People, Hell and Angels by Jimi Hendrix

February 26, 2013

More Jimi Hendrix from the vault will be released March 5, 2013. People, Hell and Angels gathers a dozen previously unreleased performances that focus on his work outside of the Experience. Sidemen Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Stephen Stills, Lonnie Youngblood, Larry Lee, and a host of others (including Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell) all lend a hand on this disparate group of material.

While many of these tracks were never meant for public release, they feature some fine guitar play as they find Hendrix experimenting with new styles and sounds. Some tracks are stripped to basics but others add a second guitarist and other instruments to give them a fuller sound.

During December of 1969, Hendrix, bassist Billy Cox, and drummer Buddy Miles returned to the studio to record four tracks. One of the songs was “Earth Blues,” which was released on the Rainbow Bridge album after his death. It featured backing vocals by the Ronettes, guitar overdubbing, and Mitch Mitchell re-recording the drum parts. The song returns as a raw funky version featuring only the three primary musicians.

“Somewhere” is another song that has been released in a number of forms, all of which underwent studio tinkering after Hendrix’s death. This is a very precise rendition powered by Stephen Stills’ bass playing, which forms an underpinning for Hendrix’s wah-wah guitar sound.

Hendrix always had an affinity for the blues. He takes the old Elmore James tune “Bleeding Heart” and changes the tempo. It is Hendrix at his guitar best with only a basic rhythm section in support.

An interesting track is the nearly seven-minute “Let Me Move You,” recorded during March of 1969. During the mid-1960s Hendrix had been a session musician for Lonnie Youngblood and now the roles were reversed. Youngblood provided the vocal and his sax runs are the perfect foil for Hendrix and his guitar. The track also was one of the first times Hendrix used a 16-track recording process.

“Crash Landing” is another track that has undergone a number of transitions, the most famous being on the posthumous 1975 album that bears its name. That version featured overdubbing by studio musicians. This track has now been taken from the original master with drummer Rocky Isaac, bassist Billy Cox, and unfortunately an organist whose name has been lost to history. It has a stark and simpler feel from the versions that have preceded it.

Albert and Arthur Allen were friends with Hendrix and members of first The International G.T.O.’s and then the Ghetto Fighters. Hendrix invited them to sing background on “Freedom” and “Dolly Dagger.” They brought a third song with them, “Mojo Man.” Albert Allen provided the vocal and Hendrix both guitar parts, which were spliced together by his long time engineer Eddie Kramer.

People, Hell and Angels may not be a cohesive album but it provides insight into the mind of Jimi Hendrix as his time with The Experience came to an end. The liner notes give an excellent overview of each track

Them Changes by Buddy Miles

June 7, 2009

Buddy Miles passed away February 26, 2008 at the age of sixty. I had been meaning to review one of his albums but time has passed so quickly and here it is over fourteen months later.

Miles, as a drummer and vocalist, first came to my attention as part of the brilliant but short lived Electric Flag. He gained international acclaim as a member of Jimi Hendrix’s Band Of Gypsies. Between 1968 and 2005 he issued close to twenty solo albums including two excellent ones with Carlos Santana in 1972. My favorite Miles album, which is also considered one of his classic releases, is Them Changes. Released in 1970, it helped to define and explore the fusion of rock and funk music. He was basically a powerful rock drummer who had a fine rhythm & blues oriented voice; the combination of which made his sound versatile and unique.

The title song is the first track and sets the tone of the album. Old band mate Billy Cox is on hand to lay down some nice bass lines which compliment his dominating drumming. The rock guitar runs counterpoint to the funkiness of the supporting brass. Miles vocal ties it all together and allows this song and what will follow to embrace both a rock ‘n’ roll and a rhythm and blues sound.

Classic songs follow one after the other. “Heart’s Delight,” which was written by Miles, contains a blazing brass section complete with trumpet, tenor saxophone, trombone, and even a funky flugelhorn. Gregg Allman’s “Dreams” is a song that builds and builds as he is supported by a virtual choir of backup singers. “Paul B. Allen, Omaha, Nebraska,” which has to be of the strangest titles in history, demonstrates what a creative drummer he could be as only an organ and minimal guitar appear in support. “Memphis Train” just rolls along as he leads practically a big band sound on this old Rufus Thomas track. The album closer is the Otis Redding tune, “Your Feeling Is Mine” where it is interesting to hear Miles vocal take.

The only real miss is Neil Young’s “Down By The River.” It is a difficult song for him to sing plus he steps out from behind his drums to play lead guitar on the track which was not a wise decision.

Them Changes is a fitting epitaph for Buddy Miles. The classic cover of a young Miles just sitting behind his drum set is the way I want to remember him. It spent a deserved year and a half on the American Billboard charts and remains a fitting legacy of one of rock’s powerhouses.

Band Of Gypsies by Jimi Hendrix

March 21, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience had disbanded. Late 1969 found Jimi Hendrix recording with bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. This configuration would only last for a short time. Mitch Mitchell would return and replace Miles as Hendrix’ drummer a few months before his death.

Band Of Gypsys was released in 1970 and rose to Number 5 on the national charts. It seems that Hendrix owed the Capitol label an album of new material to fulfill some sort of legal obligation. Hendrix, Cox and Miles recorded four concerts at the Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. Hendrix pulled six songs from this series of performances to form his new album. Interestingly, he used two Buddy Miles compositions so as not to waste more of his own. Band Of Gypsys was the only live album released during Jimi Hendrix’ lifetime.

Band Of Gypsys contains one of the best live performances that Jimi Hendrix ever recorded. “Machine Gun,” which clocks in at over 12 minutes, was a political statement concerning Jimi Hendrix’ views about the Vietnam war. Hendrix would use a wah-wah guitar sound, fuzztones and all sorts of feedback to actually create the sounds of war. It is creative, exhilarating, exhausting and ultimately brilliant.

“Who Knows” finds Hendrix moving in a completely different direction. This song had a funky fell with an easy flowing solo by Hendrix. It was a song suited to Buddy Miles. Miles was a great drummer but he was more melodic and funky than Hendrix would need long term. The jazz foundation of Mitch Mitchell would ultimately be a better match for Hendrix but on this song everything would come together for both.

“Power Of Soul” and “Message To Love” would move at a slower pace and find Hendrix creating some of the most sophisticated lyrics of his career. This mellow Hendrix features some tasty and melodic guitar excursions. “Changes” is probably Buddy Miles best know song. Hendrix quickly slips into the original groove and makes a few controlled improvisations before returning to the melody. “We Gotta Live Together” is not presented in its entirety. A ten-minute version would surface after Hendrix’ death and is far superior to the five minute version presented here.

Jimi Hendrix was not pleased with the Band Of Gypsys album. He may have been too critical of himself as it contains some excellent live performances. It also shows what kind of guitar sounds that Hendrix could create outside the studio. In the last analysis, Band Of Gypsys presents an accurate picture of the live Hendrix just prior his death.