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20 Years Ago: Jimi Hendrix’s Father Wins Control of His Estate

Jimi Hendrix
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When Jimi Hendrix died on Sept. 18, 1970, it brought one of rock’s most promising young careers to a premature end. But the Hendrix moneymaking machine — and the legal battles to control it — were just getting started.

Hendrix’s estate reverted to his father, Al, after he died, but the senior Hendrix, a retired gardener, got off to something of a bumpy start managing his son’s assets, and by 1971, he’d hired civil rights attorney Leo Branton Jr. to help turn things around. By all accounts, that’s exactly what Branton did — but as Al Hendrix later alleged, he may have also been guilty of some shady business dealings that ultimately came close to costing Al Hendrix control of Jimi’s legacy.

That crisis was averted on July 26, 1995, when a potential lawsuit between Hendrix and an array of defendants (including Branton) was averted with a settlement that immediately returned control of Jimi’s image and music to Al — a huge victory that had a tremendous impact on intellectual property that was pulling in roughly $4 million annually. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the settlement forced MCA to start over with a $40 million distribution deal they’d already negotiated with Branton, and sent Polygram scrambling back to the table in an effort to renew its own lucrative hold on international rights.

For Al Hendrix, regaining the reins of Jimi’s estate meant more than a financial windfall. “I feel elated,” he told the Times. “Jimi would feel happy to know we won this thing and got it all back. It’s a great day.”

Unfortunately, the Hendrix estate still had many more court dates in its future. Al Hendrix died in 2002, and left the solidly profitable Experience Hendrix LLC to his adopted daughter, Janie — a decision that didn’t sit well with his biological son Leon, who launched his own legal battle asserting that Janie had somehow finagled her way into Al’s will at his expense.

The courts sided in Janie’s favor, but lawyers have continued racking up Hendrix-related billable hours in recent years, with everything from an allegedly stolen guitar to Leon’s line of “official” Jimi Hendrix marijuana products prompting lawsuits and other legal bickering. With Hendrix’s music as popular as ever, and merchandising opportunities continuing to expand, the courtroom battles seem likely to continue.

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