Janie Hendrix remembers, as a child, hanging out with big brother Jimi Hendrix “just being in his presence and playing in his hair.”
Nowadays she’s digging into a different part of her late sibling’s legacy.
As president and CEO of Experience Hendrix LLC, the family-owned company that oversees all things related to the rock guitar hero, Hendrix oversees a wealth of material and activity that encompasses album releases, films and even the all-star “Experience Hendrix Tour” that comes to Detroit this week. It’s been an active concern since her father, the late Al Hendrix, won back rights to Jimi’s archives during the early ’90s, after an arduous court battle, and Hendrix not surprisingly takes the charge seriously.
“It’s about Jimi and making sure his music lives on,” she explains. “It’s about protecting Jimi (and) his music, continuing his legacy and bringing his music to not only fans that exist but to potential new fans ... and just making sure his music stays as pure as possible.”
Since it was established in 1995, Experience Hendrix has largely focused on one major project a year, which led to Jimi Hendrix being ranked No. 11 on Forbes magazine’s annual list of dead celebrities with an income of $6 million. But with 2010 commemorating the 40th anniversary of his death — from a drug overdose on Sept. 18, 1970 in London — it’s inspired something of a motherlode of material.
The company started with the March release of the rarities set “Valleys of Neptune” and continues with “West Coast Seattle Boy,” which comes out Tuesday, Nov. 16, houses four discs of unreleased material and alternate takes, including a full disc of pre-Experience tracks recorded with Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, Don Covay and others. The box also includes the documentary “Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Child,” narrated by Bootsy Collins and featuring plenty of commentary from Hendrix himself.
Deluxe editions of “Jimi Hendrix Experience: BBC Sessions,” “Jimi Hendrix: Blues” and “Live at Woodstock” and the holiday EP “Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year,” are coming out the same day as well.
“This year has been a very special year,” Janie Hendrix, 49, acknowledges. But she’s confident the fan appetite is there — and Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, who’s part of this fall’s “Experience Hendrix Tour,” agrees.
“He had such a profound effect ... and still does to this day,” notes Whitford, 58. “It’s something we’ll be talking about until we’re 6 feet under. The body of work that he did in such a short period ... I think it’s astounding that he was able to do that and leave this incredible, lasting impression. It’s hard to grasp it all.”
Whitford became a Hendrix convert when the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, “Are You Experienced?” was released in 1967 — after the Seattle-born guitarist had done his stints as a sideman and then moved to England, where he established his reputation. Seeing the trio perform at the Boston Gardens, however, cemented Whitford’s devotion.
“It just really changed the way I thought about music and about guitar and about even what kind of guitar I was gonna play and what kind of amplifiers I was gonna use,” he recalls. “It opened up a new way of thinking about music. It was like a door opened when he came along and created this new avenue that I just somehow had to be part of.”
Ernie Isley, another “Experience Hendrix Tour” participant, watched Hendrix’s impact develop from the inside. Now 58, he was young and not even playing guitar yet when Hendrix was working with his older siblings in the Isley Brothers and living with the family in California. But, Isley says, “I was listening.”
“It was obvious he played very well,” Isley remembers. “Iremember at the start of the band, before the first rehearsal was over it was obvious he was the star. When the Beatles performed on ‘Ed Sullivan’ the first time, he was at the house, watching with the rest of us. You couldn’t imagine that not too long from 1964 the whole electric guitar was gonna be changed by way of this guy.”
Isley calls Hendrix “the high priest of the electric guitar” and feels that “what Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis were to the trumpet, (Hendrix) was to the electric guitar. He got out of an electric guitar and amplifier virtually every sound a player can get. If you play guitar, you become a better musician because of someone like Jimi Hendrix.”
Janie Hendrix hopes that the 58 tracks on “West Coast Seattle Boy,” many of them culled from unreleased live performances, provide even further insight into her brother’s musical genius.
“He himself said he would get bored playing the same thing every single night,” she explains, “so consequently he liked to look at his guitar as a paint brush, and every night he tried to paint his masterpiece, and every solo was different every time he played it.
“So in this project you will hear ‘Are You Experienced’ with a different solo, and (on) ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ there’s just some eerie, awesome tones and notes that he uses. And you get to experience the evolution of his music from a sideman on.”
Hendrix is particularly proud of the “Voodoo Child” documentary, whose director, Bob Smeaton, also helmed “The Beatles Anthology.” “One of the most-asked questions I get is ‘What was Jimi really like?’ ” she says. “This documentary really answers that through his own words. It’s not through somebody interpreting what he was saying or telling their story; it’s Jimi telling his own story through his own words ... to show and tell who he was and what he was really like.”
Another inside look into Hendrix’s personality will come next year, when Experience Hendrix releases a documentary (and companion album) about his 1969 concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall, when four cameras tracked his movements both on and off stage and even in the apartment where he was staying. “It’s kind of a day in the life of Jimi, how we put it together,” says Hendrix, who hopes to release it theatrically and possibly as a pay-per-view TV offering in addition to DVD. And what would have been Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday in 2012 will be commemorated by a film of his performance at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, culled from recently unearthed “pristine” footage from the show.
Experience Hendrix is also working with Stephen Stills on a collection of recordings he made with Hendrix, although Stills will produce and release the project.
Experience Hendrix’s vaults, meanwhile, remain a living entity. “We discover more music all the time,” Hendrix says, “and people have possession of tapes that we’re able to retrieve and recover, so new ideas are always around.” The company currently has an eight-year deal with Sony Music’s Legacy division to distribute its offerings, and Hendrix is confident she’ll fulfill and probably stretch beyond that.
“Who knows what will happen and what we’ll unearth along the way,” she says. “We just want to make sure the audience gets to hear as much of the music that we have, and we’re always open to finding whatever else is out there.”
The “Experience Hendrix Tour 2010” plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit.Tickets are $25-$115. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaententainment.com.
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