Jimi's Last Ride

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It was destiny – we jammed, and it sounded good," says Cox, reflecting on the first time he played with Hendrix, in November 1961, in a serviceman's club on the Army base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Hendrix was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. "But Jimi would come right over after he had formation with his company," says Cox. "We would rehearse all day long, every day, working on patterns and riffs." Years later, when Cox first heard Hendrix's records with the Experience, he recognized some of those licks, which ended up in "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze." Cox, 68, is performing his friend's songs through March, along with guitarists such as Joe Satriani, Jonny Lang and Vernon Reid, on the 2010 Experience Hendrix tribute tour.

Hendrix and Cox had a similar routine in 1970, before sessions at Electric Lady. "Jimi would come to my apartment," Cox says. "We'd turn on a small amp and work on music. I'd add something. He'd add something. We'd sit and laugh and have some strawberry upside-down cake, watch television. Then we'd go back to the song."

"We didn't fish, we didn't hunt, we didn't play tennis or golf," Cox goes on. "Music was the priority. If you love something greater than you love yourself, it overcomes everything." Asked if Hendrix loved music so much that he left no time for rest or peace – Cox quotes Hendrix's lyrics in "Manic Depression," from Are You Experienced. "Music, sweet music, I wish I could caress, caress."

Music, Cox says, "was his peace."

Hendrix originally envisioned the basement space on 8th Street – the site of the famous Film Guild Cinema, built in 1929 and designed by the avant-garde architect Frederick Kiesler – as a different kind of playground. "He jammed at the club there, Generation, a lot," says Kramer. "He wanted a nightclub, a place to hang and jam."

"In the club would be a booth where he could record things live," says John Storyk, who had his first meeting with Hendrix, Kramer and Jeffrey about the project in January 1969. Storyk soon got a call telling him the club was scrapped. Hendrix wanted a "full-on recording studio."

Storyk describes Hendrix as "polite, extremely quiet and very attentive. He was very organized as to how he wanted the place to look and feel. He didn't want any straight lines. He wanted curves. He wanted it to feel like a living room. It was for his comfort." During construction, Storyk saw little of Hendrix. But the guitarist stopped by at night, after the workers had gone home, to see how things were going.

"I remember one visit," Storyk says. "We had all the doors installed" – custom-soundproofed doors with small square windows. "Jimi said, 'Can we make these windows round?' Fifteen expensive doors came off, and four weeks later, there were new ones with round windows. We changed them, because that's what he wanted." But the remarkable front of Electric Lady was Storyk's idea, inspired by Kiesler's long, rounded design for the Shrine of the Book, the Jerusalem museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. "Jimi never even saw the drawings. It just went up."

Building delays and unexpected problems – at one point the site was flooded by water from an underground river – forced Hendrix to take out a $300,000 loan from his label, Warner Bros. Hendrix also did long-weekend tours to help pay the mounting construction bills. At the same time, he was recording at other New York studios, spending more money and getting little done. "He would call me up in a panic in the middle of the night," says Kramer, who was director of engineering at Electric Lady and busy taking care of its technical needs. "He'd say, 'Man, can you come down to the Record Plant? It's not happening.' I would jump in a cab and get him situated." Days later, Kramer would get a similar call from the Hit Factory.

Somehow, in the middle of that tumult, in March 1970, Hendrix made a quick trip to London, where he played on sessions for two American friends in town: Stephen Stills and Love's Arthur Lee. "He was in a swirl," says Stills, who was living in England at the time and making his first solo album, Stephen Stills. "But that day in London we had was very peaceful." At Island Studios, Hendrix played a fluid, unusually tempered solo on Stills' song "Old Times Good Times."

"We also sang some old bluesy songs together," Stills goes on. "We sounded nice together. Then we went clubbing, thinking we were going to come back. He drifted off with a female companion," Stills notes, laughing. Two days later, Hendrix was at Olympic Studios with Lee, soloing on a song, "The Everlasting First," that appeared on Love's False Start, shortly after Hendrix's death.

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