Museum would honor genius of Hendrix

September 24, 1992|By Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- The first rock-and roll-record that billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen ever heard was by the made-for-television group, the Monkees. The second was "Are You Experienced?" by Seattle's not-then-ready-for-prime-time rock guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.

"When I heard the Hendrix album, I thought, wow, this is pretty amazing," recalled Mr. Allen, 39, recently. "There have been some great electric guitarists, but I believe Jimi represents the pinnacle of creativity in his ability to play guitar."

That, in short form, is why Mr. Allen, himself an electric rock and blues guitarist, wants to install a museum dedicated to Hendrix, a pioneering rock guitarist, on the grounds of Seattle Center, a large coliseum complex near Seattle's Space Needle.

The museum was officially proposed to the Seattle City Council two weeks ago.

Mr. Allen, whose fortune in Microsoft stock alone is worth $2.8 billion, has played in a rock band with various other computer software-industry musicians over the years. He studied violin from second to sixth grades and took two years of classical guitar, and says he might have pursued a career in music had he not discovered computers and gone on to start Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975. Mr. Allen left the company in the mid-'80s -- after recovering from Hodgkins' disease -- to found his own company, Asymetrix.

Mr. Allen, who has acquired a number of Hendrix mementos at auctions, said he began collecting the memorabilia with the thought of starting a local museum after reading about a Sotheby's auction featuring the guitar Hendrix played at the 1969 Woodstock music festival.

On display at the museum would be Hendrix memorabilia including gold records, original lyrics, his contract to play at Woodstock, sound-effects and mixing equipment from his Electric Ladyland recording studio in New York, and fragments of a guitar Hendrix set on fire and then destroyed at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival.

Hendrix's 73-year-old father, Al, who moved to Seattle in 1940 and raised Jimi in the city, said he has guitars, clothes, shoes, art work and other mementos of his son to donate to the museum. The museum hopes to receive donations from other sources as well, Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Allen would foot the bill to convert an existing building near the coliseum -- a process expected to cost from $300,000 to $400,000 -- in return for a long-term lease. The overall cost for setting up the museum has not been determined. It would support itself with entry fees equivalent to movie-theater admission.

Using computerized multimedia technology as well as actual equipment, the museum would give fans a sense of what it takes to create a live performance or a recording. Museum-goers would get to play guitar, use a sound mixer and try out other equipment. The contractual steps required to go on tour and do a concert will be explained with actual documents.

"We want to educate people about just what it takes to create pop music," Mr. Allen said. "The focus will be Jimi, but we expect others to contribute to broaden the appeal."

Mr. Allen said he intends for the museum to include memorabilia in recognition of other Northwest musicians who achieved national prominence. Possibilities include the Kingsmen, Wailers, Sonics, Heart, Paul Revere and the Raiders and Quincy Jones.

Although popular in his time with Top 10 hits such as "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady," both of which he wrote, as well as Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," Hendrix has garnered more gold records since his death in 1970 than while alive.

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