By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
Gotham Metro CEO Michael Lasky confirms Craddick's account, and classifies a Hendrix-related film project his company has been working on as "on hold." As for his company's current financial bill of health, Lasky concedes they've fallen on hard times, quipping, "If the state of California and federal government are considered solvent, then I guess we are too."
For years, Leon and his bandmates ignored this contractual tornado. But recently Isaac, for one, got fed up. "I personally couldn't take it anymore," says the guitarist, who feels that the band has become "a local Seattle joke." Hence this past August, he enlisted Chicago businessman Greg Groeper, a friend from Isaac's days as a studio engineer in the Windy City, to help apply some business-savvy salve to the band's situation.
The first person Isaac put Groeper in contact with was Williams. Groeper is now the foundation's marketing and charitable gifts coordinator, and has taken charge of the band's affairs as well. "Mark [Stella, the group's bassist] calls me the antiterrorist division," Groeper says of his current role. "He says my job is to keep the assholes away."
Groeper also helped soothe the residual tension between Leon and Jimmy Williams. "Leon knows I'm working with Jimmy, and Jimmy knows I'm working with Leon," he says. "Having me in between them has seemed to make a very big difference in their relationship. Leon could basically be the spokesperson for the foundation and use the band to create awareness and funding for the foundation. And the foundation can provide Leon with the necessary legal cover he needs to make sure that Janie doesn't go chasing his ass down the road ever again."
Adds Groeper: "I believe truly that there are a lot of things [Leon] has done that he would not have done were it not for the influence of some unscrupulous people. Yes, he's blessed with having Jimi as his brother, because that cuts through a lot of the muck and gives him an audience. But as a visual artist, he's very talented — and nobody pays attention to that. They just want to use him to market vodka or coffee or condoms or whatever. I'm just trying to convince him that he has to make it with what God gave him, not what other people give him."
Isaac first met Leon a few years ago, shortly after Leon began performing live, at a Venice Beach bar called Scruffy O'Shea's where Leon was scheduled to play. "He was scared shitless," recalls Isaac. Leon aborted his set before Isaac had a chance to join him onstage, but the pair cemented a relationship that night, and Isaac eventually joined Leon's band.
"At first, [Leon] didn't believe in himself, and has at times been afraid to play," seconds Neil Kirkland, the band's drummer and keyboardist since 2002. "But then he got good."
Good, but not great — and Jimi was arguably the best there ever was. "I have a psychological impediment being Jimi's brother," Leon concedes. But he got over this hump shortly after one of his clients came to him looking to score dope. She didn't have any money, but had an old guitar in tow, so Leon agreed to a swap. Later, while loaded, he says, he nodded off. Shortly thereafter, he claims, "Jimi came and the guitar started vibrating, making noise by itself. The guitar started to talk to me, and it was compelling."
"[Leon is] a natural musician," says Williams. "He's not Jimi — nobody is. But he's done a lot in ten years. He's mastered the guitar and has a band and he's great."
"He's way better than I expected," seconds Cross. "The problem is his brother is the most famous guitarist who's ever lived. So for Leon, it's absolutely nuts for Jimi Hendrix's brother to even think he could be a guitar player. It's suicidal, almost. You have to, to a degree, admire that."
Al sure didn't. According to Cross's book, he frowned upon his boys taking up music as a career, with Jimi often practicing in secret to avoid his father's ire. Only when Jimi made it big did his dad embrace his talent. But this only served to strengthen Al's resolve when it came to Leon.
"My dad forbade me to play after Jimi," Leon says.
For years, Leon honored his father's wishes. But when he finally went against Al's will, "his attempt at music helped get him edged out of the estate," says Cross.
Local musician-producer Brin Addison was the one who gave Leon guitar lessons on Dieffenbach's recommendation. Addison remembers the Hendrix clan being less than receptive to Leon's six-string pursuit. "I recorded countless hours of music that [Leon] could present to Al in the hopes of being accepted back into the family. Janie didn't like that idea and pretty much poisoned Al against him — and eventually he was cut out of the estate altogether," says Addison. "In the end, Al figured he knew Leon too well and didn't see music as a turning point. I'm not sure playing guitar was a direct reason for him being cut out, but it may have contributed in some way or other."