Keeping Jimi Hendrix, Tupac and Others Alive With Posthumous Releases

Waiting in the vaults: 1,400 tapes from Rick James and a planned release of an early Doors live recording

On the day Jimi Hendrix died in 1970, he was scheduled to track at the Record Plant in New York, where 18-year-old Tony Bongiovi worked the night shift. The producer's job soon involved sorting and transcribing countless hours of tape, when Warner Bros. tasked him with assembling a pair of albums -- without the guitarist's input. By 1975, Bongiovi and a team had pieced together song fragments, relying on past conversations with Hendrix and help from session musicians, and created "Crash Landing" and "Midnight Lightning."

"What we had to do was finish what he had started. And in doing that we were able to preserve the original recording," he told Billboard. "Since I recorded a lot of things with him, I pretty much knew what was gonna happen."

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Today Hendrix's posthumous collections outnumber his studio output four-to-one. The release of his previously unissued material, staggered over four decades, culminates with this month's final set of outtakes, "People, Hell and Angels," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and is expected to outsell 1968's "Electric Ladyland." And while retrospectives of unheard tracks from musicians including Amy Winehouse, Elliott Smith and the Notorious B.I.G. have lacked their creative control, cooperation from an artist's heirs strengthens a legacy and exposes it to fresh audiences, says Jeff Jampol, who manages the estates of Jim Morrison, Tupac Shakur, Janis Joplin and others.

"If you go back and you listen to what these artists said, both verbally and musically, they give you a blueprint. They tell you what to do," Jampol told Billboard, adding that Shakur's wealth of recordings prior to his death in 1996 reflected his desire for everything to be heard. His mother, Afeni Shakur, has since marketed and released several albums through her company, Amaru Entertainment. "As far as I'm concerned, the height of credibility on the planet Earth is Afeni's love and respect for her son's art," Jampol said.

Similar efforts to revive a late musician's brand have faced rejection:  Aaliyah's family and friends, including Missy Elliott, have resisted Drake's project drawing on vocals the singer made prior to her fatal plane crash in 2001. Still, Joe Jackson's critical remarks toward "Michael" -- a heavily-produced album merging Michael Jackson recordings with performances from Akon, Lenny Kravitz and 50 Cent -- did not prevent its Billboard 200 debut at No. 3 in 2010.

"In Michael's case it's wonderful that the world can hear all that music, because we'll never see the likes of him again," said Bruce Swedien, Jackson's engineer on Thriller and Bad.

Though a family might bristle at revisiting the archives without the late musician's direct approval, Jampol likens that initial resistance to walking against an escalator's steps. "When you're standing still you're not actually standing still, you're moving backward," he said. "Because pop culture moves on and it tends to compress time."

Later this year his company, Jampol Artist Management, plans to issue a limited run of an early Doors gig from the London Fog, a Los Angeles club the band played prior to its heyday. Also awaiting fresh ears are 1,400 tapes from Rick James, sitting in the vault now for almost a decade.


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