"I thought, 'Wait a minute – we never practiced this…'" Jimi Hendrix bassist Billy Cox remembers Woodstock

Bass player Billy Cox of Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys performs onstage during the Experience Hendrix concert at The Wiltern on March 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
(Image credit: Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

The Woodstock festival of 1969 remains one of the biggest events in rock ’n’ roll history, with around 500,000 people flooding a dairy farm in Bethel, New York, to see the likes of Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead. The most enigmatic performance of the weekend came when Jimi Hendrix rolled out an unexpected rendition of the US national anthem. “If you listen to the recording you hear me playing the first five or six notes,” remembers bassist Billy Cox. “Then I thought, 'Wait a minute – we never practiced this.' So I immediately stepped back, and it was bang – such a great thing that Jimi did.”

Onstage with Hendrix during his first serious gigs and for his very last performances, Cox’s low-end support aptly complemented Hendrix’s guitar stratospherics. “A bloody marvellous bass player – has soul and feel for days,” noted Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer. “Billy was Jimi’s confidante and buddy – and a wonderful human being.”

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Richard Johnston was the Editor of both Guitar Player and Bass Player magazines. He is the author of several books on guitar playing, including How To Play Rock Guitar, How To Play Blues Guitar, and Martin Guitars: A History.

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