Alan Douglas, Who Mined Hendrix Archive, Dies at 82
Alan Douglas, a music producer and packager who worked with jazz greats like Duke Ellington, recorded the prerap stylings of the Last Poets and published a book of monologues by Lenny Bruce — but who is best known as a controversial steward of the legacy of Jimi Hendrix — died on June 7 at his home in Paris. He was 82.
The cause was complications after a fall, his daughter Kirby Veevers said.
A jazz fan from boyhood with an ear for the new, Mr. Douglas spent his career trying to keep his favorite sounds in circulation and the musicians who made them part of the pop culture discourse. His taste was sophisticated though not necessarily avant-garde, and though he strove to push musicians to do their most imaginative work, he wasn’t interested so much in challenging listeners as he was in attracting more of them.
As a producer primarily for United Artists Records in the early 1960s and later for his own label, Douglas Records, Mr. Douglas ushered into the world a number of notable albums, among them “Money Jungle” (1963), a studio collaboration of Ellington, the bassist Charles Mingus and the drummer Max Roach; two early albums by the influential jazz-rock guitarist John McLaughlin, “Devotion” and “My Goal’s Beyond”; and “The Last Poets,” a self-titled album that introduced a group of street chanters whose rhythmic incantations and angry political verses anticipated hip-hop.
“He and I had our differences and ups and downs; however, he took a chance on us when no one else would,” Umar Bin Hassan, an original member of the Last Poets, said in a statement about Mr. Douglas after his death, adding, “Whether you liked him or didn’t you had to admit he was one of the giants in what he did, and that was to put out responsible, intelligent and remarkable music.”
Hendrix, who died in 1970, had a brief friendship with Mr. Douglas, who was later hired to go through the many hours of unreleased recordings the guitarist left behind. The anger Mr. Douglas stirred in many Hendrix fans began in 1975, when he released two albums, “Crash Landing” and “Midnight Lightning,” culled from these tapes; most critics found them, or at least parts of them, worthwhile, but trouble erupted with the revelation that in remixing the originals, Mr. Douglas had replaced tracks backing Hendrix’s guitar with newly recorded music by other players.
In the wake of the outcry, his explanation was always that he wanted Hendrix’s music to find its way to a new audience at a time when his star had begun to fade; the playing behind him on the tapes was, by Mr. Douglas’s lights, substandard, and failed to showcase Hendrix to the best advantage. But among rock critics and fans, the debate lingered for years.
“If you take this work at face value, without the baggage of what ‘producer’ Alan Douglas did to the tapes,” Joe Viglione wrote in a review on the website AllMusic that also disparaged a co-producer, Tony Bongiovi, “it’s still Hendrix. Maybe God allowed the series of albums to happen so the world could see Hendrix’s work could survive doctoring and musicians jamming with his art after the fact.”
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In Mr. Douglas’s defense, the rock journalist and critic John Masouri wrote a long piece in 2011 on the website densesignals.com, calling Mr. Douglas “one of our last great musical visionaries.” Of the Hendrix kerfuffle, he wrote that Mr. Douglas’s decision to improve the original tracks was the right one.
“Wisely, he’d also edited out passages where Jimi had toyed with a riff repeatedly, searching for just the right phrase,” Mr. Masouri wrote. “All things considered, it’s highly unlikely that Hendrix would have sanctioned the release of poorly executed material, yet the die was cast, and the producer has been branded a controversial figure ever since.”
Alan Douglas Rubenstein was born in Chelsea, Mass., on July 20, 1931, to William Rubenstein and the former Rose Silbert. His father was a junk seller who eventually started a successful mattress manufacturing business. Alan graduated from a local high school and played football briefly in college — at Colby in Maine and the University of Miami — though he never graduated. He received a medical discharge from the Army after an abbreviated period of service.
He worked for Roulette Records in New York and Barclay Records in Paris before becoming head of the jazz department at United Artists, where he worked with the singer Betty Carter, the flutist Herbie Mann and others. Later, at the short-lived FM Records, he recorded two albums by the celebrated avant-garde saxophonist Eric Dolphy.
When FM dissolved, he started his own company. His first acquisition was the rights to Lenny Bruce’s written monologues and tapes, which were then published as “The Essential Lenny Bruce.” He also published work by Timothy Leary. In 1969, after seeing the Last Poets on television, he tracked them down performing on a run-down basketball court in Harlem and brought them right to the recording studio.
Mr. Douglas met Hendrix in 1969; they encountered each other at the Woodstock festival and also through the intervention of Stella Benabou, Mr. Douglas’s wife at the time, who owned a clothing store in Manhattan where Hendrix liked to shop. Mr. Douglas arranged several recording sessions with him and other musicians, some of which appear on the album “Nine to the Universe,” released in 1980.
In 1995, a court settlement took the rights to the Hendrix archive from Mr. Douglas and awarded them to Hendrix’s father, Al. Years of legal wrangling ensued, and Mr. Douglas was eventually able to retain the right to compile Hendrix’s writings into a book and to make a documentary film about him. Both are titled “Starting at Zero.” The book was published last fall; the film has yet to be released.
Mr. Douglas was married four times. In addition to Ms. Veevers, he is survived by his wife, Lucia Solazzi; a brother, Jerry Douglas; a sister, Beverly Shuman; another daughter, Solo Douglas; a stepson, Darnell Greene; and three grandsons.
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