Jimi Hendrix was faced with a bit of a conundrum in 1969. Due to an agreement previously made with Ed Chalpin, he owed Capitol Records an LP of new material. However, the Experience had broken up in June of that year and Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, the group that Jimi formed to play at Woodstock, proved to be very short-lived.
Hendrix decided to fulfill his obligation with a live LP with his longtime friends Billy Cox on bass (who had been recruited to play Woodstock) and Buddy Miles on drums. Band of Gypsys, as the group was called, made their live debut in New York City at the Fillmore East, where they played two shows per night on New Year’s Eve, 1969, and New Years Day, 1970.
These shows consisted mainly of Band of Gypsys originals, but they played a number of Jimi Hendrix Experience songs to complete the sets. The rhythm section supplied by Cox and Miles was quite different than that of the Experience, featuring a funkier and more R&B infused sound that magically melded with Hendrix’s signature style.
These concerts produced what may have been some of Hendrix’s finest performances. As opposed to his shows in the past, he barely moved about the stage and through his focus he showcased a complete mastery of both the guitar and his use of effects. Six tracks were chosen from the final two shows to create what would become the self-titled debut of this new trio.
Two of the selected numbers, the soul songs “Them Changes” and “We Gotta Live Together”, were written by Buddy Miles, with the remaining tracks written by Jimi himself. The LP kicks off with the funky opener of “Who Knows” before we are driven straight off a cliff and into the genius of Hendrix’s magnum opus that is “Machine Gun”.
Flooded with Coltrane-like improvisation, this epic anti-war (and anti-hate for that matter) anthem saw the guitarist emulate exploding bombs, passing helicopters, the bark of firearms, and the cries of wounded soldiers all with his instrument. The nearly thirteen-minute track was described by musicologist Andy Aledort as “the premiere example of Hendrix’s unparalleled genius as a rock guitarist…”
With “Power of Soul” and “Message of Love” Jimi continued to showcase his musical evolution as well as the new lyrical direction (with a focus on empowerment and compassion) that he was beginning to embark on.
Band of Gypsys was released in the United States on March 25, 1970, and peaked at #5 where it would remain for well over a year. The United Kingdom saw the album hit the streets on June 12 where the live LP would reach #6 on the UK Albums Chart. Though opinions are divided on the importance of this album, particularly when compared to Hendrix’s previous releases, it was an obvious success and would prove to be influential to many an artist that followed in the coming years.
Hendrix’s experimental foray into rockin’ rhythm & blues, soul, and funk would prove to have a major influence on the likes of Parliament-Funkadelic (“Maggot Brain” anyone?), Nile Rodgers, Living Colour, Lenny Kravitz, Slash, and even Ice-T. Band of Gypsys would be the last album personally authorized by Jimi Hendrix and the only full length live recording he would authorize before his death.
– Keeping the Blues Alive
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