There's a town in
And then there is
Cox, 72, is not
Cox did not become a gypsy until his 20s, when he joined a band featuring his old friend
Their first performance would go down in popular music history.
Hendrix is gone now, of course, and so are most of the musicians he worked with.
Everyone except the last gypsy.
Cox was born and raised in
His mother was a classical pianist.
"As an embryo, I guess I heard Brahms,
His uncles were proficient jazz trumpet and sax players.
Cox's godmother taught him how to play piano, and he later picked up the violin and saxophone. But he never connected with those instruments the way he would electric bass.
"I think we all have a destiny in life. My destiny was not violin or piano or the saxophone," he said.
He was heading home from basketball practice one day when he heard a deep rumbling coming from the local Shiner's hall.
"I was moved by that, I dropped everything and ran down to Syria Mosque."
Cox was transfixed. He sat outside the venue until the band took a break and approached the bass player.
He asked about the instrument. It was an early Fender Precision bass with a blonde finish. The bassist let Cox try it out.
He fell in love immediately, but Cox would have to wait years before he got a bass guitar of his own.
In the meantime, he joined his high school's symphony and began playing the upright bass.
The symphony director expected bass players to use bows. But anytime the band took a break or the director was working with another musician, Cox would be in the back plucking the strings.
It eventually got him kicked out of the symphony. He gave up the bass after that.
Cox would not start playing again until he was in the
One night, while coming back from a movie, Cox and some buddies ducked into a service club to get out of the rain.
"I heard this young man playing a guitar. I told the guy next to me, 'That's pretty unique.' He said, 'It sounds like a bunch of crap.'"
But Cox knew better.
"I was listening to my destiny," he said.
After the gig, Cox went up and introduced himself to the guitar player. His name was
"We clicked. We said 'Let's get a group together,'" Cox said.
They recruited fellow serviceman
Cox and Hendrix kept the group together after they were discharged from the
They rented a house together and began playing at venues around
They moved to
Hendrix stayed with the band until 1964 when he relocated to
He spent a few years playing on the R&B circuit there, backing up acts like The Isley Brothers and Little Richard. Then, in 1966, he had a chance meeting with
Keith and Hendrix quickly became friends. She connected him with former Animals bassist
Hendrix immediately formed a new band called
Cox's first gig with
"That was incredible. It was a city of peace, harmony and the counterculture at work," Cox said.
Standing backstage, Cox remembers drummer
"Mitch looked out and said 'Oh . . . my . . . goodness.'"
Cox peeked, too. He saw thousands of people, waiting in the mud to see what
Hendrix was undaunted, however. Cox still remembers the pep talk he gave the band before heading onstage.
"He said 'You know what? You see those people out there? They're sending a lot of energy to the bandstand. We're going to take that energy, utilize it and send it back to them.'"
The band played for an hour and 50 minutes.
"We did every song we knew," Cox said.
Toward the end of the set, after the band finished their big hit "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," Hendrix launched into a new song he was working on.
It was a hard rock version of "The Star Spangled Banner."
Hendrix pulled out every weapon in his arsenal of distortion and feedback effects, invoking the chaos of a battlefield with bombs whistling through the air, sirens and explosions.
He even worked in a few notes of "Taps" near the end.
The unorthodox rendition caused some controversy. Some people thought Hendrix was being disrespectful. Others thought it was just noise.
Now, music critics see Hendrix's take on the national anthem as a cultural touchstone. The country was in turmoil, dozens of soldiers were dying every day in
Cox said he knew the performance was something special from the first few notes.
"You will hear, I started the first five or six notes. Something told me, 'You'd better stop.'"
Cox toured with Hendrix through the rest of 1969 and 1970. He played with
Hendrix then decided to reform The Jimi Hendrix Experience but with Cox on bass, not Redding.
Cox was there for the Fillmore East performances that would later be released on the "
He also played with Hendrix during his famed
A little over two weeks later, on
Cox went on to play for the
He said many people forgot about
"At that point in time after Jimi had passed, he was just a dead, drugged out rock star."
Then, in the mid-1990s, Hendrix's sister Janie took over the late musician's estate.
She got in touch with Cox and some of her brother's other collaborators and began booking small "Experience Hendrix" shows.
The shows quickly gained in popularity and eventually became full tours. Then the tours began getting bigger and bigger.
Now, Cox is sharing the stage with legendary guitarists like
There are two "Experience Hendrix" tours each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The next one begins in September with stops in
"It's great to know I was part of a music that wasn't a one hit wonder," Cox said. "It never gets old.
"The music he wrote is always in the now. It transcends cultural boundaries and reaches down generations."
He has just completed a new record, "Unfiltered Billy Cox," featuring songs he wrote with his wife, Brenda.
"We write about love and things that we see and things that we know," he said.
He said he would mix in some of those songs to his Live on the Levee performance, along with Hendrix covers and blues tunes.
Cox and his band will take the stage at
Visit www.liveontheleveecharleston.com for more information.
For more information about
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