After protracted litigation, the father of rock icon Jimi Hendrix has regained control of his son's legacy.
Under a settlement expected to be signed Friday, the rights to the famed '60s psychedelic guitarist's image and music will be returned immediately to James Al Hendrix, the rock star's 76-year-old father and sole heir to his estate.
As part of the pact, Hendrix agreed to drop a two-year-old fraud lawsuit against Leo Branton Jr., a prominent Los Angeles civil rights attorney whom the father had accused of selling the rights to the late rock star's catalogue without his consent.
"I feel elated," said Hendrix in a phone interview from his modest Seattle home. "Jimi would feel happy to know we won this thing and got it all back. It's a great day."
Worldwide sales of Hendrix albums generate in excess of $3 million a year in royalties. In addition, more than $1 million worth of garments, posters and paraphernalia bearing his name and likeness are sold each year. The elder Hendrix has been paid less than $2 million in the past 20 years.
Hendrix filed the suit on April 19, 1993, after learning that MCA Music Entertainment was preparing to buy his son's recording and publishing copyrights from a pair of international companies that claimed to own them. The MCA deal -- estimated to be worth $40 million -- was put on hold after the senior Hendrix's objections. Also named as defendants were producer Alan Douglas and several firms that have profited from Hendrix's catalogue since 1974 under contracts negotiated by Branton.
James Marshall Hendrix redefined the sound of the electric guitar, and though he recorded only five albums during his brief career, his penchant for loud, dissonant feedback altered the course of American music. On the day he died in 1970, however, the 27-year-old Seattle rocker owed thousands of dollars in advanced royalty payments to his record company and personal manager. After a series of bad investments and bitter litigation battles that nearly drove the estate into bankruptcy, Hendrix's father, a retired gardener, hired Branton in 1971 to manage his business affairs.
Branton restructured the assets, settled all pending litigation and quickly reestablished control over most of Jimi Hendrix's original master tapes. He hired producer Douglas as a consultant to edit and prepare unreleased Hendrix material for the pop market. Branton also negotiated a number of contracts without informing Al Hendrix that he also represented the opposite parties.
None of the parties involved in the litigation would discuss details of the settlement, but sources said that Al Hendrix will be required to pay Branton and others between $5 million and $10 million over time to resolve the matter. In addition, the family must repay a $6 million loan to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, a Hendrix fan who helped underwrite the legal battle until last fall.
In return, Douglas and other defendants will immediately make payments to Hendrix in excess of $1 million. Douglas and Branton are required to immediately return all of the rock star's properties -- including the titles to his songbook and the original master tapes. Although the agreement allows Douglas to complete an album and documentary in progress, he is barred from initiating or participating in any new Hendrix-related projects without prior written consent.
MCA, which currently distributes Hendrix's recordings in the United States under a five-year licensing agreement, is attempting to negotiate a deal with the family to continue distributing the music. Polygram, whose license to distribute Hendrix's music internationally will expire this year, also is attempting to negotiate global film and music rights that sources said could be worth as much as $80 million. CAPTION: The album sales of Jimi Hendrix, who died in 1970, still generate more than $3 million a year in royalties worldwide. CAPTION: James Al Hendrix is shown with his son's bass guitar and amplifier. Jimi Hendrix's legacy is worth an estimated $80 million. CAPTION: "Jimi would feel happy to know we won," says Al Hendrix. (Photo ran in an earlier edition)