A ‘must have’ album

By Tom MacIntosh

It is the dawn of the 70s, the flower-power impulses of the 60s were fading, and perhaps the most famous band of the day, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, had just dissolved. Hendrix was left without a band, but that didn’t stop the rock God in the least, he decided to keep it simple and called up his old army mate Billy Cox to play bass, and Electric Flag percussionist Buddy Miles to handle the drums. They called themselves Band of Gypsys and performed a legendary 4 nights at the Fillmore East auditorium in New York. Promoter Bill Graham slotted them in on December 31,(‘69) and January 1st, 3rd and 4th (‘70). The first 2 performances left Graham somewhat dismayed, telling Hendrix, “You’re Jimi Hendrix, and anything you do is taken as gospel because of who you are. The first show, you humped the guitar, you played it with your teeth, you stuck it behind your back. You just forgot to play.” Jimi got the message loud and clear, and the following 2 concerts went down, as many say, as the best live shows in rock history.

In fact, most of the songs in this live package come from the last 2 shows. Buddy Miles’ lovely voice was the new ingredient that made the material thicker and more soulful, as in the opening track Who Knows, where Hendrix starts off on vocals then is joined by Miles with his improvised scat falsettos that soar beautifully over a funk bass line by Cox and lands to an almost whisper, then Jimi cuts through with some spider-finger guitar work on his Fender Strat that howls like a scalded cat, which was his unique trademark, both in sound and instrument.   

Miles also wrote and sang lead on Changes and We Gotta Live Together, two upbeat numbers that soften the hard A side of the album. They’re having fun here, and it shows, with Jimi’s wide sweeping guitar licks backed by Cox’s throbbing bass and Miles funky drum riffs on two wild jam sessions.

For what is considered one of Hendrix’s finest hours, check out track 2, Machine Gun, an anthem pointed at all the then violence in the U.S. and abroad (nothing’s changed really). Jimi introduces the song saying, “This is dedicated to all the soldiers who are fighting in Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York,...and oh yes all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam.” It is a wandering quest that clocks in at over 12 minutes, driven by funk-infused anger expressed through his use of a Uni-Vibe phase shifter unit, squeezing out siren, bomb, and helicopter sonics over a thumping groove and rat-a-tat drumming which puts the listener in the middle of the fray of a chaotic death machine. One wonders what would have become of a Jimi Hendrix who was starting to delve into more political and socially diverse themes. This classic deposit to his repertoire and the world at large was historic.

When the album was released on March 25, 1970, it sold handsomely, but to the critics, it was just a sequel to the Experience days, a view that has certainly changed since then, offering a glimpse into what was driving him to new directions. Although the production of the album was built around the jam session format, two of Jimi’s compositions Power of Soul and Message of Love are more studied, structured, and rehearsed. They display his interest in blending funk, R&B, and rock, with a more positive message in the lyrics.      

Surprisingly, Band of Gypsys was Hendrix’s only live album, considering his magnetic appeal onstage. The album charted in the top 10 in the U.S. and U.K., as well as many other countries. It was also his last album released in his stunted life, a life that inspired an army of followers and young guitarists the world over. It is considered today as one of the ‘must have’ classic live rock records in history. Here at Guitars Exchange, we bow in agreement.