“Band of Gypsys” by Jimi Hendrix (1970)
The first released document of Jimi Hendrix’s shows at the Fillmore East bridging the ’60s and ’70s represents something of an anomaly in the guitarist’s catalog.
“Band of Gypsys” is the only live album to appear in Jimi’s lifetime. It’s the only one to capture his collaboration with bass player Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles, with good reason: Besides four Fillmore shows on Dec. 31, 1969, and Jan. 1, 1970, the Band of Gypsys played just one other gig, which ended after two songs at Madison Square Garden.
And “Band of Gypsys” probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day except for a legal matter.
Before he made it big, Jimi had signed a contract with a show-business type named Ed Chalpin. After Hendrix became a superstar, Chalpin tried to cash in, with the result that Jimi agreed to a one-off album.
The results show a musical direction he may have pursued had he lived past age 27. Perhaps.
The music captured at the Fillmore East certain shows Hendrix veering away from his more complex and fanciful songs from 1966-68. The Cox-Miles rhythm section powers him through funkier, more solidly rooted jams, which very well could have been a precursor of things to come.
The original LP features two of the more extended numbers, “Who Knows” and “Machine Gun,” on the first side. The former features a memorable Hendrix riff driving a call-and-response vocal section by Hendrix and Miles, with Jimi running off molten guitar licks until Buddy breaks in with some fairly annoying scat singing. Oh, well.
“Machine Gun,” which Jimi dedicates to soldiers in various locales, including Vietnam, is a slow burner that stretches out for 12 minutes and contains some of the most biting Hendrix guitar ever captured on tape. The song wraps up with Jimi simulating gunfire with a wall of guitar feedback that must have been something to behold for the Fillmore audience.
Miles’ “Them Changes,” which became his signature song, makes its first appearance on “Band of Gypsys.” Compared with Buddy’s later solo version, the Fillmore take benefits significantly from Hendrix’s guitar licks, which should surprise no one.
Two more never-before-released Hendrix songs, “Power to Love” and “Message of Love,” follow. Both also represent Jimi in a much more R&B-driven vein than, say, the psychedelia of “Third Stone from the Sun” and “Are You Experienced?” In particular, “Message of Love,” with its catchy backup vocals, bears more of a resemblance to Stax/Volt than Swingin’ London.
“Band of Gypsys” closes with a truncated version of Miles’ “We Gotta Live Together,” a loose jam that rambled on for 16-plus minutes during the late show on New Year’s Day before segueing into the familiar territory of “Wild Thing,” “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze.” The choice of Buddy’s song for inclusion on the LP, with at least three dozen other songs available from the Fillmore concerts, may have had something to do with Jimi’s opinion of Chalpin.
Regardless, it’s a decent enough conclusion for an often-overlooked gem in the Jimi Hendrix discography, one that deserves repeated listening no matter what the circumstances of its release.