Wheeling Hall of Fame: Bill Cox
Music and Fine Arts
Billy Cox is synonymous with almost any reference to Jimi Hendrix and rock ‘n’ roll history. They truly can be described as legendary. From their Army days together, Billy would have an extended friendship with Hendrix. The kindred spirits had a musical chemistry that was nurtured throughout the years, as both performed regularly as sidemen for the most prominent blues and R&B acts of the day.
The bond between the two men would write a new chapter in music history, highlighted by their appearance at the music festival called The Woodstock Music & Art Fair or, simply, Woodstock. During the August 1969 event, held on a dairy farm in New York, 32 acts performed outdoors before an audience of 400,000 young people. It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history. Rolling Stone magazine listed it as one of the “50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.” And this Wheeling native was on that stage. In fact, he and Hendrix closed out the festival.
Billy Cox’s father was a Baptist minister and teacher of mathematics, and his mother was a classical pianist. He was born in Wheeling on October 18, 1941. His official biography says he was blessed with the best of both worlds. One world revolved around the strong intellectual discipline of his father, and the other world revolved around the loving tenderness and sensitivity of his mother. He attended Wheeling’s Lincoln School and says he has many good memories of his hometown.
Growing up in Wheeling, Cox enjoyed musical influences that included classical, gospel, and country via the WWVA Jamboree. During his early teen years, Billy’s family moved to Pittsburgh. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. It was there that Billy met and became friends with Jimi Hendrix. After both were discharged, Billy and Jimi played at local night spots in cities and towns in the South and Midwest. The two finally settled in Nashville and formed The King Kasuals Band.
Between 1962-68, Billy’s bass playing was in high demand, and he played behind some of the greatest musicians of the time, including Sam Cooke, Charlie Daniels, Rufus Thomas, Lou Rawls, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, and Little Richard, in house bands, touring bands, or during recording sessions. During this period, Billy also played bass on half of all the black gospel music recorded in Nashville. He also played in sessions with country or folk musicians.
Cox played bass on the pioneering R&B television shows, Nashville’s “Night Train” and then “The!!!! Beat” from Dallas. In 1969, Hendrix called his old friend Cox, who joined him in New York as his studio bassist. Their first job was at Woodstock. After the break-up of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cox became a member of Hendrix’s experimental group, tentatively titled Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. Hendrix then formed another group with Cox and Buddy Miles, the Band of Gypsys. The Band of Gypsys was a power trio that fused blues and hard rock. Rolling Stone magazine in its 20th anniversary issue in 1987 cited the Band of Gypsys concert as one of the 10 greatest concerts of all time.
As of November 12, 2008, Cox was the only surviving member of both The Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Band of Gypsys. He currently plays with the Experience Hendrix, a touring Hendrix tribute band featuring top guitarists and former Hendrix collaborators. Billy’s solo album, “Last Gypsy Standing,” was released in 2009. He was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville the same year.
Today, Billy Cox owns a video production company in Nashville. He has produced numerous blues and a myriad of gospel shows. He co-authored the books “Jimi Hendrix Sessions” and “Ultimate Hendrix.” In 2011, Billy was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. That same year, Billy released his latest album, “Old School Blue Blues.”
Text and pictures provided by Wheeling Hall of Fame. Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with the Wheeling Hall of Fame Committee.