Jimi went inside with his music. When he got on stage, that was his time

Half a century after his big brother arrived in London to begin his short career, Leon Hendrix reflects on Jimis life and music

The eyes have it: immediately, and strikingly, the same as those staring out from the portrait of Jimi Hendrix on the wall. But of course, this is Leon Hendrix, the younger brother of the greatest guitarist of all time, and in London this weekend, 50 years to the day since Jimi arrived in Britain in 1966 to launch his astonishing career.

Leon Hendrix bounded up the stairs of the house in Brook Street, London W1 which George Frideric Handel had also occupied two centuries earlier to the top flat in which Jimi lived in 1968 and 69. It is now beautifully decked out to look exactly as it was, a museum and music centre called Handel & Hendrix in London, where Hendrixs Little Wing is played on the harpsichord in Handels music room.

Later on Saturday evening, Leon born six years after Jimi picked up his own guitar to play his brothers, and his own, music at the Scotch, the London club to which Jimi was taken on that very first night in England.

Left to right, John Campbell, Daphne Guinness, Leon Hendrix, Mark Arnold and Kevin OGrady at the Scotch of St James. Photograph: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images
Leon is slender, intense, and enjoys the inevitable conversation about his brother rather than himself, in the room which Jimi called the first real home of my own.

Everyone knows the Hendrix childhood was hardly that of a model family a mother who left, and a father who drank more than he cared. But Jimi looked after me, recalls Leon. For some reason, I never missed a meal. He looked out for me like an elder-brother-father; he made me what you English call tea and made sure I was OK. And sometimes, we used to sneak off to Moms for dinner.

But where did the music come from? Its called inspiration, says Leon, almost scolding. As in spirit, as in in-spirit-ation. Its in the wind. I was there when Jimi was a boy, and hed play with a broom, his first guitar. And Pa would come home and see the straw and shit from the broom on the floor, because Jimid been doing acrobatics with his his broom-guitar, and Jimid get a whuppin.

According to Leons book, Jimi Hendrix: A Brothers Story, Jimis first real instrument was a ukulele the boys found while cleaning out a neighbours garage. When he finally got a guitar, Jimi, says Leon, used to take gold tassels from his Pas empty Seagrams 7 bottles and tie them to it.

But the music came from nowhere, he says. Music has no body, and I remember when Jimi was playing, hed try to conjure up the sound with his fingers where is it? Once, when we were little, Jimi took a radio apart, trying to find the music inside it. We lost the screwdriver behind the sofa and couldnt put it back together, and that was another whuppin.

Kathy Etchingham, the former girlfriend of Jimi Hendrix, posing for photographs in his former bedroom, now a museum. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Leon says, poignantly, of Hendrixs soft vocal timbre: It came from always being told to shut up as a kid. Jimi went inside with his music, and when he got on stage, that was his time.

There is genetic lineage, it turns out, as Leon imparts some new information My mothers grandfather was a musician. He was black, but looked so white he was allowed to play, down in Louisiana. He played orchestral music in the 1800s. However, my own children want nothing to do with music, theyve seen what it did to us. My daughters in Mexico and my son wants to be a scientist, or a doctor. But Ive got these grandchildren and theyre mighty interested. Hey, grandpa, play us that music by uncle Jimi!

But in one way, reflects Leon, Jimis just my brother. When I was little, I thought what he was doing was ordinary stuff. I didnt even know we were poor, it was just life in the projects. He remembers Jimi taking him to see Buster Crabbe in 15-minute Flash Gordon films, for a nickel that was Jimis nickname: Buster.

Leon has had an interesting life: taken into care at a foster home where Jimi would visit him short periods in jail for minor offences, drug problems for which he was successfully treated, and being taken on tour with his brother, during which he got a share in the chicks backstage.

An accomplished artist, Leon went on to work with the Boeing aerospace company as an expert technical draughtsman. I thought I was going to be drawing airplanes like Jimi taught me, he says, but it was nothing like that. You draw this bolt, or this nut and off it goes to some department and into a bit of machinery. So I quit.

Leon was left out of his father Als will when he died in 2002, the estate going to Als adopted daughter in another marriage, Janie. Leon has initiated serial court cases staking a claim to his brothers music, as far as the US Supreme Court, which upheld the will. However, another ruling in 2011 granted Leon rights to his brothers name and likeness though not his music and there was an undisclosed settlement in 2015. Although the overall loser in this bitter and often sordid battle, Leon says, in his brothers old flat: Its their problem. Theyve made their billions, but Im happy. I am my brothers brother. So whos the richest?

Leon launched his musical career after the age of 50, he explains, and it got going after I separated from my Catholic-bird wife. As the Leon Hendrix Band, he has released two albums, with another on the way, but for this special night at the Scotch, he joins other musicians from a band called Are You Experienced, whose lead guitarist, John Campbell from Birmingham, is not so much a cover or tribute artist as a devotee, says Leon, whose antennae found my brothers spirit.

Hendrix, The Who, the Rolling Stones and others played the Scotch back in the day, and on Saturday night Handel & Hendrix in London booked the now upscale nightclub for a special early-evening commemorative shift. Lets play it for Jimi, said Campbell in broad Brummie, wearing the trademark military parade jacket and an orange sash around his head, launching into Machine Gun and Star Spangled Banner as appropriated by Hendrix.

John Campbell and Leon Hendrix performing at the Scotch. Photograph: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Leon took the stage on which his brother played 50 years ago, and introduced Bob Dylans All Along the Watchtower, saying: Dylan picked up me and my Pa in his limousine, and called this one the song Jimi wrote! Leon had some trouble remembering the lyrics, apologised, Sorry Jimi and confided to his audience: I like to drink Jack Daniels. So what, they said in the forgiving, happy crowd, its Jimis brother.

Leon had said back at his brothers flat: I just move with the spirit, man where it takes me, I go, and Jimis there. Hes my brother and hes still lookin out for me. And now, at the end of the evening: God bless you Jimi, for all the times you sent me round the world, following the spirit.

Hendrix wrote his greatest ballad, Angel, for his mother, of whom he saw little. And of course, this was Leons mother too, of whom he saw even less. Which made for a cogent solo in Campbells rendering, during which Leon took his hands from his own rhythm guitar, removed his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/sep/25/jimi-went-inside-with-his-music-when-he-got-on-stage-that-was-his-time

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