Estates of Jimi Hendrix bandmates can sue over royalties dispute | Music

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The estates of two British musicians who laid down the rhythms on Jimi Hendrix’s greatest hits are able to sue Sony Music Entertainment, in the hope that they can secure a share of the songs’ royalties.

Bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966 and played on the group’s three studio albums: Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland, landmarks in psychedelic rock which contain classics such as Purple Haze, Little Wing, Hey Joe and Foxey Lady.

Aside from a tiny handful of Redding-penned songs, Hendrix wrote the group’s repertoire and earned the songwriting royalties alone, but the trio shared in royalties for the sound recordings they created together prior to Hendrix’s death aged 27 in 1970.

Believing there would not be any more Jimi Hendrix Experience music released – and with the lucrative CD-reissue and streaming eras still years in the future – the pair signed away their rights in the early 1970s. Redding received $100,000 while Mitchell received $240,000, with both signing documents that stated they would not be able to make future lawsuits over the earnings.

Redding and Mitchell died in 2003 and 2008 respectively, but the companies controlling their estates filed a lawsuit, initially in February 2022, claiming they are owed a share of the royalties from the song catalogue they performed on, arguing that the pair “have not been compensated for their work and both died in relative poverty”.

Sony attempted to have the lawsuit thrown out, arguing that the statements the pair signed should prevent it coming to court. But on Monday judge Michael Green in London’s high court ruled that the case could move to trial, most likely in 2025.

After the ruling, Lawrence Abramson, a lawyer for the two estates, said: “No one is denying that Jimi Hendrix was one of, if not the, greatest guitarist of all time. But he didn’t make his recordings alone and they could not have achieved any success without the contributions of Noel and Mitch.” Sony has not commented on the ruling.

Hendrix’s squalling guitar playing and spirited singing, ably backed by the groove-led Redding and Mitchell, have ensured the Jimi Hendrix Experience remain hugely popular in the streaming era, with numerous songs earning hundreds of millions of streams each on Spotify.

Lawyers from the Redding and Mitchell estates have previously argued that Sony are not party to the contracts the pair signed, and the contracts do not extend to encompass lawsuits against Hendrix’s heirs. They also argued that the only royalties encompassed by those contracts are from the North American market.

Redding and Mitchell’s estates are looking for a royalty share in line with the musicians’ original agreement with Hendrix: 25% each, with Hendrix taking 50%. The initial 2022 lawsuit looked to reassign the copyright, and seek lost revenue and interest on that sum, plus damages and legal costs.

Plans to sue over the copyright share date back to 2003, shortly before Redding died, with his manager Ian Grant saying after his death: “Noel told me, ‘Ian, if I do win $5m I’ll only give it away.’ And I’m sure he would have done. It wasn’t about the money. He had been denied his rights every which way.”

Musicians have been known to prevail in royalties cases against their late collaborators, most notably producer Quincy Jones, who had helmed Michael Jackson’s albums Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. In 2017 he won $9.4m in damages after alleging he was cut out of posthumous deals made by the Michael Jackson estate after the singer’s death.

The Hendrix estate, meanwhile, has been involved in rather more internecine legal wrangles in recent years. In 2021, the musician’s brother and niece were found in contempt of court, after violating a ruling that prevented them from using the Hendrix name commercially – they had named a music school after Hendrix, after previously being prevented from selling “cannabis, edibles, food, wine, alcohol, ‘medicines’ and electronic products” bearing his name. The action was brought by companies holding the rights to Hendrix’s name, owned by the adopted daughter of Hendrix’s father, Al.