In a recent (January 24, 2007) Los Angeles Times article, a company by the name of Beverage Concepts located in Calabasas, CA has been granted permission by the estate of the late Jimi Hendrix to create a line of non-alcoholic drinks called the Liquid Experience.
Hendrix died at the age of 27 from asphyxia that was brought on by vomit blocking his esophagus that could not be cleared to induce normal breathing because he was in a deep sleep at the time. In his short life, he was believed to be under the influence of drugs while performing as well conducting business and was even busted in Canada for heroin possession (charges were later dropped in a Toronto court) in 1969. Yet on the day of his death, September 18, 1970 – only sleeping pills and red wine were found in his system by a London coroner. If Jimi were around today, he would be sixty-two years old with not only fans of his generation but the many that followed afterward. One of those is the often shirtless, gap-toothed bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers Michael Balzary, a.k.a. Flea. He was quoted as saying “To see his image and the beautiful feelings it has created during my lifetime cheapened by bare advertising is very disappointing to me.”
From 1967 to present day, Jimi Hendrix was not just some guy who played guitar really well and not White. Nor was he the guy with “gimmicks”(most notably playing the guitar with his teeth or setting it on fire during concert performances). In the 1990 biography, “Electric Gypsy” he went to sleep with his guitar under his arm in his lean, early years and sometimes thought of music the way we think of food, water and shelter. He was a left-handed guitar player that was part of one of the first multiracial rock acts (as leader of both The Experience and The Band of Gypsies) and he mostly took the electric guitar where no man had taken it in music history. It may have seemed that he was a pre-packaged gimmick for the times (the 60’s being the period of civil rights for blacks, the glamorization of drug use and its psychedelic art that seemed to dominate fashion, art and other forms of media). His music artistry as a whole, which would go on to influence not only the Red Hot Chili Peppers but Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Eddie Van Halen, 90’s rock band Living Colour and countless others.
After his untimely death, a court battle involving music executives, lawyers and the immediate Hendrix family would go on for nearly twenty-five years. Finally, in 1995 Al Hendrix won the rights to his son’s estate but from there the fighting would go from the courtroom to the family itself. That same year Al started Experience Hendrix, a family business that would not only collect from future sales of all CD, and later on DVD sales; but they had the exclusive right to use the Jimi Hendrix name and image as they saw fit. Songs, old footage or anything used in advertising, Experience Hendrix would have the final say-so and collect licensing fees. Al, who worked most of his life as a landscaper and had little business experience was not interested in running this organization so he appointed his adopted daughter, Janie, as Chief Executive Officer (she was a beautician who also had no formal business training, according to reports). This was a very small operation who also oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Electric Lady Studios, (a Seattle recording studio built especially for Hendrix in 1969). There is also the Experience Music Project (www.emplive.org) which holds music workshops, runs an on-site museum in dedication to Hendrix’s memory and has concerts featuring local blues and jazz acts.
So why is a respected musician’s name and likeness being used to sell golf balls, drinks and other novelties? In 2004, Janie Hendrix told Tracks magazine that the mass merchandising ideas were Al’s because he himself loved to golf. The senior Hendrix died two years earlier and had been ill for sometime prior so he could not only defend his actions but whether or not they were really his actions to begin with.
As a Hendrix fan for some years now as well as someone with an interest in intellectual property cases, I have read many accounts as to why this his image is being used in such a way that may border degrading. Many point the finger at stepsister Janie, who at nine years old, became part of the family after her mother married Al Hendrix in 1966. Others say that lawyers and/or the music business is to blame. Personally, I have to side with those that agree that if Hendrix made out and signed a will (on the quiet and not under any influences), the opportunists-whether their intentions are good or bad – would not have a gray area of speculation to stand on. The sex, drugs and rock’n roll lifestyle has always been one of the truest examples of “Tomorrow is not guaranteed.”. Measures should at least be taken so that those who are not family or friends do not get anything they didn’t work for.
When I think of Jimi Hendrix, I want to envision what the vibe was like in the studio when he and the Experience recorded “Little Miss Lover”,”Crosstown Traffic” or “Purple Haze”. Or what would he think about today’s artists or would he be on concert tours with The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. Or would we have “sightings” like Sly Stone has been doing in L.A. for the past year or so after not making a recording for nearly two decades (as a featured singer on Jesse Johnson’s Shockadelica album). While the speculation itself would make interesting blogger talk for a minute or two, I know that I do not want in my memory bank men’s underwear, incense or any drink that refers to the name or likeness of James (Jimi) Marshall Hendrix.
If you detest this form of mass merchandising, you can make a difference by writing to any of the companies listed in this article and expressing your thoughts (in a non-violent way and without the use of profanity) or just not buying it. I plan to do the latter.