MANHATTAN (CN) – It wasn’t the first lawsuit over Jimi Hendrix’s old guitars, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
A federal judge in Manhattan ruled Friday night that twin brothers who played in Hendrix’s band have no ownership or rights to two guitars they say Hendrix gifted them and which they later sold to his family’s company for $30,000 when they needed the cash.
“Plaintiffs have offered no evidence that the guitars are ‘historic,’ ‘iconic,’ or otherwise have nonmonetary value sufficient to create an unconscionable injury,” U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos wrote.
“Although the record indicates that the guitars were indeed used by Jimi Hendrix for the recording of specific songs, the record does not indicate the import of those songs, nor does it indicate the import of the guitars to Jimi Hendrix or his career.”
The twins, Taharqa Z. Aleem and Tunde Ra Aleem, say they were gifted a double-neck guitar and an electric guitar by Hendrix before the superstar overdosed in 1970. When they sold the instruments to Experience Hendrix LLC, which is run by the Hendrix family, in the mid-1990s, the brothers were allegedly strained financially.
Tunde Ra died in 2014; Taharqa filed the November 2016 lawsuit in New York Supreme Court with another of his brothers, Tajiddin.
The brothers said there was an oral promise that they could buy back the guitars at any time, as long as they gave notice and paid back the $30,000. Experience denies making such a promise — which it equated to a “zero-interest loan secured by the guitars” — and there is no written record of the transaction.
The guitars today are on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Though he determined the twins have no ownership rights to the guitars, Ramos also decided Experience Hendrix is not the sole and exclusive owner.
“The alleged 1995 oral promise is clear and unambiguous; according to Taharqa, Janie Hendrix promised the twins that Experience would return the guitars if the men indicated they wished to regain possession of the guitars and proffered $30,000,” Ramos noted. “The larger question is whether the promise was made at all.” (Emphasis in original.)
The brothers argued for the guitars based on the legal principle of promissory estoppel, which makes a promise enforceable by law even if it’s not formal, if the promisee’s interests are hurt because he relied on it. Ramos did find that the twins had relied on the promise. He said otherwise they would have sold the guitars at auction or simply kept them.
Ramos also emphasized the allegation from the lawsuit that Hendrix gifted guitars to his bandmates frequently, context that could be said to make these particular two a little less iconic.
Aleem and his brother sent a demand letter to Experience Hendrix over the guitars in 2016, citing the alleged 1995 promise, after meetings in 2001 and 2006 proved fruitless. They got no response.
But Experience argued the six-year statute of limitations started ticking with the attempted deals in both 2001 and 2006, making them expired either way.
Experience Hendrix and its lawyers, Joseph Conley and Dorothy Weber, did not immediately return requests for comment Monday. Neither did Natraj Bhushan of Turturro Law, who represented the plaintiffs