Jazz Producer, Hendrix Confidant Alan Douglas Dies
The late Alan Douglas, friend and producer of Jimi Hendrix.
Philip Montgomery for The Wall Street Journal
By the time he befriended Jimi Hendrix in Greenwich Village, Alan Douglas was already an established producer of jazz luminaries.
Mr. Douglas, who died on June 7 at 82 years old in Paris due to complications from a fall, one of his daughter said, had a knack for combining unlikely talents such as Duke Ellington with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, who were of different generations and styles.
Mr. Douglas, who headed United Artists’ jazz division, also worked with Art Blakey and Betty Carter, and made a posthumous recording with his friend Billie Holiday. He issued a series of DVDs of live shows by such varied talents as Celia Cruz, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic and B.B. King.
Mr. Douglas also was steeped in the 1960s counterculture. He discovered and produced The Last Poets, a Harlem-based cooperative of poets and musicians that presaged the hip-hop movement, and published books and recordings by Timothy Leary, Lenny Bruce and Alejandro Jodorowksy.
But it was Mr. Douglas’s association with Mr. Hendrix starting in 1969 when the guitarist lived a few blocks away in New York’s Greenwich Village that brought him the most renown—and controversy.
Mr. Douglas met Mr. Hendrix through his second of four wives, the former Stella Benabou, who owned a hippie clothing shop, the Moroccan-born former wife said.
“He used to go to my wife’s store to buy those leather jackets everybody used to have,” Mr. Douglas said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year. “So, I came home from a dinner one night and he was sitting there on my kitchen. My wife and he were good friends.”
Months later, of the Woodstock music festival, Mr. Douglas said, “Jimi was supposed to be the last performer of the evening. At midnight. But it was 4 a.m. and he still hadn’t gone on stage yet. So, we were backstage hanging out. He finally went on at 7am.”
The two men went on to work closely together in Mr. Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in the Village and in Mr. Douglas’s midtown office, and began discussing new, more jazzy directions.
One such recording session they planned involved trumpeter Miles Davis, keyboardist Larry Young and drummer Tony Williams, and another was with pianist and composer Gil Evans, said Ross Firestone, a longtime friend and colleague of Mr. Douglas’s.
“They were developing all sorts of projects that would have been quite interesting,” Mr. Firestone said.
Mr. Hendrix’s unexpected death in London in 1970 scuttled those plans. But Mr. Douglas obtained the rights to manage the late guitarist’s creative legacy, which he did over the next quarter century.
In several albums, Mr. Douglas mixed Mr. Hendrix’s guitar and voice recordings with newly recorded studio musicians because he was dissatisfied with the quality of the original. The technique drew fire from Hendrix purists, who felt the original recordings shouldn’t have been trifled with; some of them also contended that the recordings were never intended to be released.
Mr. Douglas’s supporters say his Hendrix releases were impeccably produced, unlike many of the hundreds of shoddy bootleg Hendrix albums, and helped popularize Hendrix among a new younger generation. In the Journal interview, Mr. Douglas said, “We got accused of manipulation but it was a manipulation with a good and honest heart.”
A 1995 court settlement that gave ownership rights to Mr. Hendrix’s father also froze the Hendrix projects Mr. Douglas was still developing. After years of litigation, a 2012 court order allowed Mr. Douglas to complete a biographical book and documentary, both called “Starting From Zero,” based on the late guitarist’s original writings and statements.
Before he died, Mr. Douglas approved the documentary’s final edit and its producers hope to release it this year, said Stuart Shapiro, a Douglas friend and colleague who married Stella after her divorce from Mr. Douglas.
Mr. Shapiro said those close to Alan Douglas called him “A.D.,” a moniker first coined by Mr. Hendrix, who joked that it also meant “after death.”
“Now I’m living in the A.D. world,” said Mr. Shapiro, who Mr. Douglas tasked with completing and distributing “Zero,” his last Hendrix project. “The last thing Alan said to me was, “’Don’t compromise over your quest for quality.”’
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