Jimi Hendrix: A Brother's Story By Leon Hendrix with Adam Mitchell Thomas Dunne Books, 276 pp. $25.99
Memoirs about rock stars written by family members, friends, ex-wives and quickie backstage assignations are a wildly divergent lot that alternately take the narrative tracks of score-settling, axe-grinding, deification or exploitation.
Fortunately, this effort by Jimi Hendrix's younger brother is a mostly sweet remembrance of the rock legend, heavy on tales of their youthful adventures (and misadventures) as Leon and the brother everyone called "Buster" (after Flash Gordon serial actor Buster Crabbe and Jimi's love of science fiction) grew up under less than ideal circumstances.
Al and Lucille Hendrix seemed to go through dozens of intense breakups, reconciliations, affairs and children whose parentage was in question. That they both liked to drink and party regularly often meant that the boys would dine on two-day-old spaghetti while Al slept off a bender.
After Lucille died and child protective workers felt the home situation wasn't good, Leon was shipped off to a foster home, though he saw father and brother often.
But even at an early age, Leon writes of Jimi's innate understanding and unquenchable desire for music -- to learn about it, play it and live it. Once, Al came home to find the family radio in pieces and thus unusable.
When he furiously asked young Jimi what he thought he was doing, the boy replied, "I was looking for where the music came from." And Jimi's first instrument? Not the guitar, but a ukulele!
Leon and Al hadn't seen Jimi in seven years when the guitarist returned home after a stint in the army, years of gigging as a backup guitarist on the chitlin' circuit, and then finally the release of his own groundbreaking record, Are You Experienced?, and worldwide fame.
The generous rocker quickly showered family with material and monetary gifts, later taking Leon on the road where he got his fair share of free drugs and love.
"Make sure you let Jimi know you got the best pussy you ever had last night," Leon recalls one lovely lady asking him to pass on. It wouldn't be the last time that a willing groupie would gladly entertain Leon when Jimi was otherwise occupied.
Still, Leon questioned the intense work schedule that Jimi's handlers and manager Michael Jeffrey put him under, as well as some shady financial dealings. Leon recalls seeing Jeffrey take a suitcase of about $80,000 in cash after a gig (which is how Hendrix was often paid), yet the musician was put on a per diem of only $50 a day, and millions would go forever unaccounted for.
Leon writes frankly about his years of drug addiction, criminal enterprises and street hustling, and about learning of his brother's death while in a correctional facility. It is this lifestyle that probably contributed to his lack of attention to the increasingly very lucrative affairs of his brother's estate, handled at various times by his befuddled father (who received a measly $50,000 a year when Hendrix's music was selling in the millions), a series of lawyers, and finally a family cousin and Janie Hendrix, the daughter of Al's second wife.
Few music fans would argue that Janie's handling of Experience Hendrix LLC has been nothing short of phenomenal in the past decade. Still, when Al died in 2002 and Leon -- who had previously been a beneficiary in all previous wills -- was not listed at all in the last one, it meant that Jimi's blood brother and his children received no current or future money, and only a single gold record of Jimi's which arrived in a FedEx package.
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Lawsuits went back and forth, with a court ultimately siding with Janie and the last will. Still, it was a hard blow for Leon -- who says he's been clean for many years -- to walk away with nothing. A later decision allowed him to use Jimi's image and likeness for business purposes, but he still was plainly screwed out of an ethical, if not legal, claim to the estate.
Today, Leon Hendrix fronts his own band, playing both his own music and his brother's, while also working as a visual artist. And while other Hendrix books have concentrated on his roles as musical genius, troubled soul and visionary dead far too soon, this one celebrates the sweet, shy, protective older brother -- who just happened to wear crazy clothes and set his guitar on fire.