On 10th September 1970 Jimi Hendrix was back in London following a run of concerts at the Isle of Wight, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. He was as dissatisfied as ever with Mike Jeffery and his management contract. The contract with Mike Jeffery was due to expire on 1st December 1970 but Hendrix was still tied to Jeffery for a further two years through the contracts with Warner Brothers.
While in London Jimi Hendrix was spending time with producer Alan Douglas who was also there with his wife. At a series of meetings, Alan Douglas advised Hendrix that he should make a break from Mike Jeffery and find a new manager. Alan Douglas said of the final meeting: “He wanted out of his contract but he didn’t know how he could do it. We talked about it half the night, and we finally decided that Jimi could offer to pay Mike his percentage for however long the contract was, on top of whatever he paid his new manager. I don’t know if Mike would have gone for it. I never got the chance to ask.”
Alan Douglas was due to fly back to New York on 15th September. Jimi Hendrix accompanied him to the airport in his cab. Alan Douglas’s intention when he got back to the US was to go and see lawyer Henry Steingarten and tell him of Hendrix’s wish to extricate himself from the clutches of Mike Jeffery.
The plans that Jimi Hendrix and Alan Douglas made never came to fruition. On 18th September 1970 Jimi Hendrix died. There are countless theories on the internet and in books relating to his death. Was it an accidental overdose, suicide or even murder? The circumstances of the tragic hours leading up to the death are blurred due to conflicting testimonies. A thorough investigation was not conducted at the time because the death was not thought to be suspicious. The coroner’s report shows that Hendrix died as a result of “inhalation of vomit due to barbiturate intoxication”.
Mike Jeffery was in Mallorca at the time Hendrix died. His assistant Trixie Sullivan said: “There was a freak storm across Majorca and all the phone lines were down. Somebody told Mike later that Jimi had been trying to phone him. The first call that got through was to say Jimi was dead. Mike was terribly upset at the thought of Jimi not being able to get through to him.”
In 2009 ex-Animals road manager, James “Tappy” Wright published his memoirs in the form of a book called “Rock Roadie”, a two hundred and thirty six page account of his work as a roadie with The Animals and general dogs-body for Mike Jeffery and others. Unless autobiographies about ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ are written by well-known musicians or celebrities, they are hardly likely to be best sellers. It’s just as well, then, that Tappy Wright had a ‘eureka’ moment while he was writing his book and remembered something that might sell a few copies. The thing that he’d kept in the back of his mind since 1973 was the fact that Mike Jeffery had confessed to him that he’d murdered Jimi Hendrix. Shortly after the alleged confession, Mike Jeffery died in an accident.
Because of Wright’s revelation in 2009 the book got a lot of publicity in newspapers and on the internet and a whole new generation of conspiracy theorists was born. Those who believe that Mike Jeffery was directly responsible for Hendrix’s death argue that he was financially better off with Hendrix out of the picture. They say that Mike Jeffery would have received a pay-out on Hendrix’s life insurance and that his income from Hendrix was due to end within months because of the expiry of the Hendrix-Jeffery contract or because Hendrix was about to sack him.
However, there is no available evidence that Mike Jeffery received a payout on an insurance policy that he’d taken out on Jimi Hendrix’s life, or even that he’d actually taken out a policy in the first place. Also, Jeffery was tied to Hendrix until at least 1972 (not December 1970) through agreements with Warner Brothers, including the contract relating to the movie Rainbow Bridge. Unlike Mike Jeffery, Warner Brothers did receive a substantial death settlement from Lloyds of London.
Mike Jeffery told Rolling Stone magazine that he was unaware of Jimi Hendrix’s plans with Alan Douglas to sack him: “He never said to me he wanted to change management. What happened was, both of us were expanding in areas, and at certain times he needed very close attention. There was a time when he wanted to expand the group, and the thing was, half my energies were in the studio and other things, and I didn’t have time to devote energies fully to helping expand the group. Both he and I felt that the three-way function of manager – artist – agent was quite likely to fall apart, because the times are different than they once were in show business. People outside the circle mistook this for discontent, but it wasn’t, because Jimi was intelligent and bright enough. If he wanted to split, he would have split. As far as being artistically frustrated, Jimi had an incredible genius about him, and the common thing with most artists of that caliber is that they are constantly artistically frustrated.”
It’s unlikely that the true circumstances of Hendrix’s death will ever be known and, on the face of it, James Tappy Wright’s version of events seems as believable as anything else that has been published. It’s not until you read the rest of the book and start analysing some of his stories that you realise Wright does not always get the facts right.
The Hendrix Legacy
After Jimi Hendrix’s death, Mike Jeffery informed the lawyers responsible for sorting out Hendrix’s affairs that there was very little money owing to the Hendrix estate, perhaps only $20,000. However, Mike Jeffery reached an agreement with the lawyer Leo Branton who was working on behalf of Hendrix’s father, Al Hendrix, to buy Hendrix’s share of the Electric Lady Studio for $240,000 and pay off the $300,000 loan from Warner Brothers. The Electric Lady Studio became a resounding success for Mike Jeffery. From the 1970s onwards the studio recorded albums by such rock luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and Patti Smith among many, many others. It remains one of the worlds leading studios to this day.
Mike Jeffery was also keen to exploit the posthumous market that had developed after Hendrix’s death and was working with sound engineer Eddie Kramer to salvage as much recorded material as possible to sell on to Warner Brothers. Mike Jeffery didn’t want to flood the market with substandard recordings, even though he knew there would be a ready market for any Hendrix material. Any tapes they couldn’t use were sent to the Hendrix estate. In spite of his attempts to market only quality Hendrix material, Mike Jeffery was criticised for his part in the release of the movie ‘Rainbow Bridge’ in 1971. The movie included a poor show by Jimi Hendrix, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell filmed in July 1970 in Hawaii. That particular performance did nothing to enhance the reputation of Jimi Hendrix.
The following year Mike Jeffery released a movie of Hendrix’s performance in Berkeley entitled ‘Jimi Plays Berkeley”. To accompany the film, two of Jeffery’s acts ‘Cat Mother & The All-Night Newsboys’ and ‘Jimmy & Vella’ performed live at venues throughout the UK.
The various legal proceedings arising from Jimi Hendrix’s 1965 contract with Ed Chalpin of PPX International had been suspended following Hendrix’s death. The case finally came to Court in London in March 1973. There were various litigants, including Track Records, Polydor, Mike Jeffery, Chas Chandler and the Jimi Hendrix estate all represented by Leo Branton. Before the hearing, Branton attempted to resolve the issues with Ed Chalpin with an out of Court settlement but Chalpin refused. On 7th March 1973 Ed Chalpin lost his long running case and was ordered by the judge to hand over $150,000 plus costs. However, Chalpin’s defeat was tempered by the judge’s decision to allow him to continue promoting the Hendrix albums that Chalpin already had on the market.
The Death of Mike Jeffery
The weekend before the judge was due to announce the verdict on the Chalpin case, Mike Jeffery had gone to Mallorca. There had been a problem with the electricity at one of his clubs in Palma. He was also on the verge of buying a large property near the idyllic Mallorcan costal resort of Banyalbufar and needed a few days to finalise the purchase.
The trip to Mallorca nearly didn’t happen. During the Chalpin Court proceedings, the police arrested Mike Jeffery on an outstanding warrant. The warrant related to drugs offences and was issued because Mike Jeffery had failed to appear in Court for his trial. At a subsequent hearing relating to the drugs charges shortly before the proposed trip to Mallorca, Jeffery’s solicitor applied for an extension of his bail conditions. The judge agreed on the basis that Mike Jeffery surrendered his passport. Jeffery’s lawyer persuaded the judge that his client needed the passport for the weekend so that he could conduct business in Mallorca.
After the death of Jimi Hendrix, Mike Jeffery had met a girl called Karen, otherwise known as Melissa. A relationship developed with Melissa and the couple had plans to settle in Mallorca and have a child. Mike Jeffery wanted to leave the world of rock music and perhaps produce another movie. The project he had in mind was a film about the Irish Republican activist Michael Collins, which he intended to shoot in the Republic of Ireland. The property in Banyalbufar, Mallorca was also part of his master plan.
After concluding his business in Mallorca, Mike Jeffery boarded a London bound Iberian Airways plane at Son Sant Joan Airport in Palma on 5th March 1973. He was anxious to hear the verdict in the Chalpin case. If the outcome went against Chalpin then he stood to make a lot of money. As Jimi Hendrix’s manager he would be entitled to a share of the withheld royalties on all Hendrix’s UK record sales since 1968.
Bearing in mind Mike Jeffery’s background as an undercover operative with army intelligence and his involvement in covert operations it is difficult to imagine that he would have a problem with aeroplanes. However, it is well documented that throughout his life he had a fear of flying and a phobia that one day he would perish in an air disaster. He had a habit of changing his travel plans by booking himself on multiple flights with different airlines and then selecting one at random at the last minute. This was Mike Jeffery’s way of dealing with his fear of flying and his belief that he could outsmart fate. One of his employee’s Bob Levine said of his fear of flying: “On the plane, he’d grip the arm rests so tightly his knuckles would turn white. During the take-off, he’d grab your hand so hard you’d think it was broken. Eric Burdon used to hum Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’ just to wind him up even more.”
On 5th March 1973 Mike Jeffery’s morbid prophesy became a reality.
At the beginning of March, French air-traffic controllers were on strike and military air-traffic controllers were brought in to replace them. Due to a misunderstanding, the pilot of the Iberian DC-9 in which Mike Jeffery was travelling ended up in the same flight path as another plane – a Spantax Coronado. The two planes collided in mid-air near the French town of Nantes in the Vende area. The Spandex sustained minor damage and was able to fly away virtually unscathed. Unfortunately the DC-9 was severely damaged and plummeted to the ground. The sixty eight passengers and five Spanish flight crew on board were killed.
Here’s a link to the BBC’s report of the air accident.
Mike Jeffery’s body was so badly mangled that identification was difficult. Jerry Stickells, one of Hendrix’s former road managers flew to France to make the identification. He said: “I identified him by his jewellery. They said ‘you don’t want to see a photograph.'” Mike Jeffery’s death was registered at the Commune De La Planche, Loire-Atlantique, France.
On 15th March 1973 administration of Mike Jeffery’s estate was granted to his estranged wife Gillian Rosemary Jeffery. In spite of the fact that Mike Jeffery’s had been running clubs in Mallorca, owned the Electric Lady Studio and had various addresses in London, New York and Mallorca, he still probably had a lot of debt and undischarged loans arising from the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ movie and the purchase of the studio. A sworn affidavit to the Inland Revenue in the UK showed the gross value of the estate of Michael Frank Jeffery as ‘nil’. Although there is no documentary evidence available, it is understood that Mike Jeffery’s father Frank Jeffery contested the fact that Gillian Jeffery had been made administrator. This may have been on the grounds that Mike Jeffery and his wife had been leading separate lives for a number of years. Although the estate allegedly had no value in March 1973 it had the potential to grow on the strength of the rights from Jimi Hendrix’s recordings. On 6th November 1974 administration of the estate was granted to Frank Albert Edward Jeffery. A sworn affidavit to the Inland Revenue on that date shows the gross value of the estate as £2,000.
Mike Jeffery’s remains were flown back to the UK and his burial took place at Hither Green Cemetary, South East London on 19th March 1973. The funeral was a fairly quiet affair involving family and some close friends. Both Melissa and Gillian Jeffery were in attendance.
As with the death of Jimi Hendrix, Mike Jeffery’s demise has also given rise to plenty of conspiracy theories. Some people have suggested that Mike Jeffery never boarded the ill-fated DC-9. There are even more outrageous theories – like the one about him parachuting safely to the ground after the mid-air collision; another that the plane crash was part of an orchestrated CIA plot to assassinate Jeffery because his connections to the US mafia.
Mike Jeffery’s father, Frank Albert Jeffery passed away on 20th September 1993. The Michael Frank Jeffery estate, by then worth a considerable amount of money, was bequeathed to fourteen charities.
Gillian Jeffery, Mike Jeffery’s widow remarried in 1978.
Melissa, Mike Jeffery’s girlfriend, was said to be so devastated by his death that she went to live in an ashram in India.
The litigation regarding Jimi Hendrix’s music has carried on for decades. But that’s another story.
So there ends the tale of Michael Frank Jeffery, the enigmatic man who began his involvement in music promotion by running a student’s jazz night and ended up managing the most influential electric guitarist in the history of popular music.
But that’s not quite all – there is a bizarre unexplained twist involving Mike Jeffery’s burial, which up to now does not appear to have been mentioned in books or on the internet. Eighteen years after he was buried, Mike Jeffery’s body was exhumed from Hither Green Cemetery. The exhumation took place on 16th April 1981 by Home Office license. The remains were later cremated at Hither Green Crematorium without ceremony at the request of Mike Jeffery’s father, Frank Jeffery.
Could it be that the conspiracy theorists were right after all and that Mike Jeffery never flew on the ill-fated DC9? Had he been living off his hidden fortune with Melissa in some far off place, making his presence known to a selected few in 1981? If so it would have been in his interests to make sure that nothing remained of the body buried at Hither Green. DNA testing as a forensic tool wasn’t around in 1981 but it wasn’t too far away. Oh well, just a thought!!
Some of the sources used for this four part account of Mike Jeffery’s life are as follows: –
“Sex, Brown Ale And Rhythm & Blues” by George Pearson
“Animal Tracks: The Story Of The Animals” by Sean Egan
“I Used To Be An Animal But I’m All Right Now” by Eric Burdon
“Rock Roadie; Backstage And Confidential” by James ‘Tappy’ Wright and Rod Weinberg
“White Bicycles” by Joe Boyd
“Jimi Hendrix – The Man, The Magic, The Truth” by Sharon Lawrence
“‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky: The Life Of Jimi Hendrix” by David Henderson
“The Jimi Hendrix Experience” by Jerry Hopkins
“Jimi Hendrix – Electric Gypsy” by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek
“Hendrix – Setting The Record Straight” by John McDermott and Eddie Kramer
“Beats Apart: A Comparative History Of Youth Culture And Popular Music In Liverpool And Newcastle 1956 – 1965” by Jonathan Paul Watson
“Eric Burdon: The Animals and Beyond” by Delilah Music Pictures (film documentary)
Cry Of Love (The Writings of Nancy Reiner).
Special thanks to Tom Henderson and Jenny Stewart (Clarke) for their photographs and memories.