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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Jimi Hendrix

Band of Gypsies

Review by Steve Colombo

Band of Gypsies is more than a classic album. It is a moment in time when the world of music changed forever. Recorded live at the Fillmore East on New Years Eve 1969/70 these six songs represent Hendrix at his finest, his sharpest and ultimately, like many others in music, it shows us what he could have evolved into had he not died of an accidental overdose on sleeping pills shortly thereafter. Soon after this show he started to falter. Pressures of fame, drugs, money and creativity tore him down in the days after this show. His live performances started to slip and there would be no more studio albums in his lifetime. Only the imperfect takes, outtakes and scraps pasted together into complete albums to be released posthumously.

The background of this show is interesting. Jimi Hendrix was really the first male sex-rock star: flashy clothes and costumes, arty albums, and wild shows. We all know about how he torched and smashed his guitars and played like a possessed shaman on stage, but here is where he started to change and what happened on New Years 69/70. Hendrix was booked to play 2 shows by promoter Bill Graham, a star maker in his own right. The first set that evening was what everyone expected to see, the whole "show." Backstage afterwards while the audience was leaving and the second set crowd began to arrive Hendrix asked Graham how his show was. Graham replied that it didn't matter what Jimi played because no one cared, it was the wild antics that everyone wanted to see, not to hear music. Shaken and hurt by such a blunt statement, Hendrix's second set recorded and released as The Band of Gypsies album, was different. He stood stock-still, didn't twitch a muscle and played a concert described later by Bill Graham as "With respect to Carlos, Eric and all the rest, that was the best playing that I have ever heard in my life."

The Band of Gypsies were Jimi Hendrix (guitar and vocals), Buddy Miles (bass) and Billy Cox (drums).

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Who Knows
This is a great track that kicks off the album and sets the tone. Funky and groovy, the rhythm section of Miles and Cox lays it down while Hendrix' guitar simply dances over it. It features great vocal interplay between Hendrix and Miles.
Machine Gun
This one is my favorite of all of Jimi's music and has been picked by many guitar greats as the greatest guitar solo of all time. A chilling antiwar anthem which Hendrix dedicates to all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam and the soldiers fighting for peace on the streets of America. All that Hendrix was is here - the wah-wah guitar, dive bomb effects and just plain burning, searing licks. No one has ever been able to pull this song off in quite the same way since, including Hendrix himself.
Changes
One of the real beginnings of funk is evidenced in this tune. This one really lays down the groove and gets you bumping and moving to the beat.
Power To Love
Slow and hypnotic, this number is reminiscent of the old blues masters that influenced Hendrix. One could easily see this being played in a small barrelhouse on the south side of Chicago.
Message of Love
A rocker, full speed ahead, this is another that lyrically reflects the sixties counter-culture. What I like about this track is that while much of the album is slow and groovy, this tune is a good contrast in that it's very upbeat. Hendrix pulls it all out on the solo here.
We Gotta Live Together
This song more than the other sounds like what Hendrix's posthumous albums sound like. It's very pivotal and sounds like what this album really was, the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies. It captures both of those elements and is a bit of an ending as well as a beginning. It is the last track on the album, the last vestige of the sixties musical explosion, but also the groundwork for what music would evolve into in the seventies.
 
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