Singled Out Classics: Jimi Hendrix's Room Full of Mirrors
Record Plant, New York, New York. Engineer: Gary Kellgren.: When Cox arrived in New York to meet Hendrix, he realized that Hendrix's problems were not entirely musical. "Jimi had told me all of these fabulous stories about how a limousine would pick me up at the airport, and I believed all this of course," Cox explains. "Nobody from the office, however, was there to pick me up. That's when I started to realize that Jimi wanted me here, but the office didn't seem so sure. At that point, I knew it was going to be a battle from there on."
Following Cox's arrival, Hendrix revealed some troubling news to his friend. "When I arrived in New York, Jimi sat me down and admitted that his creativity had drawn dry," Cox recalls. "He just felt that he couldn't think of anything new."
By reaching out to Cox, Hendrix may have been trying to find his musical compass, someone who might allow him—privately—to examine just where and how he had veered off the track. "With me, Jimi knew that I had a direct link to him musically," says Cox. "He knew that I was familiar with his style, sound, and creativity. I hadn't played with him in a long while, but when I first heard 'Foxey Lady,' I knew that to be an old song of his we used to call 'Stomp Driver' in Nashville. Jimi's creativity had been stifled, and I guess he thought of me because even in the early days we had always been able to make up stuff. We enjoyed doing that, but we could never use any of it because our living depended upon playing cover tunes or behind an artist who had already recorded his own songs. Jimi must have felt that I could help him pull all of the pieces of ideas that he had together into something as good as those three albums he had released."
Three days after the backstage meeting in Memphis, Cox joined Hendrix at the Record Plant recording studio in New York. "The first session I did was at the Record Plant," says Cox. "Jimi was basically trying to see how well we played together. After we started, I looked up and saw the smile on his face and I was smiling, too. We had just fell right into it, and we jammed for two or three hours. His playing was just as I remembered, but now there was much more freedom. Finally, we went into the patterns for "Hello My Friend" (which would later be developed as "Straight Ahead") and "Earth Blues." Even today, all these years later, I still cannot hear 'Straight Ahead' without it taking me back to that moment."
After their jam session, Hendrix escorted the bassist to the nearby Scene Club, one of the guitarist's favorite local haunts. While there, Hendrix encountered Al Marks, the manager for the Maryland-based rock group the Cherry People. "We heard that there was going to be a jam for guitar players at Steve Paul's Scene Club that night," remembered Marks. "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!'" Marks approached Hendrix to see if he remembered their meeting backstage at the Monterey Pop Festival. "He did not, but told me it was cool to sit and talk with him," says Marks. "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 three or four 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 [Isaac] was a great drummer. 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. [Cherry People guitarist] Chris Grimes, Rocky Isaac, and I made plans to go while the other guys went back to this hostel we were staying at.
"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. It had 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 him 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 into the dashboard, and I had never seen anything like that before. Sitting on the seat were these tapes that 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'd 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."
Hendrix directed Cox, Isaac, Grimes, and Marks through thirty-one takes of the song. The first take featured a blistering solo from Hendrix, but this effort came apart when technical problems with his headphones mix broke his concentration. "The guitar disappeared all of sudden," remarked Hendrix to Kellgren. "We were getting into something nice." Hendrix then asked Kellgren if they could come and listen to a playback of the take. Kellgren agreed, and the group retreated to the control room to listen to their work.
When recording resumed, Isaac struggled to establish the drum pattern Hendrix was seeking. The group struggled to grasp Hendrix's vision, and none of the twenty-one takes that filled this first reel was complete. Hendrix's patience began to grow thin as he tried to instruct Isaac between takes as to what he was seeking.
Kellgren loaded a second reel of tape, and the group attempted ten more takes. It wasn't until the thirty-first and final take of the evening that they were able to complete a basic track. "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," Marks explains. "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 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. We were strutting. Jimi Hendrix had paid us $100 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 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."
Never issued during Hendrix's lifetime, take 31 of "Room Full Of Mirrors" was issued posthumously as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience box set.
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