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13 November 2006 @ 06:48 pm
Renton Reporter: Hendrix lives  
Hendrix lives

By Emily Garland, Staff writer November 13, 2006

Jimi Hendrix would have been 64 this month.

For many who make the pilgrimage to his grave in Renton, he's still around
Jimi Hendrix wasn't born in Renton, he didn't live in Renton and he didn't die in Renton. Yet Renton is fast becoming the destination for Hendrix fans.

It all started with the gravesite. Although it's said Hendrix wanted to be buried in England, where he spent the last years of his life, his family lived in Seattle. So after he died in 1970, Hendrix's body was flown across the Atlantic and laid to rest in Greenwood Memorial Park Cemetery and Funeral Home in the Highlands. In April 2003, the grave was moved beneath a newly built gazebo memorial, surrounded by plots for 50 family members.
Next came the house. Just over a year ago, one of Hendrix's childhood homes was transplanted from Seattle's Central District to Hi-Lands Mobilehome Manor, directly across the street from Greenwood Memorial Park.

And just last month, the James Marshall Hendrix Foundation (also called the Jimi Hendrix Foundation) moved its office from downtown Seattle to a complex just up the hill from Renton City Hall.

Operated by Hendrix's childhood friend, Jimmy Williams, and his brother, Leon Hendrix, the foundation plans to run a variety of charitable programs. All in Jimi's name, of course.
"The key point is we moved to Renton because it's more cordial and hospitable," Williams said.

Williams, 63, blames Seattle and the media for the "beating" Jimi received after his death.
"They mistreated his legacy," Williams said. "They said he was a drug addict and nobody you should idolize. Most of that stuff is just total garbage."

A purple haze of fans

Hendrix was born and raised in Seattle. But before Experience Music Project was built there in 1994, the city's only Hendrix tributes were a statue on Capitol Hill and a rock named after him at the Woodland Park Zoo.

Renton City Council member and Hendrix fan Randy Corman is thrilled that Renton has become the rocker's postmortem home.

"I'm very proud of our city's role," Corman said. "It's probably the unanimous view of the City Council that the Jimi Hendrix legacy deserves the utmost respect. He was a prodigy."

A prodigy who still brings thousands of fans to Renton every year.

"I think one would have to say, without question, that Jimi Hendrix's gravesite and memorial is the most well-known Renton destination," Corman said. "It's kind of the equivalent of (rock legend) Jim Morrison's gravesite in Paris."

While visiting Morrison's grave last year, Corman and his son, Andy, ran into a pack of British tourists who said that their next stop was Hendrix's grave.

Rentonite Pete Sikov owns Hendrix's childhood home. Sikov, 52, had a memorable Jimi experience on an overnight flight from New York to Seattle in 2003.

"The guy behind me turned to the woman next to him and said, 'Where is Jimi Hendrix buried?'" Sikov recalled. "It was a six-hour flight, and he'd just woke up, and it was the first thing he wanted to know. And he expected the woman to know. I let them go back and forth for a while before telling the guy where it was."

A visit to Hendrix's grave is on the to-do list of most everybody who visits Seattle, Sikov said.

To answer that demand, the Renton History Museum has a pile of hand-drawn maps showing the route up Sunset Boulevard to the cemetery.

"It got to be a hassle of people coming in and having to walk outside and point up the street," museum research specialist Tom Monahan said.

The museum's only mention of Hendrix is an album cover pasted in the 1960s section of the Renton timeline. Still, Monahan gets a couple inquiries a month about the location of Hendrix's grave from people living outside the country.

"It is fun when people from foreign countries come in and they don't speak English well and they're trying to find his grave," Monahan said. "They don't have the right words. All they say is 'Jimi Hendrix,' and then they do a guitar motion. I usually figure it out."

At the Renton Chamber of Commerce office, questions about Hendrix's grave can number up to 50 a month during the summer, receptionist Lucy Crozier said. And inquirers are from all over the world.

"I've had them from England and Germany, from Italy and Mexico," she said. "I get a lot from Canada. Just from all over."

Many Hendrix admirers come to the memorial to pay tribute on Nov. 27, his birthday. He would have been 64 this year.

Fans Crozier encounters range from teenagers to people well over 60. So, is she a fan, too?
"Absolutely not!" Crozier said. "I am no fan of that kind of music. I am in my 70s."
But, she admitted, "I think I heard one song that he played, and I was shocked that I liked it."

The house experience
Jim Davis' trailer in Hi-Lands Mobilehome Manor is stocked with Hendrix artifacts. Photos of Hendrix with his family and bandmates litter the kitchen table and hang on the walls beside framed newspaper and magazine clippings. Tagged to a wood-paneled wall is the two-record "Electric Ladyland" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
"I'm a big Jimi fan," the 54-year-old Davis said. "Probably since I was in high school. When I was a teenager in Ballard, I was listening to his 8-tracks, and when he first made it big, we celebrated."

Davis is one of the lucky few who caught Hendrix live during his four brief years of fame.
"I was 18, in the Navy, and stationed at San Diego," he said. "It was quite the experience. When the concert was over, I just stood there for 15 minutes staring at the stage, going, 'Wow, wow, wow.'"

Needless to say, Davis was, as he puts it, "jazzed" when Hendrix's childhood home came rolling into his mobile-home park last fall.

To save the house from demolition, Sikov shelled out $5,000 in 2001 and became the owner. In 2001, Sikov paid about $30,000 to move the house a few blocks to Jackson Street. But Seattle officials soon decided the home, frequently the subject of drug-use complaints, didn't fit with plans to refurbish the neighborhood. So, Sikov spent another $30,000 to truck the house to Renton.
"This wasn't just anybody's house," Sikov said. "There's no reason to demolish history."
Jimi, Al and Leon lived in the two-bedroom house, originally located on Seattle's South Washington Street, for a few years in the 1950s. With gray and green splotches of paint on its white exterior, plywood boards covering the windows and scraps of blue tarp hanging from the tar-papered roof, the house is not much to look at now.
But Sikov has big plans for the property. With help from Leon and Jimi's other living relatives and friends, Sikov hopes to make the house look exactly like it did when Jimi lived in it -- from the siding and roofing down to the furniture and record collection. Outside would be manicured landscaping, and maybe even a statue.
"It will be so somebody from this side of the world and somebody from that side of the world can meet there and they'll have something in common," Sikov explained. "They're going to be friends. That's what music does."

Big plans for someone who intends to fund the entire project himself. Sikov, a real estate investor, has spent $150,000 so far. And he plans to part with a few more hundred thousand before the project is finished in a year or so. But no monetary cost is too much for the educational gift the finished house will bring to fans, he said.

"This was the nicest house (Hendrix) ever lived in" growing up, Sikov said. "Most of the time he lived in the basements of relatives, hotel rooms, apartments. But most people don't think about that part of Jimi Hendrix. They think about the music, the flashy rock star clothes. But it's important to know this part of the story, to know that he overcame tremendous disadvantage."

Sikov has been a Hendrix fan since he turned 13 and began listening to all the greats - The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Bob Dylan. Why does Sikov like Hendrix?
"Why do I like Monet or Picasso?" he replied. "There's just something about hearing Jimi Hendrix."
Plus, Hendrix was a true musical pioneer, Sikov added.

"Everyone who plays guitar nowadays is influenced, whether they know it or not, by Jimi Hendrix," he said. "'Cause he was the first one to do what he was doing."
Although he didn't discover Hendrix until he was 15 or 16, Andy Corman, now 19, is an admirer.

"I don't like him a lot more than other music," Corman said, "but he's so different from anyone else -- how he invented the wah pedal and played his guitar upside down."

Good deeds for Jimi
Sikov took on the Hendrix- house project because one of his friends was friends with Leon, and Leon was looking for help. Sikov then served on the board of the James Marshall Hendrix Foundation for five years, until Williams took over as CEO in August.
The foundation was officially created in 1988, when Al communicated in a notarized letter that he wanted Leon to set up a non-profit foundation in Jimi's name. Under Leon's leadership, the group put out a fan newsletter and organized several food drives. But it wasn't until 2003 that the foundation got together a professional board and helped save from demolition Seattle's last nursing home that served primarily poor, African-American people.
Activities over the next few years slowed due to a lawsuit brought by Experience Hendrix (run by Jimi's stepsister Janie) over Leon's rights to use Jimi's name and image. But now, finally, the foundation is beginning to kick again.
The first step is getting the building refurbished. Then Williams plans to launch several ambitious projects, like a music program that will give new musical instruments and instruction to disadvantaged children.
The foundation will also help finance the stem-cell research of an Arizona doctor. By using stem cells extracted from donated blood and umbilical cords, Dr. David T. Harris is working to treat sickle-cell anemia and a multitude of other diseases.
"This is a fight Jimi probably would want to get into," Williams said.
Also in the works is a Jimi Hendrix comic book. Called "Captain Strata," after Hendrix's guitar, the lead character is a cartoonish guy who wears a headband stretched over his huge afro.
Williams said that in papers left with his drummer Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix said he to return to the West Coast, break into the R & B genre and create animated superheroes.
"The only cartoon around at that time was Mighty Mouse, and Jimi was totally enamored with Mighty Mouse," Williams said. "So I thought I was going to do something to finish this off for Jimi."
Williams hopes sales of the comic, plus profits from the office's concession stand and a possible movie deal, will help the foundation continue to develop beneficial projects, like maybe an after-school program with a computer lab for kids to use.
The foundation doesn't have much cash in the bank right now, but Williams isn't worried.
"All I have to do is paint by the colors and everything is going to work out just fine," he said.

The two Jimmys
In fourth grade, Williams moved to the same Seattle neighborhood as Hendrix, and in fifth grade the two became close friends after Williams sang in a school talent show.
"Jimi was in the audience, and when I got through, he said, 'That was really, really great,'" Williams remembered. "He said, 'You know, you're going to be a famous singer one of these days. Can I be your best friend?'"
Hendrix really picked up the guitar in seventh or eighth grade, Williams said, after their friend Pernell began playing. "From then on, he was seldom seen without his guitar," Williams said.
The two Jimmys (both were y's then) joined the military in 1961, and Williams never saw or talked to Hendrix again.
"He came back to Seattle in May 1970 and did a show at Sicks Stadium in Seattle, but I didn't make the show," Williams said.
Hendrix died that September.
"I'm not a fan, I was his best friend," Williams said.
But he digs his music, too. And how could he not?
"He's the greatest rock-and-roll guitar player in the world," Davis said. "Nobody's touched him since."
"And all the best guitar players in the world agree with you," Sikov added.

Emily Garland can be reached at emily.garland@re
porternewspapers.com or (253) 437-6009.

©Renton Reporter 2006