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Forty years after the death of Jimi Hendrix, unreleased material is still trickling out of the family's archives. A new, four-CD anthology is the latest release. One reason it's taken so long is a thicket of legal disputes, as Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: The new anthology is called "West Coast Seattle Boy," after a song Jimi Hendrix wrote but never recorded. The set includes demos, outtakes and recordings from all phases of Hendrix's career, starting with his formative years as a sideman for Little Richard, King Curtis and the Isley Brothers.
(Soundbite of song, "Testify")
Mr. JIMI HENDRIX (Singer): (Singing) I said I'm a witness. I'm here to testify. I want to tell you all about it. I ain't going to tell no lie. I feel the rhythm.
Ms. JANIE HENDRIX (CEO, Experience Hendrix): I hear a young musician who is just trying to - really, eat.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ROSE: Janie Hendrix is the CEO of the family business, Experience Hendrix, and a co-producer of the new boxed set.
Ms. HENDRIX: That's what he used to say. Because he would take these jobs to make sure that he could eat, and just get him a step one closer to the fame that he really desired.
ROSE: After five years backing up other musicians, Jimi Hendrix found fame in London. When he came back to the U.S. in 1967, he was a star. After that, Hendrix was rarely far from his guitar or a tape recorder, says recording engineer Eddie Kramer.
Mr. EDDIE KRAMER (Recording Engineer): When Jimi was alive, the four years that I was fortunate enough to work with him, he was in the studio all the time.
Mr. J. HENDRIX: What did you say? What's the name of it? It's "Hound Dog Blues," "Hound Dog Blues."
Mr. KRAMER: When he wasn't sleeping, he was recording. So the tape was always rolling for him.
(Soundbite of song, "Hound Dog Blues")
Mr. J. HENDRIX: (Singing) One, two, three, four.
ROSE: Hendrix even bought his own reel-to-reel to record jam sessions and demos like this one.
(Soundbite of song, "Tears of Rage")
Mr. J. HENDRIX: (Singing) We carried you in our arms on Independence Day. And now you'd throw us all aside, put us on our way.
ROSE: Jimi Hendrix sold millions of records. He headlined the Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals. But he never showed much interest in the business part of the music business. Here's an excerpt from a 1969 interview with Hendrix from a video documentary that's part of the new boxed set.
(Soundbite of video documentary)
Mr. J. HENDRIX: But money is getting to be out of hand now. You know, it's musicians, especially young cats, you know, they get a chance to make all this money and they say, wow this is fantastic. And they lose themselves, and they forget about the music itself. You know, they forget about their talents. They forget about the other half of them. So therefore, you could sing a whole lot of blues. The more money you make, the more blues, sometimes, you can sing.
Mr. CHARLES CROSS (Author, "Room Full of Mirrors"): He was not a good one for the fine print of any contract whatsoever.
ROSE: Charles Cross wrote a biography of Jimi Hendrix, called "Room Full of Mirrors." He says the musician's disregard for that fine print got him in trouble.
CROSS: This thing's been a mess ever since the moment that Jimi became famous - and even before he died.
ROSE: When Jimi Hendrix died suddenly in 1970, he did not have a will. It took almost three decades of litigation before Al Hendrix regained control of his son's recordings. When Al died in 2002, he left most of the estate to his adopted daughter, Janie. And he left his younger son out of the will altogether.
Mr. LEON MORRIS HENDRIX: My name is Leon Morris Hendrix, and I play music for a living. I should've been a millionaire by now. But my stepsister took care of that.
ROSE: Leon Hendrix is Jimi's younger brother. They grew up together in Seattle, and remained close. When their father died, Leon sued to get a piece of the estate and lost. Years later, he still seems angry that his stepsister runs the family business.
Mr. L. HENDRIX: She only met him twice, and she was only 6. I got no money from the estate. The Hendrix family, Jimi's blood relatives, they get no pennies. They get nothing.
ROSE: Leon's attorneys argued that Janie manipulated their father into removing Leon from the will - a charge Janie denies. She says Al Hendrix was tired of supporting Leon through his struggles with addiction.
Ms. HENDRIX: I really have to go by what my father did in his will. And, you know, as far as my brother goes, my father took care of Leon. He received close to $3 million in his lifetime. So his decision was to not leave him anything else. And I'm just honoring what he requested.
ROSE: Hendrix biographer Charles Cross attended the long and messy trial in 2004. He says it left one, pretty basic question unanswered.
Mr. CROSS: What did Jimi want? Al didn't create these recordings. Al didn't create this wealth. It was truly Jimi Hendrix. And maybe he didn't create a will, and maybe he died without one. But would Jimi have wanted such a disparity between his father's side of the family and his mother's side?
(Soundbite of song, "Shame, Shame, Shame")
Mr. J. HENDRIX: (Singing) It's a shame, shame, shame, shame, shame that my brother can't be with me today. Well, the last time, the last time that I seen him, he asked me for help, and I turned him right away. He asked me for help, and I turned him away.
ROSE: Jimi Hendrix rarely mentioned his family in interviews, and left few clues about how he would have disposed of his estate. It's too bad for Leon Hendrix that his brother's song lyrics don't hold up in court.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
(Soundbite of song, "Shame, Shame, Shame)
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