William “Billy” Cox (born October 18, 1941) is an American bassist, best known for performing with Jimi Hendrix. Cox is the only surviving member of Jimi Hendrix’s three main bands, including the original Experience lineup (which did not include Cox); he was in the Band of Gypsys and afterwards the Cry Of Love (a.k.a. Jimi Hendrix New Experience) trio. Cox was also in the short-lived Hendrix band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows (there are other surviving members from this group) which played Woodstock, prior to the Band of Gypsys formation. Cox continues to perform dates with the Band of Gypsys Experience and the Experience Hendrix Tour.
Born in Wheeling, West Virginia, Billy Cox was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended Schenley High School. Cox met Jimi Hendrix when they were serving in the Army at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in 1961. While using the bathroom at Service Club #1 during a sudden rainstorm, he heard guitar playing inside. Impressed with what he heard, he introduced himself, told Hendrix he played bass, and they were jamming soon after. They became, and remained, fast friends. They left the military around the same time and they played clubs around Clarksville, Tennessee, finally moving to Nashville. They formed a group called the King Kasuals. They played at Nashville clubs, mostly the Del Morocco, and occasional outlying gigs in the southeast, once as far north as Indianapolis playing what was called the “Chitlin’ Circuit”. Cox and Hendrix played in the backing band for Marion James around this time. Hendrix eventually left Nashville, playing all over the US in the backing groups of several famous artists, most notably Little Richard and The Isley Brothers, until he was “discovered” by Chas Chandler in New York. Chandler took Hendrix to England (from which began Hendrix’s meteoric rise to fame), but before Hendrix left, he called Cox and asked him to join him. Cox (in his own words) “Only had three strings on my bass” and no money to travel to New York, so he thanked Hendrix and wished him well. From 1962 to 1968 Cox gained musical experience and developed his expertise. Cox played bass on the pioneering R&B television shows, Nashville’s “Night Train” and then the “The!!!! Beat” from Dallas, Texas, working closely with Hoss Allen and John Richbourg of WLAC Radio. Billy Cox has played behind many famous artists. He has either been a member of the house or touring band or recorded sessions for Sam Cooke, Slim Harpo, Joe Simon, Charlie Daniels, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Lou Rawls, Etta James, Jackie Wilson and Little Richard.
Band of Gypsys & The Jimi Hendrix New Experience (a.k.a. The Cry of Love Band)
In 1969, several months before bassist Noel Redding left the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix called his old friend Cox, who joined him in New York as his studio bassist. Following the break-up of the Experience, Cox became a member of Hendrix’s experimental group, tentatively titled Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. This group went on to play at Woodstock and two low-key New York gigs before being disbanded. Hendrix then formed another short-lived group with Cox and Buddy Miles, the Band of Gypsys. They recorded the eponymously titled live LP that he owed former manager Ed Chalpin as part of a legal settlement. Following their demise, Cox played a series of shows with Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell in the reformed New Experience, formerly called The Cry of Love. In addition to the Band of Gypsys release, Cox’s bass playing can be heard on such posthumously released Hendrix albums as South Saturn Delta, Live at Woodstock, Live at the Fillmore East, Nine to the Universe, and a reconstructed version of First Rays of the New Rising Sun, in addition to such home-videos as Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, Live at Woodstock, The Dick Cavett Show, Rainbow Bridge, and Jimi Hendrix.
On September 8, 2006, Cox mentioned in an interview on the KQRS-FM morning show that he can be heard playing bass on five of the first notes of Jimi Hendrix’s famous Woodstock “Star Spangled Banner”. The rendition was completely impromptu according to him. He said he thought to himself at the moment, “I realized we had not rehearsed this, I had better lay off.” He toured with Hendrix (with Mitch Mitchell on drums), usually billed as ‘the Jimi Hendrix Experience’, from 25 April until 6 September 1970 on the Cry of Love tour. Cox lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he remains active in music, and acts as an ambassador for Jimi Hendrix, his music and philosophy.