It should come as no surprise that an entire enterprise, aptly dubbed "Experience Hendrix," has been built up around the late guitar god's name. This traveling revue plays all the classic Jimi Hendrix cuts in an homage to a still-larger-than-life American legend.
But by now, many of those who played with Hendrix have also passed on, so touring duties have been handed to such noted disciples as Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, and Keb' Mo'. The current troupe also includes bassist Billy Cox, a musician whose credits include both of Hendrix's better-known bands, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and his Band of Gypsies.
For the past several years, Cox has served as the tour's de facto ringmaster, anchoring the group by his friendship with Hendrix dating back to the early '60s, when both served a stint in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. The pair would go touring together on the so-called "chitlin' circuit," playing behind R&B artists in need of temporary backing bands.
"My history goes back some 50 years with Jimi," Cox reflects. "The first Experience Hendrix tour began with an event called Bumbershoot in Seattle in 1989. At that time, all his former bandmates were alive, so we all got together and played onstage together, and we had a great time. So we then decided to take it on tour... Jim really inspired these guys. I always say there are two kinds of guitar players: one who will admit being influenced by Jimi Hendrix and one who will not admit being influenced by Jimi Hendrix."
All these decades later, Cox remains awed by his old friend and colleague. "He was a unique individual. We were connected at the hip musically," he says. "Over the years, we'd develop these patterns where my bass would be right up against his guitar. We could go for 12 or 14 bars that would just find our instruments hooked together. We had so much fun. He once told me, 'You know, if we tried to record this, we'd be locked up.' That's because he was just so ahead of his time."
Cox claims some of Hendrix's music still remaining in the vaults was originally intended for his next album, the planned follow-up to Electric Ladyland, though he insists he hasn't been involved in the postproduction process. He does cite Cry of Love, the first album released after Hendrix's death, as being closest to Hendrix's initial vision of what was in store for the future.
"I think he was developing what he was doing musically," Cox says of that material. "However, I don't think his management wanted him to grow. They were not educated enough to say, 'Here's this guy who created these incredible songs that came from his brain, and people can really relate to this. Now he's moving on in this different direction.' They wanted to stunt that growth."
According to Cox, for Jimi, that growth would have been inevitable, had his life not ended so abruptly. "True artists do grow because they are spiritually endowed with their art. And when you're spiritually endowed, there's always growth. He would have started a whole new trend in music had he lived, because that's where he was going. He was headed in a great direction for the world."
Cox says he still thinks about his friend and what might have been had Hendrix not succumbed to a combination of alcohol and barbiturates in the early-morning hours of September 18, 1970. "I am a nostalgic type of person," Cox admits. "I reflect back to those days. However, if I start thinking too much about it, I become sad, and sometimes I become angry. So I need to keep on moving. But he left his legacy, 128 songs and only 27 years old. We pay tribute to that in our concert. All of those guys love and respect Jimi Hendrix. We all have great fun, and everyone leaves their egos at home."
8 p.m. Wednesday, February 24, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $40 to $80 plus fees. Visit ticketmaster.com, or call 800-745-3000.