" Interview "
Billy Cox Interview
Billy Cox played alongside Jimi Hendrix when they met back in 1961, when Billy and Jimi were in the U.S. Army in Fort Campbell, KY. Cox was taken by guitar playing he heard coming from inside a Service Club on the military base one day, which just happened to be Jimi. Not long afterwards they started to coordinate jam sessions, which led to them forming a group called the King Kusuals, which evolved into a steady flow of gigs on the chitlin' circuit. During the mid '60s Jimi relocated to New York City, where he was discovered by Chas Chandler who was the bass player from the Animals. Eventually plans were put forth to have Jimi put a band together in the UK, which is when Jimi put a call into his old buddy Billy Cox with an invite to go along with him to merry old England, which Cox could not afford to do, and instead he kept busy backing Rhythm and Blues acts passing through the south.
Historically speaking Jimi Hendrix arguably changed the complexion of blues rock guitar and went on to become one of rock's most successful rock artists. At the height of Jimi's success, Hendrix broke up his band the Jimi Hendrix Experience, his first band member change was offered to his old friend Billy Cox, who (this time) accepted the Jimi's kind invitation. The name of the new group was called; Gypsys, Sums and Rainbows, which got together in upstate New York, and started to rehearse with rhythm guitarist Larry Lee, Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, and percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan. This was the band many of us saw either in person or in the videos that closed the Woodstock Festival during the summer of 1969. Unfortunately Gypsys, Sums and Rainbows disbanded soon thereafter and never recorded an album.
Hendrix decided to return to a trio format, with Billy Cox staying on-board, and added singer/songwriter/drummer Buddy Miles, who added a more funk feel to the band which named themselves; Band of Gypsy's. This new unit did not stay together too long either, but they leave us with the self-titled legendary and exceptional live album recorded on New Year's Eve 1969 in New York City's at Bill Graham's fabled Fillmore East.
Next up was a new trio with Billy Cox remaining, and Jimi brought back drummer Mitch Mitchell, who immediately started to record a new studio album at Jimi's Electric Lady Studio. This recording 'First Rays of the New Rising Sun' was often delayed, as the band spent a good part of the summer on the road in Europe and in the U.S, and the plan became to wrap up the LP after all the touring and finish up the album by the end of 1970. But that never came to pass, as Hendrix tragically passed in September of 1970, who at the time was just twenty-seven years old.
After Jimi's passing Billy Cox went on to play with other bands including the Charlie Daniels Band plus session work and other dates. Cox also is the recipient of his own model bass, as Cort Guitar's issued a Billy Cox "Freedom" model bass late in the nineties. To this day Billy is quite active with a Hendrix tribute band titled The Gypsy Sum Experience, and most recently with the Experience Hendrix tour which included Buddy Guy, and Hubert Sumlin. Additionally the Experience Hendrix label just released a DVD and a separate DVD from Jimi's first USA performance with the Jimi Hendrix Experience titled; "Live at Monterey." That just happened to be the precise moment in time that I caught up with sixty-seven year old Billy Cox.
BP: How you doing Billy? I was just listening to Band of Gypsy's which was recorded right here in NYC at Bill Graham's Fillmore, which still sounds so fresh. That had to be a great night?
BC: It was a great night, a magical night Bob.
BP: Did the band have a lot of rehearsals for that gig?
BC: One week for the Band of Gypsy's.
BP: In Woodstock, NY?
BC: No in New York City. But for the Woodstock Festival we had two weeks of rehearsals and preparation, with Larry Lee on second guitar who hailed from Memphis TN, plus Jimi brought back drummer Mitch Mitchell, and percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan.
BP: Now your relationship with Jimi goes back to the early sixties, right?
BC: Oh yeah, way back at that time. I played in high school and gave up playing, and one day I was coming back from the movies and heard these guitar sounds coming from this practice room, and said wow; what's that? Now you have to remember that Jimi was still in what I call his embryonic stage, and was trying to get it all together. But I heard something coming from him that really hit my spirit. I told this guy that I was with, hey man that sounds really good, and he said; I don't know as I think it sounds like a bunch of mess to me. I understood where that guy was coming from as to the human ear it does sound like a bunch of mess, but like I said; I really felt something special coming from within Jimi's playing, so I went over and introduced myself, and the rest was history, as we really hit it off, and we became life-long friends.
BP: You went on the road with Jimi before he
became well known?
BC: Correct, as we did a lot of small clubs in the south that they called the chitlin' circuit, at the small cities around Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, etc. And the reason they called them the chitlin' circuit; was that in those clubs they used to serve fish sandwiches and chitlin's.
BP: You were asked to join Jimi in the UK to become the bass player for the Experience- right?
BC: I actually played in three of Jimi's bands, as I played in Woodstock with the Gypsy Sums, the Band of Gypsy's, and then the Experience.
BP: Oh, I did not know you played in the Jimi Hendrix Experience?
BC: I most certainly did as I toured with Jimi under the name of the Experience.
BP: But when Jimi originally formed the Experience, he had asked you to join him in England?
BC: Yes, and he was telling me that this guy discovered him in New York, and was taking him to the UK to make him a star. So Jimi told him about me and said get a plane ticket and come on over to Europe. But I was on hard times, I had three strings on my bass, with the fourth one tied in a square knot and a really bad amp too. Jimi said sit tight, as I am going to make it, and then I will send for you, which is just what he did in time.
BP: Was the hang as crazy as everyone reported, I mean were you guys that crazy, or was that hype and was it being overblown?
BC: Oh yeah, we were having a blast on all fronts! (Laughs) And it was a lot of fun, and don't forget we were in our twenties, so we had a lot of energy too. (More laughs)
BP: And you are here to talk about it!
BC: That's right, I am still here.
BP: Have you thought about chronicling a lot of what went on back then into a book?
BC: Not really, though I collaborated with John McDermott and Eddie Kramer on those books on Jimi, including the current one that just came out titled: 'Jimi Hendrix; An Illustrated Experience.' Plus I am hopeful for something else to come out in the future too.
BP: You really should do a book, as you have a great legacy, and I am sure a lot of unbelievable stories to tell too?
BC: I've got lots to talk about!
BP: Speaking of which, the Woodstock Festival had to have been something for you?
BC: It was incredible, especially playing in front of all those people, what a high (laughs again)
BP: The Band of Gypsy's was one of my favorites, but it did not last very long, what happened there?
BC: Basically the Gypsy's got together because of a contractual problem of Jimi's, as he had signed a bad deal, and these guys waited for the golden opportunity when he became very successful and wanted to sue Jimi for fifteen million dollars! So Jimi looked for people to help him, and I was there, as was Buddy Miles at a time of need for Jimi. So that is how the Band of Gypsy's came about, so we got Jimi out of his contract, all of us together. But Jimi's management was not crazy about the Band of Gypsy's and wanted it to be like it was with the Experience. So a lot of pressure was put on Jimi, and thus it was not a long lived group.
BP: Were you around the scene in New York with Jimi, when Alan Douglas supposedly recorded some sessions with Jimi and John McLauglin?
BC: Alan Douglas was kind of what you would call a producer at that time, trying to produce some things, and there is no doubt about the fact that Jimi and John McLauglin did actually record.
BP: Come to think of it, I remember reading an interview with McLauglin talking about Jimi playing with John late one night at the Record Plant in New York.
BC: That makes sense, because back in those days, lots players would jam late night at the Record Plant, guys like Johnny Winter, the Who, and whoever would be in town would come by to play, and we would just have fun and play around with some new ideas we all had.
BP: Those must have been a lot of fun, and different times than we know today.
BC: They were very special times Bob.
BP: And now you are going on the road again.
BC: Going on the road, yes. The Experience Hendrix Tour, under the leadership of Janie Hendrix and John McDermott who are true pros and they are experts at doing this. As we have done these types of shows before and they are always well organized, exciting, and very convenient, as they don't fly us hodge-podge all over the place so we are hitting in a straight line of shows in nearby locations; which is really nice! So we have Washington D.C., New Hampshire, two shows in New York City, Atlantic City, and Waterbury, CT.
BP: And Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy are part of the show too.
BC: Yeah man, what a lineup, I heard they sold out the Beacon Theater in a flash, and booked us back for a second show too! Buddy Guy, Jonnie Lang, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Mick Taylor, Eric Gales, and Robert Randolph-who is incredible! And Hubert Sumlin, this is going to be so exciting, and I am really looking forward to the shows!
BP: And Billy Cox too!
BC: Oh yeah man! Plus Eric Gales is really very special as he has taken 'Foxy Lady' into the millennium; you have got to hear him play that song!
BP: Billy sounds like you are all rev'd up and raring to go.
BC: I am, and I just want to tell the people out there to come on out to the shows, and let's have some fun! Because it's going to be a musical testimonial to how great Jimi was, and how important he still is to all of us.
BP: Spoken from a man who definitely would know quite well.
BC: Thank you Bob, thank you for having me.
BP: Thank you Billy, have a ball at all of the Experience Hendrix shows.
BC: You know I will!
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com