Jimmy Cox passes

Jimmy Cox, renowned banjo builder and banjo parts supplier, has died at an assisted living center near his home in Topsham, Maine. He was 87 years of age.

Though he had built and sold banjos for more than 50 years, it is as a manufacturer of parts and components for Gibson-style Mastertone pots that will be his lasting legacy. Every piece needed to build a contemporary banjo pot assembly can be purchased from Cox Banjos, all but the neck and tuners needed to make a professional model instrument.

In fact, Jimmy had been the supplier of many of these parts to other banjo builders, a custom sure to continue under the management of his two grandsons, Jeremy and Adam, who have been operating the business since Jimmy became too ill and frail to work in recent months. Before that time, they had been helping him in the shop, and learning how to keep making the parts.

Perhaps his greatest contribution has been the Cox Banjos rims, built from three plies of northern rock maple. At various times since he started making parts in the 1960s, Jimmy had been the sole supplier of this vital component to the banjo world. He made them for First Quality Banjo Supply in their hey day, for Frank Neat Banjos, and for the Stanleytone banjos that Dr. Ralph Stanley played and marketed while he was performing. Even today, many small banjo makers get rims and resonators from Cox.

Jimmy was born in Williamsburg, KY on September 9, 1933, where he lived until he joined the Air Force at 19. Initially, he served in Texas, but was transferred to Maine in 1952 where he worked on F-89 Scorpion engines. In 1957 he left the service, and remained in Maine where he had met his wife.

Coming from a musical family, the eighth of twelve children, he was surrounded by music from a young age. In his memoir, Five on Five, Cox says that all of his siblings played music, and that he gravitated towards the banjo from an early age. A competent player in his late teens, Jimmy found other pickers in the Air Force, and formed a band with Charlie Gillam when he got out in 1958 called The Blue Mountain Boys. They were a popular act in the northeast, appearing on The Ken McKenzie Show on television in Portland up through the 1970s.

He had told friends that he credits his ability to make parts to having grown up in poverty, living off the land, where his family had to figure out how to repair anything that broke. Cox built his first banjo in the early 1960s, while he was employed by Woolworths. As his business supplying parts and finished instruments picked up, he marked Thanksgiving Day in 1979 as the time that he and his wife, Yvette, decided to dedicate themselves to the banjo business full time.

In the early ’90s he and Raymond Fairchild partnered on the Cox/Fairchild banjo, and built them in a run of 200 – 100 in gold and 100 in nickel. These are highly prized instruments today, as are the Stanleytones.

Over recent years, Jimmy stayed largely close to home, working in his shop along with his grandsons. As his health began to fail, he continued working as best he could, with a live-in nurse to assist after his wife’s passing.

No information has yet been shared about funeral arrangements.

R.I.P., Jimmy Cox

Many thanks to Chris Sorenson of Companion Custom Banjos for his help in assembling information for this piece.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.