Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Did the CIA Kill Jimi Hendrix?

"It's really hard to know what people want around here sometimes. All I'm interested in is doing what I feel but, like, right now I don't. I can't feel anything right now because, like, there's a few things that have happened, you know. I just have to lay back and think about it all." - Jimi Hendrix (final interview, 11 September 1970, with NME's Keith Allston in England seven days before his death). 

By John Potash /
Rock Creek Free Press, 28 May 2010

Newly released songs by legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix have led music magazines such as Rolling Stone to feature him in cover stories, despite his death four decades ago. Closer scrutiny of Hendrix’s life suggests that US and British Intelligence targeted Hendrix for developing anti-war and pro-Black Panther politics. Such targeting helps explain why Hendrix failed to release much of his music before his death. It also exemplifies the extreme tactics imperialist governments use to stop anyone who could have more sway over people’s hearts and minds than does the government.

This past March stores started selling a CD of Hendrix’s previously unreleased recordings, titled “Valleys of Neptune”. These dozen songs were some of the hundreds Hendrix failed to release during his brief career. Posthumous releases of the prolific guitarist’s recordings continued for decades after his death. New evidence supports one of the reasons why Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Mike Jeffery, worked to block Hendrix from releasing more of his songs. Leading biographers have said in print that Jeffery stated he “used to” work for MI6—Britain’s CIA. In 2009, James Wright, a road manager for a band that Mike Jeffery also managed, The Animals, made an important claim against Jeffery. In his published book Wright claimed that Jeffery admitted to him that he had Hendrix killed because the rock star wanted to end his management contract with Wright.

US/British Intelligence 1960’s Attack on Political Musicians

Researchers such as British magazine editor Frances Stonor Saunders outlined how American and British Intelligence forces colluded in their work against leftist artists, writers and musicians. She gave several examples of this in her book, The Cultural Cold War. Black artists were a particular Intelligence focus partly because the racism blacks experienced often led them to have anti imperialist political perspectives.

For example, intelligence agencies closely monitored black writers Richard Wright and Franz Fanon (Gayle, Richard Wright, 1980). Researchers highly suspected US Intelligence actions in both these writers’ deaths, particularly Wright’s early death. Frances Saunders said that after Wright moved to Paris, the CIA and FBI monitored him closely until “he died in mysterious circumstances in 1960.”

US intelligence also had a particular longtime concern about political musicians and had sophisticated strategies for attacking them. An exposed intelligence document reviewed by a 1976 congressional committee examining the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program detailed many tactics used against political musicians (Constantine, Covert War Against Rock, 2001). It instructed agents to: “Show them as scurrilous and depraved. Call attention to their habits and living conditions, explore every possible embarrassment. Send in women and sex, break up marriages. Have members arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to the newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap. Use misinformation to confuse and disrupt. Get records of their bank accounts. Obtain specimens of their handwriting. Provoke target groups into rivalries that may result in death.”

Hendrix’s Rise in Britain, Politicization and Intelligence Targeting

In the US, Hendrix received little fame during the mid-1960s while he toured with music legends such as Sam Cooke (“You Send Me”). Cooke died under questionable circumstances himself. Jimi Hendrix then moved to England where he quickly rose to stardom. Mike Jeffery coerced his way into managing Hendrix by 1967. Evidence of Jeffery’s continued MI6 work included his partnerships with CIA-linked figures, his sudden huge wealth, and his skills at acquiring CIA-type tax havens in the Bahamas.

By 1968 Jimi Hendrix had become popular worldwide. The assassination of Martin Luther King that year led Hendrix to engage in more radical-left activism. Hendrix’s fiancee, Monika Danneman, and top biographers, such as Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek, noted Hendrix’s change. He began promoting the Black Panthers in interviews, played benefits for Panther Bobby Seale and the war-protesting Chicago Seven, and dedicated his last album to the Panthers.

With his vast popularity among blacks and whites, Jimi Hendrix began posing a threat to bigoted pro-war groups. Former Air Force Secretary Townsend Hoopes said one of the government’s greatest fears was “the fateful merging of anti-war and racial dissension.” The FBI and police began targeting Hendrix in the US, and other countries aided their efforts when he went abroad. Such collaboration was common through the International police group “Interpol.” The FBI started a closely guarded file on Hendrix and placed him on a security list of subversives to be rounded up for detainment in case of a national emergency. Police detectives began round-the-clock surveillance of Hendrix and his band.

Media Smears and Spy Manager Manipulations

Intelligence forces appeared to use several of the tactics outlined in the above intelligence memorandum regarding political musicians. In Toronto, Canadian federal police arrested Hendrix at an airport, claiming that he transported drugs. Shapiro and Glebbeek cited Hendrix saying he’d never take such a risk and that his manager, Mike Jeffery, set up that airport arrest.

Furthermore, regarding Hendrix and drug use, Shapiro and Glebbeek said that, contrary to popular belief, Hendrix produced his first classic album, “Are You Experienced?”, with virtually no drug use. After his rise to fame, Hendrix only snorted heroin a couple times and did some pills, while also tripping on LSD at times. By later 1969, Danneman said Hendrix gave it all up except for minimal amounts of alcohol and marijuana use. Throughout Hendrix’s life and after his death, media reports claimed Hendrix’s depravity and debauchery with drugs.

Shapiro, Glebbeek and Monika Danneman also claimed that manager Mike Jeffery consistently sabotaged the guitar legend’s political activist work. For example, Danneman said that when Hendrix played one antiwar benefit show that Jeffery opposed, Hendrix believed his manager dosed his drink with LSD. Hendrix had given up LSD by that time and ended his set early, discouraged that he wasn’t playing to his best ability.

The biographers and Danneman further accused Jeffery of manipulating Hendrix with Mafi a connections to intimidate him not to end their management relationship. For example, few know that Mafia figures kidnapped Hendrix for several days in Manhattan in 1969. Jeffery collaborated with a band manager named Jerry Morrison to miraculously get Hendrix free, supposedly with “tougher” Mafia. Morrison formerly worked as the propagandist for CIA-supported Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. Researchers have previously noted how the Mafia and US Intelligence colluded to target other black entertainers, as well as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy (William Pepper, Act of State; William Turner and Jonn Christian, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy).

Multiple reports cite other ways Mike Jeffery tried to undermine Jimi Hendrix’s career. For example, as stated above, Jeffery blocked release of many Hendrix albums. Jeffery gained this control by getting Hendrix to sign a complicated set of contracts in 1968. Jeffery also stole vast sums of money from Hendrix, leaving him broke at times.

Hendrix’s Mysterious Death After Firing Manager, and Government Cover-up

Rumors continue as to how Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27. Living with him at that time, Monika Danneman appeared to give the most reliable account. While Shapiro and Glebbeek had some discrepancies with Danneman’s recollection of Hendrix’s last 24 hours, most of their eyewitnesses’ reports backed Danneman’s general description.

Danneman said that on September 18, 1970, the day after Hendrix finally fired Jeffery, she found her fiance unconscious in their London apartment bed before noon. Hendrix had been at a party the night before and took sleeping pills to counter unusually bad insomnia he had that night. Danneman called an ambulance and Hendrix died within an hour or two.

The coroner said that what Hendrix had in him shouldn’t have killed him. The coroner found a non-fatal dose of sleeping tablets, a small amount of alcohol, a trace of the barbiturate Seconal, and 20 mg of amphetamine (speed). The coroner declared that Hendrix should have recovered from the pills, so the official cause of death was “inhalation of vomit due to Barbiturate intoxication.” Danneman said that after Hendrix returned from the party that night, he showed her a handful of pills people gave him at the party, which he then discarded. Danneman suspected that someone put pills in his drinks without his knowledge.

Government officials’ foul play abounded thereafter. Danneman said that when police investigated her place they failed to take anything and warned her to not say anything about the death. Then, an official British inquest resulted in the London coroner and the inquest members declaring an open (inconclusive) verdict on Hendrix’s death. The inquest had only called three witnesses to testify: Danneman, Hendrix’s road manager and the coroner. They failed to have the ambulance workers, the people Hendrix saw at the party, or the hospital doctors testify. Such investigative omissions further indicate possible government intelligence involvement in Hendrix’s murder.

Further evidence of government foul play includes media-echoed police reports that Hendrix left recorded messages with his friend Chas Chandler, saying that he was suicidal. Chandler said he didn’t own an answering machine. The coroner also found an unidentifiable compound in Hendrix’s body. Top doctors told Danneman that because the coroner waited several days to do Hendrix’s autopsy, any poisons in his system may have no longer been in a detectable state.

Other Investigations and Government Cover-up Around Hendrix’s Death

Groups reexamined Jimi Hendrix’s death at least twice in later years. In 1975, the magazine Crawdaddy investigated and concluded that a death squad of undercover intelligence agents killed Hendrix. While that magazine’s sources are uncertain, more official inquests followed.

In 1992, England’s attorney general ordered an inquiry into Hendrix’s death, and Scotland Yard also re-examined the case. Danneman, Shapiro and Glebbeek easily contradicted Scotland Yard, exposing the agency’s cover-up. For example, Scotland Yard claimed to quote Hendrix’s attending doctor, Dr. John Bannister, saying Hendrix was “dead on arrival… [dying] in the ambulance or at home.” The ambulance workers denied Hendrix was dead on arrival, as supported by official reports of his death an hour after arriving at the hospital.

Danneman also asked for more information from Dr. Bannister. Scotland Yard told her he had been struck off England’s official list of doctors, without any further explanation. In 2009, Dr. Bannister turned up, reporting in a London Times article that he moved to Australia in 1972. He eventually lost his license there for fraudulent behavior. In that 2009 Times article, though, Bannister supported road manager James Wright’s assertion about Jeffery saying he had Hendrix killed and that Hendrix appeared to have been murdered.

Fight over Hendrix’s Posthumous Music, Linked Deaths and his Legacy

Mike Jeffery confiscated all of Hendrix’s recordings and belongings from his New York studio. It took 25 years for Al Hendrix to gain the rights to his son’s music from Warner Records. And then, on albums and memorabilia that made over $100 million in sales, he was only given $2 million.

Several groups sued Hendrix’s manager, Mike Jeffery, for money he owed them. A judge allowed Jeffery to travel for business during the trial, and Jeffery reportedly died in a plane crash in 1973. Because a witness only identified Jeffery from his jewelry, some believe he escaped with the shell company fortunes he created. Jeffery created his tax haven shell with the same Bahamas institutions that worked later with George H.W. Bush’s CIA in the BCCI/Iran-Contra scandal.

One key Hendrix-linked death occurred much later. Monika Danneman said Jeffery threatened to kill her if she published the memoir about Hendrix that she wrote in 1971. She said she lost her book manuscript twice between 1971 and 1973, first to a thief she believed Jeffery sent, and then to a Jeffery associate.

In 1995, Monika Danneman finally published a book (The Inner World of Jimi Hendrix) about Hendrix’s activist political plans, Jeffery’s sabotage, and government cover-up. News reports said Danneman killed herself in 1996. Her close friends believe she was murdered. They said Danneman had continued getting death threats over the years and had just finished a long interview for a film on Hendrix.

While most rock historians still consider Jimi Hendrix the top guitarist of all time, his image remains soiled with falsehoods. Evidence supports that he was moving away from drugs and that intelligence forces killed him for the political activism he started in 1969. Such evidence also suggests that other political musicians’ early deaths deserve more scrutiny.

This article was adapted from a chapter of The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders,


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