Hendrix vodka hits sour note in court

Celebrity-backed spirits have always been a curiosity. Why anyone would buy a product simply because the name of someone famous is attached to it is beyond me.

At least I don't have to wonder about Electric Hendrix Vodka anymore.

A federal judge in Seattle has ordered the vodka, named for the late rock legend and Seattle native Jimi Hendrix -- who died in 1970, pulled from store shelves, all advertising and marketing of it to be stopped, and $3.2 million in damages paid for trademark infringement.

That, dear readers, is a whopper of a decision.

The legal wrangle has been going on since Seattle businessman Craig Dieffenbach and Hendrix's half-brother, Leon Hendrix, began marketing Electric Hendrix Vodka in 2005. The purple-tinged bottles carried an image of the iconic guitar player with a large Afro haircut.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly gave the vodka company 10 days to comply with the order. The ruling permanently barred Electric Hendrix from commercially using, advertising or challenging the trademarks and logos controlled by Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix, two companies owned by the Jimi Hendrix estate. The judge also barred the vodka company from registering identical or "confusingly similar" trademarks to those owned by the estate, according to court documents.

Zilly initially ruled in the estate's favor in October, but Dieffenbach filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, court documents say. The two sides entered a settlement agreement in December, and Dieffenbach's appeal was voluntarily dismissed. The matter returned to Zilly's court, where he issued a permanent injunction and awarded $3.2 million in damages.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2007, ends a long dispute between different factions of the Hendrix family over the estate. The musician died without a will, and his estate went to his father, Al Hendrix. Janie Hendrix inherited control when Al Hendrix, her adoptive father, died in 2002. Leon Hendrix, who was cut out of the will by his father, took Janie to court in 2004 for a share of the $80 million estate. Dieffenbach funded Leon's court battle.

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Greg G said...

While the James (Jimi) Marshall Hendrix Foundation a 501(c)(3), never supported the idea of a Hendrix vodka, we feel it important to provide a clarification on the status of our President Emeritus, Leon Hendrix.

#1 It is an established legal fact through Birth Certificate, witnesses and confirming statements by his father James "Al" Hendrix, that Leon Hendrix is the son of both Al and Lucille Hendrix, the same two parents as Jimi Hendrix, and is thus a FULL brother. We request that you cease and desist from all further references of Leon Hendrix as Jimi Hendrix' "half brother" and simply describe him as Jimi Hendrix' younger brother.

#2 Leon and the Hendrix Family, et. al. will not be liable in this settlement because:

* Two years after Dieffenbach started Electric Hendrix, Dieffenbach "gifted" shares in the company to Leon. Leon had no rights or control. Many emails and statements allegedly made by Leon were simply words fashioned by Dieffenbach and attributed to Leon.
* The trademark violation was an "executive decision" by Dieffenbach
* Dieffenbach & his advisors surmised that since Experience Hendrix lost the 2005 lawsuit vs. the Foundation over the Foundation's right to hold a benefit concert using Jimi's name, that Janie had no rights to Jimi's image
* They did not take into account the "specific image" that was trademarked by Experience Hendrix was protected
* The lawsuit was based on trademark infringement - not unauthorized use of Jimi's likeness
* Leon warned Dieffenbach that his attempt to intentionally mimic the Experience Hendrix Logo was "a very bad idea"
* There was never any contract between Leon and Dieffenbach regarding Electric Hendrix
* The concept of the Hendrix Family members being "owners" was created by Dieffenbach "gifting" unrequested non-voting "shares" of the business to the Hendrix Family including Leon
* Even if one can say that the Hendrix Family were "stockholders, their liability would probably be no more than the non-executive, non-voting "stockholders" of any company: Their sole loss would be the loss of the value of their shares.

Greg Groeper
Marketing Director and Charitable Giving Coordinator
The James (Jimi) Marshall Hendrix Foundation, LLC

Please address questions to:

Sara said...

Hello Bill:

Do you know if there is (or will be) a market for Hendrix vodka?

We live in Idaho and have a few unopened bottles. Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

William M. Dowd said...


Since the court order stopping manufacture and sale of Hendrix vodka, the supply obviously ceased increasing. Thus, you're in possession of a limited-quantity vodka.

How much it will bring is anyone's guess, given the curiosity value of the spirit. I'd suggest holding on to it for a while to give others a chance to consume theirs, thus making yours part of a dwindling supply.

Or, you can put on a Hendrix CD, open the bottle and enjoy.