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THE BIZ / CHUCK PHILIPS

Company Town: Entertainment Upheaval : Pulling Strings in the Hendrix Battle

August 04, 1995|Chuck Philips

The bitter legal battle in which Jimi Hendrix's father last week regained control over the rock star's legacy offers an interesting sidelight: the silent but powerful role played by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul G. Allen in the case.

There is little doubt that the 42-year-old Seattle billionaire and Hendrix fan saved the day by lending Hendrix's father nearly $6 million, without which the cash-strapped estate could not have pursued its costly case.

But questions are beginning to surface about whether Allen was acting as an altruistic benefactor or just the latest in a long line of capitalists trying to snatch up the coveted Hendrix catalogue.

In the dozen years since Allen split with Microsoft partner Bill Gates, much has been written about the reclusive bachelor's obsession with Hendrix, the guitarist and Seattle native who died in 1970 of suffocation after he took an overdose of sleeping tablets.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 5, 1995 Home Edition Business Part D Page 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Eddie Rosenblatt--Eddie Rosenblatt, who joined Geffen Records in 1980, is chairman of the West Hollywood-based label. Due to an editing error, The Times incorrectly identified him in a story Friday.

Allen, whose $5-billion empire includes a chunk of DreamWorks and Ticketmaster, once forked over $50,000 at a Sotheby's auction to purchase fragments of a Fender Stratocaster Hendrix had shattered during a performance. That acquisition is one of more than 5,000 pieces of Hendrix memorabilia that Allen's curators have been collecting and archiving in vaults around Seattle since 1990.

Two years ago, representatives of the corporation that previously controlled Hendrix's music said Allen met with them and expressed an interest in purchasing the rights to the catalogue. When the corporation accepted a bid from a rival suitor, Allen offered a multimillion-dollar interest-free loan to Al Hendrix, Hendrix's father, paying the legal fees to pursue a previously filed lawsuit aimed at recovering the legacy. In return, the elder Hendrix agreed to endorse a nonprofit museum dedicated to his son that Allen had hoped to open in Seattle this summer.

The first public sign of tension between the two parties occurred in February when Allen announced that the exhibition hall would neither open as planned in June nor be called the Jimi Hendrix Museum.

At the time, Allen said he had decided to expand the scope of the museum to include a wide variety of Northwestern artists, from Bing Crosby to Nirvana, and that he had changed the name to the Experience Museum Project.

What wasn't publicly known at the time, though, was that the announcement came shortly after Hendrix's father refused to sign a contract presented by Allen's attorneys that would grant the museum an exclusive, global, royalty-free license to market Jimi Hendrix music and merchandise.

Sources said Allen's attorneys began to pressure Al Hendrix last October and issued him an ultimatum: Sign the agreement or Allen would pull the plug on the financing. The checks stopped coming immediately after Al Hendrix rejected the proposal. By January, both sides had stopped talking to each other.

Neither Al Hendrix nor his representatives would comment about Allen or his role in the case.

Allen was unavailable, but his spokeswoman, Susan Pierson, said Allen cut off the funding when it passed the $5-million commitment to which she said he had agreed in 1993.

Pierson said she could "neither confirm nor deny" whether her boss' attorneys asked Al Hendrix to sign an agreement, but asserted that Allen's intentions were pure.

"Mr. Allen's motives were never sinister," Pierson said Thursday in a phone interview from Allen's Seattle headquarters. "His intentions were always absolutely altruistic. Mr. Allen never set out to and never will end up making a dime off this museum project. Anyone who knows him realizes that it was always love, not money, that drove this dream from the start."

*

No Mo For Disney: Walt Disney Co.'s Michael Eisner may have succeeded this week in creating the biggest entertainment company in the world, but that apparently has not improved his chances of securing the services of the most coveted executive team in the music business: Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker.

Ostin and Waronker, whose contractual obligations to Warner end this week, are said to still be weighing offers from almost a dozen suitors, including Eisner, Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone and Ronald Perelman, along with bids from Sony, PolyGram and one to return to Warner.

The betting , however, is that the dynamic duo will soon resurface at David Geffen's DreamWorks label, whose products are going to be distributed by MCA Music Entertainment.

Speaking of MCA, the biggest rumor buzzing through the record biz this week is that top brass there are kicking around the idea of purchasing Thorn-EMI.

If Seagram Co. Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr., whose company now owns MCA, could persuade Thorn-EMI chief Colin Southgate to sell his record division, Bronfman would immediately be sitting on top of the biggest music conglomerate in the nation.

Bronfman and his music chairman, Al Teller, have already moved aggressively to capitalize on the chaos at industry leader Warner Music Group, courting four of the ousted Warner executives. Their MCA executive ensemble already includes former Warner top dogs Doug Morris and Robert Krasnow, former Geffen Records Chairman Eddie Rosenblatt and Almo Sound chiefs Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert.

If Warner Music Group sheds its interest in controversial Interscope Records, Warner's total share would slip 2% to an estimated 19%. Adding MCA's approximate 10.5% with EMI's estimated 9.1% would catapult the combined company from fifth to first place in total album sales. It would also swiftly make the company a force to contend with abroad as well as in the United States.

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