Billy Cox: last gypsy standing

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Asked to describe the legacy of his late friend and bandmate Jimi Hendrix, bassist Billy Cox spoke straight from his heart.

"In a word, everlasting," Cox says. "Even when we first started playing together people knew that Jimi was unique as a guitarist and an entertainer. Jimi was so flamboyant and he loved to go out into the audience and play. Jimi was always into showmanship."

In 1961 Hendrix and Cox met while in the Army in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. They formed a duo, King Kasuals, and played in and around nearby Clarksville, Tennessee. The duo moved to Nashville, a base of operations while they toured the south's Chitlin Circuit.

"Jimi told me that when he got famous that he would send for me, and he did just that," Cox recalls. "In 1969, Jimi called and asked me to come to New York. I packed my clothes in a matchbox suitcase and headed to the Big Apple."

That summer, Hendrix, Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell headlined Woodstock, performing as Gypsy Sun and Rainbows.

"When Jimi started to play 'The Star Spangled Banner,' I played the first five notes," Cox says, "before I remembered that we had not rehearsed this song, so I laid off. To me, Jimi's playing 'The Star Spangled Banner' was the zenith of Woodstock; to hear Jimi play it with so much zeal was really something."

After the European tour that followed Woodstock was over, an exhausted Cox returned to Nashville while Hendrix stayed overseas.

"Jimi called me the day after I got home and we talked about getting back into the studio later that week to work on the album (First Rays of the New Rising Sun). But a couple of days later Jimi made the transition."

Cox was so distraught at the passing of his close friend that for the next year he didn't want to do anything. But in 1971 Cox resumed playing music, first with The Charlie Daniels Band and then as a session musician/producer in Nashville.

Since then, Cox has carried on the musical dreams he and Hendrix shared years ago. He's has taken part in numerous Hendrix tribute shows as well as several Experience Hendrix tours with the likes of Mitchell, Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Chris Layton and Hubert Sumlin.

"The musicians who have been part of these shows," Cox says, "we all speak the same language. And we're all free in our thoughts and our music."

Last year, two other musicians who played with Hendrix — Mitchell and Buddy Miles — passed away, hence the title of Cox's new CD, The Last Gypsy Standing.

"Recording this album was a kind of therapy for me," Cox admits, "to help me with the passing of some of my dearest friends. I will always be grateful to those friends of mine who came and played with me on this album."

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