Thursday, December 29, 2011
The Last Gypsy: Bassist Billy Cox Part II
BBP: Now Band of Gypsys lasted only a month and a half. Why didn’t it take off? You guys had such great tracks. In college I used to listen to that album all of the time. Especially “Machine Gun;” it’s such an incredible song. How did that song come together?
Cox: Okay you asked two questions... (Both laugh)
BBP: I’m sorry, I got you on the phone and…
Cox: Okay. Management did not want that. They wanted him to go back to the same format that he had before. So we caught a lot of flak from the management. It was not wanted. A lot of times a lot of people think that groups have the power to say yes and no and this and that. That’s not true. Sometimes if you’re under contract, you have to go with the people who have you under contract. And so that band was not wanted. So we had to disband. Okay, and the other question was…
BBP: The song “Machine Gun.” That song really was something…
Cox: It probably was a jam. It all started with a jam. Jimi had this unique talent of starting things off and laying in the cut til everybody joined in, and then he’d go off from there. So it just started and I gave it my flavor, and Buddy gave it his flavor and he said, “Hey that’s pretty good.” So he went off and wrote some words to it and bang! Because we rehearsed quite a bit. Rehearsal is the key element for playing songs and playing them right. You’ve got to practice.
BBP: What was your favorite song from Band of Gypsys?
BBP: That’s incredible. Let me ask you this. Hendrix in terms of—how do I phrase this question—in terms of his relationship with the black community. I was younger during that time, but I always had the impression that his music wasn’t really accepted by African-Americans during that period. I remember later reading he got booed at a street fair in Harlem. What was happening with all that?
Cox: Well you had racial divides in the media also because his music was predominately on the FM stations. So blacks did not have FM stations where they really felt comfortable and FM stations at that time did not play R&B and blues. They do now, but back then they did not. And so rock was predominately played on the FM stations. And in the black stations, somebody said “Who’s this guy?” Well a few guys knew who he was, but the vast majority of them did not know. It’s not like it is today.
BBP: Right. And who do you like now? Who’s out there now—rock, blues—who do you like to listen to?
Cox: I listen to all of them. I came up from a—my mother was a classical pianist and I came up under Mozart, Handel, Liszt, the whole bit. And then I gravitated to the bebop...and then the blues and R&B. Today, I feel like—I still love Albert King, and Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. B.B. King and various artists. I still like to listen to artists. I don’t have any one favorite. I listen to all of them. Then I have a lot of jazz records too. I’m still into Miles, Herbie Hancock, and Jaco Pastorius and things of that nature.
BBP: Are there new performers, guys who are out these days who perhaps were not out when you were around? I’m talking about younger guys now. Does anyone have your ear at this point?
Cox: You mean bass players, groups or what?
BBP: Groups, anybody. Any musicians…
Cox: I like what Marcus Miller’s doing, and Victor Wooten, and still like Stanley (Clarke) and guys of that nature as far as the bass players go. I’m really concentrating on my group, Billy Cox’s New Band of Gypsys. I mean we’re really doing a lot of rehearsing, a lot of work and we put together this CD and—but guys live so far apart that, but we get them together, at least once a month, and we do what we have to do musically.
Cox: Hopefully I’m trying to get them on this Experience Hendrix tour.
Cox: I’ve just been told I have to wind it up, but go ahead.
BBP: …Yeah, I appreciate the time you’ve given me. One was this talk that Michael Jeffery had him killed…
Cox: …And I saw Elvis…You know, you can’t run around with rumors and innuendoes on people. We got the news about what happened and sometimes people are not happy with what happened. They want to make it the way they want it to happen. And there will always be rumors and innuendoes on the stars. The Michael Jacksons, the Elvis Presleys, the Janis Joplins, the Jimi Hendrixes. But I don’t believe everything I read in the funny papers.
BBP: (laughs) But his relationship with Jeffery was kind of strained at times…was that true?
Cox: Are you looking for gossip or are you looking for the truth?
BBP: I’m looking for the truth because of things I’ve read over the years.
Cox: Jeffery was a manager. And he did what managers do. You have some good managers, you have some bad managers and mediocre managers, but he was a manager. So I didn’t hear them argue. I didn’t hear them fuss. So I can’t definitely say that they…but I knew that he was thinking about changing managers. Sometimes relationships between artists and managers after five, six, seven years, they change. I’ve seen that over hundreds of artists who have signed with one manager and after their three years with a three-year option is up they go to another place hoping that they can make more money and be more creative or what have you. So nothing stays the same. Change is inevitable.
BBP: I wanted to ask this about you. About ten years ago the Cort guitar company released a signature bass guitar under your name. How’d that come about? And what’s going on with that right now?
Cox: Well that was the contract. I was under contract—there goes that contract again—I was under contract to them for about three years, three-and-a-half years, something of that nature. But I put out this Freedom Bass and it was a pretty good bass. And we had a few sales. In fact, I’ve still got a couple of them. It was a Cort, and they were the only ones that were really nice. And so I took out the time to design this bass and I guess you could probably pick up some. They’re not out like they were; I think Cort has 300 different styles of guitars they put out. They’re a humongous company. But they were very good to me. I had a lot of fun. Made a little money. And you move on.
BBP: And you were involved in the design of this bass?
Cox: Yes, I designed it.
BBP: Did you ever get any feedback on it from other bass players?
Cox: I was at (a) convention and…I was standing around. A lot of people didn’t know who I was, I had one of these funny hats I wear from time to time (laughs)…and, quite a bit of compliments. I was there and a lot of people liked it. A lot of people bought it.
BBP: Wow. That’s incredible. I just want to slip this last one in. Right now, you’re the last person from either the Jimi Hendrix Experience or the Band of Gypsys who’s still alive. When you think of that, what goes through your mind?
Cox: My last CD was called “The Last Gypsy Standing.” And in fact the main track to that is also on the Old School Blue Blues which you probably have.
BBP: I heard that, yeah.
Cox: I thank the creator for sparing me this length of time. I try to take care of my health. I didn’t go to the gym this morning because I have about four or five things to take care of on the phone…but tomorrow morning bright and early I’ll be at the gym. I try and exercise, try to eat the right things, take care of my health. I think that’s more important, especially when you get a little older. So I’m just trying to take care of what I’ve got, and what I’ve been given.
BBP: But in terms of what you did with Hendrix and that whole period, what the two of you were doing together, do you feel a responsibility to, maybe, carry on the legacy?
Cox: Well I have to do what I have to do. In fact I’ve been called to speak. I’ve spoken at the University of Indiana, University of Illinois, Fisk University, and I try to be a mentor to a lot of the young musicians coming up. I’ve been there and done that. And I try to give the best advice that I know how to them, and if they ask for it I’ll speak truthfully to the best of my ability and knowledge.
BBP: Right. And I know you were just out in California with the Wild Blue Angel?
Cox: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. The Wild Blue Angel was edited a little better and a little differently and it was very unique to be able to do that. Myself and John McDermott with the Hendrix Corporation and the fellow who produced the movie, he was there. We were on the panel.
BBP: What kind of questions do you get when you’re on panels like that?
Cox: Any kind. People ask anything off the cuff from the type of bass I use to the type of contract that I signed. The general public, you could be faced with any number of questions.
BBP: And do the questions vary as to the age of the person asking them? Do the older people ask different kinds of questions than the younger people do?
Cox: I never even tried to find out who did what, but I do know that the Jimi Hendrix legacy is continually living on. I look at the tours and anywhere from six, seven, eight and anywhere from 18, 19, and 20-year-old kids are still picking up the guitar. And guess what? The first artist they try to play like is Jimi Hendrix. They embrace his musical genius and they know most of the songs, basic songs that Jimi played. So I’m still signing autographs for them; so this is two, three generations later.
BBP: Wow. That’s incredible. That’s really incredible. Is there any guitarist out there now, who you think comes close to him in terms of ability or approach?
Cox: Umm..I mean you asked me that I think a little earlier here in the interview, but…not really. I’m not going to…I can’t give everyone…Jimi Hendrix defined the guitar. Everyone had their chance to define it, so he came about and he defined it. So anybody who is copying him is not defining the guitar. They’re copying Jimi Hendrix. There are a lot of people who imitate and try to duplicate, but there’s only one Jimi Hendrix. And every now and then the spirit slips through the portal of time into this reality and blows our mind. And Jimi Hendrix slipped through that portal of time. I’m not smart enough to tell you where that portal is located. But he did that. And he realized that fate is a card that’s dealt at birth, but destiny is what you do with those cards.
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