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Sister helps to preserve the Jimi Hendrix experience

Janie Hendrix was only 9 years old when her famous older brother, Jimi, died in September 1970 of a drug overdose. Today, her memories of him remain so vivid, she can picture him sitting next to her at the dinner table.

“What I remember most was his gentleness, he was very sweet, and his smile and his laugh,” Hendrix said recently from her home in Seattle. “You felt like he was this magnet, that you’re just drawn into his presence and you didn’t want to leave because it was so comforting and soothing.

“He was funny. A lot of people don’t know his humor. He would say jokes at the table, and if you caught it, you were in on the joke. If you didn’t, you’d look over at him and it’s like, ‘I just missed it, didn’t I?’ He would have this look on his face and his eyes would gleam, like the Cheshire cat who swallowed the mouse. He was so much fun to be around.”

Who better than an adoring little sister to oversee the guitar great’s ground-breaking music?

After two-and-a-half years of legal wrangling with the Hendrix family’s former attorney, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend’s surviving family members assumed control of his catalog in 1995. Since then, they have done an extraordinary job of reissuing Hendrix albums, all for the first time from original master tapes. Rereleased last year were “Are You Experienced?,” “Axis: Bold As Love” and “Electric Ladyland,” and “First Rays of the New Rising Sun,” the album he was working on at the time of his death.

The latest is “Band of Gypsys,” released Jan. 13 by EMI-Capitol Entertainment Properties. Hendrix’s engineer, Eddie Kramer, digitally remastered the 1970 live album, which captured Hendrix’s brief rock-funk partnership with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox shortly after the Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded in mid-1969.

“For Jimi, it was about reaching another audience,” Janie Hendrix said. “If I say to you rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, Motown, jazz, in your mind automatically you picture a certain audience. For Jimi, it was about taking all the different genres and putting it together to create his own sound. In doing that, bringing people of all different colors together under one roof and enjoying the music.

“The unfortunate part when he was doing the Experience in London, his audience was the very English kids and it kind of trickled over when he came back to America, but he wanted to reach people of color, and that’s one of the reasons he did the Band of Gypsys.”

Annually, Hendrix’s catalog sells more than 2 million copies worldwide, but before 1995, fans were saddled with far inferior CD recordings. As president and CEO of fledgling Experience Hendrix, Janie Hendrix set out to right a wrong.

“When the old administration (at MCA) did their rereleases (in the early 1990s), they used fifth-generation copies,” she said, “so they sounded very murky and muddled up. When we took over, we went back to a facility in London where the old administration had left the tapes there, the masters, with Jimi’s writing on it and everything. We went back and retrieved our 60-plus tapes. That’s why the clarity of the tapes is so good.

“The old administration had put out stuff that we didn’t agree with, but we weren’t ever asked. In fact, we had to go to a store to buy our own product and T-shirts. We didn’t know any better; we thought we were supporting the cause. It’s not even the thought of ‘Can I have a CD?’ We didn’t even think to ask. I know that in litigation that came up, and they were saying, ‘All you have to do is ask.’ At that point, it was like, ‘Why did we have to ask? Why weren’t you sending it to us?’

“It was actually quite embarrassing. About five years ago, I was at a record store buying all these bootlegs to see how come these were being released, and the clerk looks at my credit card and said, ‘Wait a minute, your last name is Hendrix? Are you any relation, and why are you buying these? Don’t you get them for free?’ ”

The litigation came about after the former Hendrix family attorney tried to get Janie and her father, Al, to sell their rights to Jimi’s recordings.

“That’s when the white flag goes up, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on here?’ ” Janie Hendrix said. “I hired some attorneys and they started investigating. My dad was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about; I have the rights.’ I said, ‘Well, look at these (forged) documents.’ He said, ‘I didn’t sign that, that’s not me.’ ”

The morale of the story?

“You reap what you sow,” Hendrix said. “My dad has always given to people. People come to my father and may only have a cracker in their cupboard and ask him for $20. He would have only $20 on him to last him through the week, but he’d always give it to people.

“It’s also good karma and the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have do unto you. I truly believe that’s why (control of the Hendrix catalog) came back to us.”

Next on Experience Hendrix’s slate is the June 2 release of “The Jimi Hendrix Experience: The BBC Sessions,” combining the 1988 Rykodisc album “Radio One” with 13 previously unreleased tracks on two CDs.

“This is going to have 30 songs, 13 never before heard,” Janie Hendrix said. “When the BBC was pulling up the Led Zeppelin stuff, they uncovered some more Jimi tapes that haven’t been heard since they first aired and some of them were not used at all.”

Experience Hendrix expects to release two albums a year for the next 10 years, Janie Hendrix said. They also operate the Jimi Hendrix Web site and Hendrix Records, recording and releasing new music from emerging young artists.

BWF (before we forget): Plug into the Hendrix experience on the Web @ … A selected Hendrix album discography – “Are You Experienced?” (Reprise, 1967); “Axis: Bold As Love” (1968); “Electric Ladyland” (1968); “Smash Hits” (1969); “Band of Gypsys” (Capitol, 1970); “The Cry of Love” (Reprise, 1971); “Rainbow Bridge” (1971); “Hendrix in the West” (1972); “War Heroes” (1972); “Crash Landing” (1975); “Midnight Lightning” (1975); “The Essential Hendrix” (1978); “The Essential Hendrix, Volume Two” (1979); “Nine to the Universe” (1980); “The Jimi Hendrix Concerts” (1982); “Kiss the Sky” (1984); “Jimi Plays Monterey” (1986); “Radio One” (Rykodisc, 1988); “Lifelines/The Jimi Hendrix Story” (Reprise, 1991); “The Ultimate Experience” (MCA, 1993); “Blues” (1994); “Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock” (1994); “Voodoo Soup” (1995); “First Rays of the New Rising Sun” (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1997); “South Saturn Delta” (1997); “Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix” (1998).

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