By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
"I can't answer for what my father was thinking," she says today. "He tried to instill his morals and his values into all of us. And I often did hear my father say that Leon didn't get it. [Al] was a gardener who often worked from six in the morning to nine at night. He was an avid golfer, and he said, 'There're no gimmes.'"
"You look at Jimi, he had his own studio," continues Janie. "[Jimi] recorded around the clock, laid down for a little while, got up, and wanted to work again. Consequently, we probably still have another ten years of unreleased material, which is incredible for an artist who really functioned for only four years. Why? His work ethic."
Janie also states that Leon was offered a design job at Experience Hendrix, but turned it down — a claim Leon disputes. "When we were in front of my dad, [Janie] said, 'Yeah, Leon can work here,'" Leon recalls. "But when I got out of treatment a year or so later, it was a different story. Every time I tried to go down there and say, 'Okay, give me the job now,' there was always an excuse. If she offered me a job now, I'd take it. She's committed genocide on my family. We got no insurance; we got nothin'."
Bankrolled to the tune of $3.5 million in legal fees by a wealthy real-estate developer named Craig Dieffenbach, who doubled as Leon's manager at the time, Leon filed suit in King County Superior Court after his father's death. He claimed his stepsister, who only met Jimi a handful of times in her youth, had manipulated an elderly, infirm Al into rewriting a will that did not represent his true interests. In court, Janie's lawyers portrayed Al's action as tough love — after Leon had squandered multiple opportunities to prove himself a worthy recipient of his brother's fortune. In 2004, the judge ruled in favor of Janie.
"Whatever the will said, Leon was the single closest person to Jimi during the course of his life," observes Cross, who attended much of the trial. "Should he have been included? Positively, yes. There's the law, and then there's what's right."
Counters Janie: "First of all, the closest person to Jimi was Dad. As far as Leon goes, it is sad and unfortunate, but Leon received more than two million dollars in his lifetime when my father was taking care of him. And Leon had already sold his rights to various people. If he'd gotten any money, it wouldn't come to him, it would come to the people he'd sold his rights to."
Not long after the verdict, Dieffenbach came out with Hendrix Electric Vodka. After Dieffenbach hosted a star-studded launch party for the hooch that was chronicled in the Los Angeles Times, Experience Hendrix sued, alleging trademark infringement. Dieffenbach countered that Janie only held the rights to Jimi's music. Janie once again prevailed in court, and last month a settlement was announced wherein Dieffenbach and Electric Hendrix, LLC will pay Experience Hendrix $3.2 million for the infraction. Bottles of the vodka will also be removed from store shelves. (It's worth noting that Experience Hendrix has pushed its share of tacky Hendrix-related products as well, including a rocking chair, golf balls and a nonalcoholic red wine. "The Jimi Hendrix rocking chair is one of the dumbest ideas ever marketed in rock and roll," says Cross.)
While some news reports stated that Leon was involved with the vodka launch, and though court documents identify him as part owner, Leon was never named as a defendant in the suit, and denies any direct involvement with the product. "I had nothing to do with it," he says. "[Dieffenbach] didn't even contact me until two years after he started the company. I came to find out later that he'd put me as an owner when he first started the company. He called it a Hendrix family endeavor in some fancy magazines, so he had to come to me then. He said, 'I'm gonna give you guys [Leon and several of his relatives] some money [2 percent shares of the company, according to Leon],' and we said okay because we didn't have no money. But we haven't seen any money since."
Dieffenbach, who now lives in Beverly Hills, remembers things much differently. "He was in on it from the very fricking beginning," he says of Leon's involvement. "I'm very disappointed in him."
Dieffenbach also disputes Leon's claim that he and family members never received payouts from the vodka endeavor. "At one point, we did a $26,000 distribution, and we'd been paying Leon for years."
Leon first met Dieffenbach in Seattle in the late '90s, shortly after Leon got out of drug treatment. At the time, Dieffenbach, who was instrumental in redeveloping the block where the Columbia City Theater and Tutta Bella Pizzeria now reside, ran a local recording studio, and he says he arranged for Leon to take guitar lessons and helped get his career off the ground. Today the two rarely speak to one another.
Now that he's $6.7 million lighter, does Dieffenbach regret getting involved in the Hendrix family affairs? "No, because there's a lot of help that we were able to bring to a lot of his family members," he insists. "We worked on saving [Jimi and Leon's childhood] house and gave it our best shot. We backed him when he got cut out of the will, but how much can you help somebody? The family's dysfunctional. That whole family has been in an awful way for a long time."