Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Billy Cox’s Nitro Function
My sister continues to surprise me. Today I found in her room a record that even I had never heard of, at least until I did a little research on it. It’s called Nitro Function by Billy Cox. Man, how is she coming up with this stuff?
Billy Cox is a dude who is best known for playing bass in Band of Gypsys, a band which is best known of course for having Jimi Hendrix as the guitar player. Band of Gypsys was Hendrix’s backing band after he dissolved his Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1969. Billy Cox actually was an old Army buddy of Hendrix, and after Hendrix dismissed Experience bassist Noel Redding he called on Cox.
Cox played bass behind Hendrix at Woodstock, and he played in a number of bands with Hendrix before Jimi got famous. And of course, Cox played bass on the Band of Gypsys album that came out in 1970, just three months before Hendrix’s death. In 1971 Cox put his own band together; the guitarist is Charlotte “Char” Vinnedge, guitarist and singer for the all-girl 1960s garage band the Luv’d Ones, and drummer Robert Tarrant. At first glance the result would appear to be very much like Ramatam, another band with a Hendrix alumni and a chick singer/guitar player. But no – I like this one a little better because the chick guitarist is pretty good.
It may not advertise itself as such, but Nitro Function is actually a tribute to Hendrix. Vinnedge is actually a hell of a guitar player, and she rocks the most psychedelic tunes here with a fuzz guitar technique that’s comparable to the Master His Own Bad Self (that would be Jimi, y’all). “42-70 (Peace)” is a rocker where she also sings lead vocals and the lyrics that I could pick out would seem to make it about Hendrix himself (guess the title would be another clue – duh!). She even cuts loose with a few bars of the “Star Spangled Banner” in this one. “Powerhouse” is just that, a guitar showcase for Vinnedge where she really cuts loose on the wah-wah pedal. She also tears up the cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.”
The rest of the album alternates between the funky rock that Band of Gypsys was known for, and bluesy psychedelic rock that Hendrix pioneered. I guess the male vocals are handled by Cox, and he’s not too bad on “You Got A Hold On Me.”
Not much is known about Vinnedge after she cut this album. She apparently played in some bands, mostly around her native Chicago and died in 1998. Cox is still around, and he’s kind of made it a career to keep the memory of Jimi Hendrix alive, as he serves as a sort of Hendrix ambassador. And now with Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding all dead, he is the only surviving member of the Experience or the Band of Gypsys. And one more note: the cover for the 1971 Nitro Function is by Roger Dean, the artist who would create classic album covers for Yes and other prog-rock artists of the 1970s.