the U.K. media about allegations that Jeffery had murdered Jimi Hendrix by plying him with pills and a bottle of wine."I remember hearing about all of these conspiracy theories when I was a kid," says Janie. "They were really heartbreaking for my father."

She recalls the immediate effect of Jimi's death on the family. "My dad was 50, and he loses his 27-year-old child. So we had to ship Jimi's body back. Jimi had a studio in New York (Electric Ladyland) but it still owed [mortgage payments] Jimi wrecked two cars, and they were in the auto shop. Now dad flies back from London [where Jimi died]to New York to gather his things up. He's distraught. His son died. It was a very hard time.

"Do I know if he was murdered? Do I want to point fingers today? Well, [almost]every person that was involved with Jimi is dead now. There's no way of us proving if it is true or not."

After Jimi's death, a friend put Al Hendrix in touch with Leo Branton, Jr., a celebrated Los Angeles-based civil-rights litigator, and entertainment attorney. A handshake between the two led to Branton being hired to untangle the various contracts Jimi had signed and to oversee his musical legacy. Al Hendrix would receive $50,000 (U.S.) annually.

"My dad was an eighth-grade graduate," says Janie. "He had his own gardening business and had a great clientele. His son dies with this massive estate. My dad didn't know anything about the music business."

In 1993, Al Hendrix filed suit in federal court in Seattle against Branton as well as the Bella Godiva, Inherit, Elber and Are You Experienced companies. He charged that Branton had wrongly transferred Jimi Hendrix's assets to the co-defendant companies. In 1995, a settlement was reached that transferred ownership of all Hendrix musical works to Al Hendrix. He died in 2002 leaving Janie Hendrix in control of Jimi's heritage.

Since 1995, Jimi Hendrix's catalogue has been continuously issued under the officially sanctioned Experience Hendrix and Dagger Records imprints.

Also being released on March 9 are CD/DVD versions of the Experience albums, Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland and First Rays of the New Rising Sun.

Special to The Globe and Mail