Billy Cox turned down a slot in the Jimi Hendrix Experience to protect the guitar legend from racism

Jimi Hendrix performs live on stage playing a white Fender Stratocaster guitar with The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 18th February 1969
(Image credit: David Redfern/Redferns)

Billy Cox, who played with Jimi Hendrix in Band of Gypsies, as well as, prior to that, his short-lived group Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, recently revealed the fiery fate of Hendrix’s long-lost single-lipstick-pickup Danelectro Shorthorn “Betty Jean” electric guitar.

Now, in that same interview, presented on NAMM’s Remembering Jimi Hendrix podcast (opens in new tab), the bass guitar player also explained why he turned down Hendrix’s offer to join him earlier in his career.

According to Cox, who knew Jimi from their time stationed together in Kentucky while serving in the US Army, Hendrix phoned him in the summer of 1966 to ask him to come to England and join him in a new band being assembled by his manager Chas Chandler – the band that would become the Experience.

But the bassist turned down Hendrix’s offer, explaining that his bass only had three strings and that he couldn’t afford to purchase an amp.

As Cox admits in the new interview, this was an excuse he came up with to protect Jimi from being the target of racism.

“I got a phone call from him, and he said, ‘This man is going to take me to Europe and make me a star, and I told him about you…and I want you to go,’ ” Cox recalled.

“I’ve told so many lies about this… well, it wasn’t a lie, I just didn’t tell the whole story… I said, ‘Jimi, I’m renting an amp, and I’ve still got my bass but it’s got three strings on… you go ahead and you make it.’ Because I knew that, possibly, with this segregated thing that was going on, I figured if I went, there’s a possibility, with me being black, he might not make it. But he did… he did real well, and I went on with my life.”

The full interview with Cox is available on the NAMM Music History Project podcast (opens in new tab), which also features contributions from Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer. 

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Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.