Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Jimi Hendrix / Band of Gypsys
Live at the Fillmore East


Released 1999 on MCA
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 05/01/2004ce


CD1
1. Stone Free
2. Power of Soul
3. Hear My Train A Comin'
4. Izabella
5. Machine Gun
6. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
7. We Gotta Live Together

CD2
1. Auld Lang Syne
2. Who Knows
3. Changes
4. Machine Gun
5. Stepping Stone
6. Stop
7. Earth Blues
8. Burning Desire
9. Wild Thing

Jimi Hendrix - guitar, vocals
Billy Cox - bass
Buddy Miles - drums, vocals

The last authorized Hendrix release was 1970's "Band of Gypsys" album. It consisted of live recordings from a four show stand at the Fillmore East during New Year's 1970, released in album form as a way of getting out of a legal hassle with Capitol records (Jimi had unwisely signed contracts with several labels prior to hitting the big time.)

Up until the release of this 2CD set, that was pretty much the entire recorded output by the Band of Gypsys line-up. And no wonder -- the Gypsys were a short-lived lineup that existed for only a few months and only played about 5 gigs in total. But now we've got this document which consists of more recordings from the same Fillmore gigs that the "Gypsys" album came from. (The versions of songs found here are different than the ones on the original "Gypsys" album, with the exception of the Sly Stone pastiche "We Gotta Live Together" which was edited to half it's original length for the 1970 LP -- this CD restores the complete performance.)

After the original Experience imploded in 1969 (basically Jimi got sick of Noel's shit) Hendrix first tried to put together a larger combo, sometimes called "The Electric Sky Church" (the first and only gig with the expanded lineup was at the Woodstock festival -- it consisted of Jimi & Mitch with Billy Cox, an extra guitar player and two percussionists.) But that proved unwieldly, so Jimi scaled back to the tried and true power trio format, keeping Cox and adding Buddy Miles (ex-Electric Flag) in place of Mitch Mitchell who temporarily went back to England (he would return to the drum stool later in 1970 after Buddy Miles quit -- there was also considerable record company pressure to reform the Experience.)

On paper the Gypsys take the same approach as the Experience, but there are some subtle yet key differences. With the Experience, Noel Redding would hold the songs together with his four-on-floor bass playing which allowed Jimi & Mitch to jam apeshit circles all around him. With the Gypsys, it's drummer Miles who holds it together with a steady groove-lock while Jimi soars through the stratosphere, and Billy Cox mediates between the two -- his playing is looser and more fluid than Redding's, though he also frequently and telepathically locks in on unison riffs with Jimi. Another key difference between the groups is that the Gypsys also played several Buddy Miles compositions, and Buddy gets his share of the spotlight singing and exhorting the crowd. (The fact that the Gypsys were also Black Americans with a genuine soul music pedigree vs. the Blues-tourist Brits from the Experience, and that this changed the focus of the music in terms of playing & compositions, almost goes without saying.)

In short, the Band of Gypsys is a unique (and Unsung) chapter in the Hendrix saga. But more to the point, this is perhaps the best Hendrix live album you can find. The main reasons why:

1. Technology. In the early days Jimi played straight through a Fuzz Face, then later added a Vox wah pedal. But by the time of this recording he had added Uni-Vibe and Octavia pedals to his arsenal. He always managed to get amazing and unique sounds no matter what he was playing, but with the additional gizmos the palette of sounds he gets here compared to (let's say) the Monterrey festival recordings from 1967 is like a Technicolor widescreen film compared to scratchy old black & white. There are plenty of moments here when your jaw is on the floor, saying "how did he DO that?" The two additional versions of "Machine Gun" demonstrate this the best -- all three released versions of this song are simply amazing.

2. Context. With his famous and beloved-by-the-fans Experience disbanded and a new unproven combo behind him, Jimi went into these gigs with a lot to prove. The fact they were playing mostly new material also upped the "show and prove" factor. Exactly two of the tunes here had been previously released on his albums ("Stone Free" and "Voodoo Child"), plus there's "Wild Thing" which he'd done at Monterrey (probably few people had heard his version back in 1970.) The rest were brand-spankin' new songs, which would only later be recorded in the studio. And even his playing on the oldies is revelatory. Unlike some live versions of "Voodoo Child", Jimi pretty much plays the same licks as on the studio version (no small feat!) -- making it easily the best live version of this tune I've ever heard. Clearly these are head-down, concentrating on every lick performances -- there is very little of the somersaulting and jiving showman here (he's in shaman mode in other words!)

Which is not to say there aren't some fun goofy moments as well. After the ball dropped on New Year's Eve, the band launches into a majestic instrumental version of "Auld Lang Syne", going straight into a jam version of "Who Knows" where Jimi is leading the party singing "Happy New Year! / Goodbye sixty-nine!" instead of the lyrics heard on the original Gypsys LP. And for "Wild Thing" (the finale from the last of the 4 shows compiled here) he even plays the guitar with his teeth a little bit.

Well, I thought I'd heard all the classic Hendrix there was to hear, then someone turned me on to this CD. Essential!


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