Hendrix bandmate Cox was there at the beginning and the end
The guitarists that come together for the periodic Experience Hendrix tours to play the music of Jimi Hendrix all share a love and admiration for the great late guitarist.
Billy Cox brings something to the show that no one else onstage can offer: the perspective of having known and played with Hendrix himself.
Now 72, the famous bassist is the last surviving member of Hendrix's two bands, the final lineup of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Band of Gypsys.
“I always think of the good times,” Cox said in a phone interview as he reflected on the Jimi Hendrix he knew. “I never think of any negatives or anything. It was always a good time, because he was a good person. He was a giving person. He was a creative person.
“He had all these good attributes. And if there's a heaven, I'm sure he went there.”
Of all of the musicians who were in Hendrix's bands, Cox had the longest association and friendship with Hendrix.
The two were in the Army and stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., in 1961 when their paths crossed. He was returning to the base when he heard Hendrix playing in the service club.
“Something about this playing, I just couldn't explain it,” Cox says. “So I turned to the guy standing next to me, and I said, ‘That's pretty unique.' And he says, ‘That sounds like a bunch of crap.' And I think to the human ear, it did. But I wasn't listening with the human ear.”
Hendrix and Cox soon formed a band that, after their discharge from the Army, played clubs around the Southeast and Midwest.
After Hendrix moved to New York, he kept in touch with Cox and even wanted Cox to go with him to London. Cox had to politely decline; he had hit a rough patch and didn't have the money to go New York. But Cox said before Hendrix hung up the phone, he made a promise: “I'm going to make it, and I'll send for you.”
That's exactly what happened in April 1969. After joining the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the first major gig Cox played was Woodstock in 1969. Cox remembers the feeling of amazement he and Hendrix felt when they first saw the size of the crowd.
“Jimi pulled the curtain back and looked and his eyes were big as quarters,” Cox says. “But in his wisdom, he said, ‘You know what, these people are sending a lot of energy up to the bandstand. So what we're going to do is we're going to take that energy, absorb it musically and send it right back to them.' And we stayed onstage almost two hours. ... It was incredible.”
Soon after that, Hendrix disbanded the Experience and formed the Band of Gypsys with Cox and Buddy Miles.
Hendrix died before finishing what was going to be his fourth album — possibly a two-record set. Now those final songs — as well as many of the tunes Hendrix released during his lifetime — make up the repertoire of the “Experience Hendrix” concerts.
“People just love it because they can feel us, the spirit on stage,” Cox says. “I tell anyone, if you like Jimi Hendrix's music and came up with it, you've got to see the Experience Hendrix tour because it will set you back on your heels.”
Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.