I realized the horrors of war, but I was stuck there, feeling every moment, and Jimi hadn’t even finished his solo yet. It was the depths of “Machine Gun,” Jimi Hendrix’s masterwork from his live album Band of Gypsies.
Before the 12-minute plus song was over, I would be tugged into the trenches, and shot down, as bombs fell all around me. And all of this on a guitar?
“No one can play like that,” I tell myself as I finish my journey. No one but Hendrix. Jimi single-handedly revolutionized the world of electric guitar, and changed the way guitars were used in music. He lived, breathed, ate and felt the groove at all times.
Why all the fuss about the guitar master? The Murfreesboro Center for Arts and Culture threw an event on Feb. 24, called Recollections of Hendrix at the Patterson Park Community Center, which featured, among other things, Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox, as well as one of Hendrix’s good friends, James Nixon.
Once I heard I could actually be in the presence of people who knew Hendrix, I had to attend.
When I arrived, late, as usual, due to falling asleep playing guitar, the seminar was already underway. Taking a gander at the front of the room, both Nixon and Cox were sitting at a table.
It was a very intimate setting, which proved to be useful when the talk about the man started. For instance, I had no clue that Hendrix, in the band King Casuals, played shows regularly all over Middle Tennessee, including the ’Boro. I learned how they used to play shows for $25-30 and how Hendrix lived in Nashville.
I never realized his “guitar playing with teeth” method was the result of his seeing a movie about T-bone Walker, in which he pulled a similar move.
Hendrix saw it and decided he had to incorporate some teeth-work into his guitar style.
It was a feast of very important information for my untrained musician/ novice reporter self to hear.
“He always used to say things like ?When I make it.’ He always knew he would make it big,” Cox said.
Hendrix took the basics away from Johnny Guitar Watson, Albert King, B.B. King and Les Paul. He took time to learn how to control and channel feedback, thus using it as a weapon, instead of the nuisance it is to most electric guitarists. The normally annoying amp noise became thick with emotion. He took time to learn about the tremolo bar on his guitar and what he could use it for.
He did everything for his audience.
“When he’s destroying that guitar, he’s doing that for you,” Cox said.
During the Q&A session people asked Cox and Nixon questions like “What is your favorite Hendrix song?”
The eventual conclusion was it was impossible to determine a favorite; they were all so good.
The two then began to jam. I couldn’t believe my ears. Cox hadn’t seemed to lose much ability in his age (he looks relatively young actually, considering he was playing in the 1960s).
First they played some delta blues, then a Hendrix tune, and, finally, one of their own. I couldn’t believe the man driving the bass on Band of Gypsies was in front of me, playing, and as good as he had before.
I knew I had to get closer. I spoke to Cox after he was done signing some autographs for the crowd.
– – – – – – – –
Murfreesboro pulse: What did you take away from playing with Jimi
Cox: Truth, honesty, good music, and a thousand other things I can’t name. He was a guy I looked up to, and my best friend who was wise beyond his years.
MP: How did you keep going after the death of a good friend?
Cox: Well, It was difficult, but I just kept going. I put my boots on and just kept playing.
MP: Did you feel like playing with Hendrix was a spiritual experience?
Cox: It really has to be spiritual. That’s when the best music comes out.
MP: On a different note. What are you listening to
Cox: everything, anything, lots of jazz, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Greg Brown, Israel Crosby, James Jameson.
MP: I am a total jazzhead. That’s awesome! OK, last question. What do you have to say to the new musicians of the world today, can you impart a bit of wisdom on our young souls?
Cox: Just keep listening to the masters, and those that came before you, and keep playing, and it’ll all come together.
– – – – – – – –
I continued conversing with Cox for as long as possible, after all, he’s now a timeless part of music history. The problem is, my Hendrixian curiosity is far from satisfied, which is just dandy. You see, I am broke, and now I’m gonna have to get every recorded work Hendrix has.
I guess it’s time for me to get back into the battlefield.
Putting “Machine Gun” at full volume, I’ll strap on my armor and my ax, and be overtaken by the most kind, emotional and monumental electric guitarist that ever lived.