Guitar-playing fans of rock legend Jimi Hendrix received something of a shock yesterday. Authentic Hendrix LLC – the official home of all things Jimi – announced a partnership with Gibson Guitars with the launch of the Jimi Hendrix Signature Electric Guitar packs. The shock? As you can see, the basic design is anything but classic Gibson.
Keen to get the inside story, we spoke with Jimi’s sister and head of Authentic Hendrix, Janie Hendrix. You can read our views on the instrument itself in Guitarist issue 322, on sale 29 October, and see more specs and details at Gibson's website
image © Authentic Hendrix
How did this project for the guitar come together?
“Well it started when we were fighting to get the rights to Jimi’s legacy back, around 1992-’95 [Janie refers to the legal battle over Jimi Hendrix’s estate with attorney Leo Branton in 1995]. Gibson had developed this Flying V with Jimi’s signature in gold in time to celebrate the 25th year of Jimi’s memorial. Well, after we got our rights back we did a deal with Fender and we worked with them for a while and then, well, one thing led to another and we weren’t working with Fender. But I’ll back up a bit and tell you a little history…
“When I was a kid I remember Jimi had all these different guitars, and I said, How many different guitars do you have, and he said, 100! He asked me which one was my favourite and I said, The one that looks like an arrow, the Flying V. And he kinda’ whispers and winks at me and says, Yeah that’s one of my favourites too.
“As you know he painted the Flying V and we ended up duplicating that guitar – we thought that Gibson did a wonderful job with that. They could have cut corners; done a silk screen or whatever, but they did each one individually. So then we started talking about other releases of guitars. And really there are only a few guitars that Jimi played that were part of the Gibson family, but one of Jimi’s missions in life was to give back to young musicians. He would invite them to a studio and let them listen while he recorded Electric Ladyland. If he found a kid that was really interested in playing guitar, he would give them one of his guitars.
"So we thought, Y’know if Jimi were alive he would really have wanted to do this; develop guitars that he would create of course, so what we’re doing are guitars that are more like inspired by what he’s left us behind; his lyrics, his art, his name… And also the type of sound that he was able to achieve by flipping the guitar the other way around, the pickups going the other way and so on. We’re trying to continue his legacy and his mission in life which was to give back his music and his sound – the ‘electric church’, just feeling the music and the sounds, that’s where all this comes from.”
So Jimi wanted to inspire and ‘give back’ – did he receive that as a young player - who offered him that help?
“My dad. His first instrument was a ukulele – my dad was a landscape gardener and he did a lot of clean-up work. He once found a ukulele and then their landlord had an acoustic and was selling it for five dollars, which actually was a lot of money back then. So my dad got enough money together to buy that. He really loved that but then of course he wanted an electric guitar, and as the story goes… Well you know the story – the rest is history!”
Presumably keeping the price point affordable is important in terms of making it available to kids?
And it’s not Gibson branded, it’s Jimi Hendrix branded?
Did you have any input to the instructional DVD that comes with the guitars?
“Because we have deals with other people, we really couldn’t have his music on it; it’s more of a teaching thing, but it’s very informative as far as basic instruction goes. If a kid can’t afford lessons, he can still gain the knowledge of Guitar 101, that’s what we really want, so when they get the guitar it’s not, Well what do I do now? They have a beginning.”
You touched briefly on Fender earlier on – a lot of people would assume that a guitar shaped like this would come from Fender…
“It was Gibson who saw a vision from the beginning and was willing to work with us. I mean we don’t have anything against Fender, we have no bad blood, but it’s just that we have and had built a better relationship with Gibson over the years.”
We understand that Authentic Hendrix is committed to preserving Jimi’s legacy and integrity, but what would you say to anyone who might see this products like this as exploiting his name rather than honouring it?
“I guess I would have to quote my dad, and my father would say, Well, we own it. Jimi was our family member and we’ll just make sure that we take care of him the best way we can. We know the history and the things that were done and not done and I think that history has shown that with the music and using the original masters and searching for video footage that hasn’t been seen; putting the documentaries together – what Experience Hendrix has done has proven that we are committed to keeping Jimi’s legacy alive and intact and bring it to you in the most authentic form.
“As far as creating instruments for people to play, I’m also on the Guitar Center board and the mission is to give to underprivileged kids who really want to play instruments, and if all of this can help kids to be inspired – the young Stevie Ray Vaughans, the young Jonny Langs, the young Kenny Wayne Shepherds – then I don’t see anything wrong with creating a beautiful musical instrument that’s also art. A lot of times that’s how the fans feel connected to Jimi.”
So there are some new Hendrix releases planned – can you tell us about those?
“Absolutely. I just got back from Portugal a couple of days ago where we met with Sony’s International marketing team, so we’re really excited to have a deal with Sony. First of all we will begin re-releasing the core albums but not as you know them right now. They’ll have the same covers but they will be packaged differently in more of a Digipak, including a DVD and more content, so it’ll be a wonderful collectable item as well as giving fans more music and also information from a 24-36-page booklet. All those will be released after January 1 because our contract is ending with Universal.
“Then we have an album that is as yet untitled; it’s going to be various pieces of Jimi's songs from his early career in Paris until he passed away. It will go from 1966 to 1970; some songs are different versions – there’s an amazing Bleeding Heart on there and there are other songs that you haven’t heard; different covers of songs, plus a couple of gems of songs that have never been heard at all. That will be a single album that will be released around February 2010.
“Then of course we have The Royal Albert Hall, released next year. It’s basically reality TV as we know it today; there’s a camera crew, several people that followed Jimi, Mitch and Noel around in Europe and they did two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. In that people get to see Jimi as himself – that’s the one question we get asked the most: What was Jimi really like? Well you get to see what Jimi was really like! He’s in his own environment, backstage, in his apartment, on trains, planes and automobiles, checking into hotels – living the life on the road that he did. That will come out later on next year .
“Then we’ll have an anthology project, but we have a lot of material that will come out for the next 10 years – it’s exciting! We’re building the foundation of a great relationship that we’ll have with Sony for the next decade. They’re not only inspiring, but they’re also inspired to give Jimi to the world like they’ve never seen him.”
With the main three albums [Are You Experienced? Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland], was there any talk of remasters in the way that The Beatles records have just been treated?
“Probably down the line. We have so many other projects happening, and of course The Beatles have been at it for quite a while! But yeah, there is much talk about bringing the fans everything they could possibly want! And we’ll do a box set of the core albums which has never been done.”
Finally Janie, is there one Jimi performance that stands out above all others for you?
“Every performance I was blessed to see was unique and wonderful, but I would have to say the first time he came back to Seattle. He was nervous – you wouldn’t think that he would be. I mean he’d made it in London and those releases proved that not only was he this rising star, but that he’d made it! But the family was in the audience and he was saying, I’ve played all over the world and I’m nervous! And he was pacing around backstage, but when he went out he was on it, he was loud and his performance was amazing.
"And then he played The Star Spangled Banner and my father… well, back then of course that was sacrilegious as some people looked at it. So my dad was squeezing my hand, scared that he was going to get arrested, but it was just beautiful. The police didn’t do anything, the security didn’t do anything and the concert went on – it was amazing! My dad was pinching himself, he said, I can’t believe that he’s here and this is all happening. Jimi said the same thing, just to be performing in his home town with his family there.”
interview by Mick Taylor, editor, Guitarist