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Jimi Hendrix Encyclopedia

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Interviews

April 21st, 1969

Record Plant, New York
Studio Recording

1) Room Full Of Mirrors
2) Crash Landing
3) Bleeding Heart

These recordings represent Billy Cox’s first studio session with Jimi. For their explorations of “Room Full Of Mirrors”, “Crash Landing” and “Bleeding Heart”, Hendrix and Cox were joined by drummer Rocky Isaac and percussionist Al Marks.

Take thirty-one of “Room Full Of Mirrors” from this session is featured as part of the box set The Jimi Hendrix Experience. At the time of the box set’s release, it was not known that Issac and Marks had been the musicians backing Jimi on that evening. More than three decades later, Al Marks, now a successful music executive for MCA Records, fills in the details about meeting Jimi and how the session came together

EH: How did you first meet Jimi?

AM: I met Jimi at the Monterey Pop Festival. I was in a band in New York called the Down Five. My guitar player wanted to go to Monterey. I said, ‘For what? I don’t want to go to Mexico.’ He said, ‘No, Monterey, California for the Pop Festival’. I agreed, so we got into a VW bus and drove across the country. He knew someone who was working at the festival and we got a crew pass. We spent a lot of time wandering around the backstage and all of the artists back there were really cool. You could walk up to people like Brian Jones, Mickey Dolenz, and Mama Cass and just talk to them.

We watched Jimi’s performance and were just blown away. I didn’t even want to pick up my guitar again after watching him play. He blew me away. Sometime after his set, we went backstage and saw him having a conversation with Mitch Mitchell. When he finished, I walked over and said, ‘I also play guitar, but as of today I am putting it down.’ He laughed in that cool way he had and said, ‘Don’t put it down. Just practice.’ We spoke for about fifteen minutes, talking about guitars and amplifiers. I asked him about Stratocasters and why he played them upside down. He showed me his hands and they were twice my size. I told him that I played Gibson’s and he wanted to know which models I liked. I preferred the 335 which he had never played. He spoke of a Gibson Firebird which I had never heard of. He mentioned that one of the Kinks also played that guitar. He was very friendly and easy to talk with. He was just really cool.

EH: How did you get involved with the Cherry People?

AM: I moved from New York down to Washington in January 1969. I hooked up with this band known as the Cherry People. I was living in the basement of the guitar player’s house. Chris Grimes and I were good friends and I was working as their manager. Punky Meadows, later of Angel, was the lead guitarist. Rocky Isaac was their drummer and Jan Zechowski, later of the Nighthawks played bass. Doug Grimes was the lead singer. The band told me that everybody would be going up to New York in April. They were going to try and get out of their record deal with Heritage Records to whom they had signed in 1968. The group had a hit with the song “And Suddenly”, but they were not a bubble gum band and that’s what the album was. Jerry Ross owned Heritage Records and when they recorded the Cherry People album, they had used a lot of session players. The band didn’t have a lot of input into how it was made. The guys really resented that.

We had a meeting scheduled with Jerry Ross, but he didn’t show. We left a note with his secretary asking to be released from the label. She laughed at us, but agreed to give it to Jerry. After that, we went out for pizza and heard that there was going to be a jam for guitar players at Steve Paul’s Scene Club that night. We didn’t have a hotel because we had originally thought we were just going to turn around and drive back home after the meeting with Jerry Ross. We decided instead to go check what was happening there. We got there at 9:00 and there were all kinds of people around like Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer. All of a sudden Jimi Hendrix walked in with two people. He sat down in the corner and no one was bothering him. Everybody at my table was going, ‘Wow! That’s Jimi Hendrix!’ I was excited. I told the guys that I had met Jimi at Monterey Pop and wanted to see if he had remembered our conversation backstage. The guys didn’t believe me and I sat there for a few minutes trying to get up the nerve to go talk to him. I got up the courage and introduced myself. I didn’t want to bother him, but I asked if he remembered meeting at Monterey. He did not, but told me it was cool to sit and talk with him. He asked what I was doing in New York and I told him that our band was trying to get out of its contract with the record company. He laughed and said, ‘Yeah, record companies…’ Then he said, ‘So you got a band here? Do you have a drummer?’ I said ‘Yes. He is sitting right over there.’ He then asked if we were doing anything at 3 or 4 o’clock that morning. I said no and asked him why. He was going to cut some things in the studio and wondered whether our drummer would like to sit in. I immediately said he would. Jimi then said, ‘Well, you didn’t ask him.’ I didn’t have to ask him. He’s gonna do it. He wanted to know if the guy was any good and I told him that Rocky was a great drummer. We’ll do it, I told him. He introduced me to Billy Cox who was sitting with him. Billy mentioned that he was a bass player. I asked about Noel Redding, but Jimi told me that Noel would not be sitting in. He described Billy as his buddy and said that the session would be with him. We agreed to meet later at the Record Plant.

I walked to my table and told the band, ‘You are not going to believe this but Jimi Hendrix just asked Rocky to sit in’. Everybody at the table told me I was full of s***. I asked the guys to trust me and waved over to Jimi’s table. Jimi waved back and gave us the peace sign. Chris, Rocky, and I made plans to go while the other guys went back to this hostel we were staying at.

At the Record Plant we told the receptionist that we were here to do a session with Jimi Hendrix. He asked who we were and I told him the Cherry People. We were not listed on the sheet. I told him about meeting Jimi at the Scene Club and he said, ‘Oh, you are the guys he called over about’.

We were alone in the studio for about forty-five minutes before Gary Kellgren showed up with an assistant engineer and a tall, beautiful black woman [Devon Wilson] whom we were told was Jimi’s girlfriend. Gary reassured us that while Jimi was always late, he had phoned about the session and was on his way over. Twenty minutes later, Jimi and Billy Cox walked in with a friend who was a photographer [Willis Hogans Jr.]. Jimi was really cool and wanted to know if we were OK. Rocky saw him and said, ‘You’re Jimi Hendrix’. Jimi laughed and said ‘Man, I know who I am. Don’t you think I know who I am?’ We all just about fell on the floor laughing. Rocky admitted to him that he was really nervous. Jimi laughed and said, ‘Just relax. It will all be cool.’

Jimi was playing through an old Acoustic amplifier and not a Marshall. One big cabinet with a small head. Billy was playing through an Ampeg rig and a set of drums had been set up for Rocky. Jimi then started to move his amp and I told that I would do that for him. He said that if I really wanted to move something for him, his car was out front and if he didn’t move it across the street it was going to be towed. I asked for the keys and told him I would do it. He owned a silver Corvette and by the time I was outside I thought, ‘s***, I don’t know how to drive a stick shift. I am going to ruin Jimi’s Corvette’. I opened the door and it was automatic. I thought, my God everything is working for me tonight! I got in the car and there were all of these tapes on the passenger seat. His car had a cassette player built in to the dashboard and I had never seen anything like that before. Sitting on the seat were these tapes which were marked, ‘Me, Steve Winwood’ and ‘Me, Buddy Miles’. I parked the car, came back in and he told me that he wanted a percussion section. Jimi asked me to play maracas—which I had never played before in my life—and Chris Grimes to play tambourine.

We recorded “Room Full Of Mirrors” and it took forever because Rocky couldn’t keep the beat on drums. Midway through the session, Jimi turned to him and said something to the effect of, ‘Man, do you know how to play drums? What’s going on?’ I had been banging one of the maracas against my leg for three and a half hours and my leg was black and blue. I told Rocky quietly that he better get things right because I couldn’t walk! I had a knot on my leg that seemed four inches big. I was afraid that we were going to screw up the chance of a lifetime.

At one point in the session, the photographer [Willis Hogans Jr.] got underfoot of Jimi. He had been laying on the ground taking pictures of Jimi and he got in the way. Jimi kicked the camera out of his hands, saying to get out of the way [Ed. These may be the few color shots Hogans took of Jimi from that angle]. We thought he was joking at first but he was actually really pissed. His kick broke the camera and the photographer started crying. Jimi gave him money to get it fixed but that was the end of photos that night.

By eight that morning, Jimi said that we were going to give it one last try and if we didn’t get it we would have to come back the next morning. Jimi then just started wailing on the guitar and singing live on top of it. Rocky finally delivered what he believed was a good take and Gary Kellgren yelled ‘Yeah’ over the talkback microphone when we had finished. Jimi let us know that we were done for the night. Before we left, he told us that he had a couple more tracks that he wanted to cut on Thursday at the same time. We thought he meant after midnight Wednesday evening. As he was walking out, he gave each of us $100.00 cash and said to Rocky, ‘Man, I would practice a bit if I was you.’ Billy laughed and shook his head and they walked out together. Gary Kellgren then came over and asked us our names and if we were in the Musicians Union. We were, but Gary told us not to declare the work because Jimi had paid us more than union scale for the session. Union scale at that time for a session was $35.00. We were strutting. Jimi Hendrix had paid us $100.00 to play with him.

We told the guys back at the hostel about the session and they didn’t believe us until we showed them the $100.00 bill Jimi had given each of us. We then drove back to Washington and made a plan to bring Mike Burke and Richard Harrington, a critic for the Washington Post who also wrote for a paper called the Unicorn Times to prove that we actually were going to record again with Jimi Hendrix.

Recording

May 21st, 1969

Record Plant, New York
Studio Recording

1) Hear My Train A Comin’
2) Villanova Junction
3) Earth Blues
4) Untitled Blues
5) Jam With Buddy Miles On Guitar
6) Earth Blues
7) Bleeding Heart

Jimi returned to the Record Plant to record with Billy Cox, Buddy Miles, and an unnamed conga player. Over the course of this lengthy session, the group cut a superb rendition of the Elmore James blues standard “Bleeding Heart”. This recording was later edited and issued as part of Jimi Hendrix: Blues.

Recording

December 18th, 1969

Record Plant, New York
Studio Recording

Ezy Ryder
Message To Love
Bleeding Heart

A long and productive evening of rehearsing and recording for Hendrix, Cox, and Miles. It is not known which session came first, but the Band Of Gypsys spent time on this day at Baggy’s Studios, a makeshift rehearsal facility, and the Record Plant.

At the Record Plant, Hendrix and the group made significant progress on “Message To Love,” “Ezy Ryder”, and “Bleeding Heart.” The last of eighteen takes provided a working master for “Message To Love”, although Hendrix opted to retry the song the following evening and this version as scrapped. However, the group successfully recorded the basic track for “Ezy Ryder” on this evening. Additional work in the form of numerous guitar, bass, and vocal overdubs would be completed for this track at Electric Lady Studios during the summer of 1970, but this inspired session yielded the basic rhythm track Hendrix desired. “Ezy Ryder” would later be issued as part of the 1997 compilation First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 11599)).

Baggy’s Studios, New York
Studio Rehearsals

At Baggy’s Studios, Hendrix, Cox, and Miles devoted their efforts toward refining the body of songs Hendrix wished to perform as part of his upcoming performances at the Fillmore East. Hendrix had elected to record the Fillmore East performances for a live album he would deliver to capitol records to settle a longstanding legal dispute. “We rehearsed at a place called Baggy’s in New York,” explains Cox. “It was located down by Chinatown. We were there prior to Christmas and then a little after, practicing and rehearsing. We were working up a set with the songs we were going to perform for the [Fillmore East] concert. Then we realized that we had to do four shows and we used quite a few of those numbers in each of the shows.”

Baggy’s Studios was a nondescript Manhattan rehearsal facility opened by former Soft Machine road manager Tom Edmonston. Baggy’s was by no means a recording studio designed to compete with the likes of the Record Plant. Baggy’s had no control room; its purpose was to provide a space for artists to rehearse without restriction and at full volume for as much time as they required. This was a simple, yet effective rehearsal facility geared to those such as Hendrix who had no other convenient space to prepare for a live event or concert tour. “Baggy’s had two floors,” remembers Cox. “It was essentially warehouse space. We worked in the large room downstairs. It was a pretty simple set up. There were rugs on the floor and the walls were padded and soundproofed. “ While commonplace now, the concept of a dedicated rehearsal room for rock acts [as opposed to vacant halls or theaters] had only begun to take hold in 1969. Cox explains. “The recording studio was exclusively used for creating and coming up with something new and different. This was something else. Previous to that time, whenever Jimi wanted to rehearse something he would call me up and I would come over to his apartment and we would play through some small amps. Rehearsal space did not exist as we know it today.” Perhaps most importantly, Baggy’s rental rates were a fraction of the cost of similar time at the Record Plant. With Hendrix’s finances hamstrung by the construction cost overruns of his own Electric Lady Studios and the continuing PPX litigation, this was an important consideration.

Some of Hendrix’s recordings of the Band Of Gypsys rehearsals have survived. They were originally made at 7 ½ i.p.s. on a two-track reel to reel tape machine. For Hendrix, these recordings served as a convenient tool to measure the group’s progress throughout the rehearsals. Gene McFadden, a member of Hendrix’s road crew, organized the group’s equipment and installed a sound system from which a feed was patched into the tape recorder. Hendrix loaded a full spool of tape and essentially left the machine to run. Each song was recorded live with no overdubs or other such attempts to finish or even polish them.

Twelve examples of these spirited rehearsals, many from the long session on this and the following day, are featured as part of the Dagger Records release Jimi Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions. Although dates for each recording from Baggy’s are not entirely clear, it is known from tape box markings that “Burning Desire” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” were recorded on this day.

Prior to the release of Jimi Hendrix: The Baggy’s Rehearsal Sessions, a few excerpts from Jimi’s rehearsals at Baggy’s have been commercially issued. “Burning Desire” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” first appeared overseas in 1973 as part of the long since deleted Loose Ends compilation. In recent years, the Baggy’s recording of Jimi’s yuletide medley of “Little Drummer Boy”, “Silent Night”, and “Auld Lang Syne” has been issued as the popular CD single Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year.