JIMI HENDRIX -- Band of Gypsys (MCA International / Experience Hendrix)

Band of Gypsys was one of the most innovative and pivotal albums of its time. However, not many people know the story behind it. Due to contractual obligations, Jimi owed Capitol an album from the early days when he played guitar for Curtis Knight & the Squires. Jimi was pissed because Capitol tried to overemphasize his limited involvement in the project to boost sales. In July of 1968, after months of court battles, both sides came to an agreement where Capitol would get distribution rights in the US for the next Jimi Hendrix Experience album. Since Jimi was in the middle of recording Electric Ladyland at the time, Capitol agreed to accept his next album as compensation.

Despite Hendrix's popularity, tensions were soaring within the band. Bassist Noel Redding was having an increasingly difficult time getting along with Jimi, and sessions for the follow-up to Electric Ladyland were largely unproductive. With the Experience seemingly unable to produce a new studio album, they taped concerts in L.A. and San Diego for a possible live album. Unfortunately, manager Michael Jeffery later vetoed the idea and started pressuring Hendrix to go back into the studio again. After the Toronto drug bust in May of 1969 (from which he was later acquitted), Jimi's spirits and inspiration had been dampened further. A month later, the Experience disbanded.

In the weeks that followed, Jimi called up his old Army pal, Billy Cox, to replace Redding. Realizing that he couldn't resume his career until he delivered an album to Capitol, Jimi recruited drummer Buddy Miles to form a new group--the Band of Gypsys. The trio signed a contract with promoter Bill Graham to do two shows each night at the Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970. Mixing elements of rock, blues, and funk; the band effortlessly merged all three musical genres and combined them into something never heard before.

All four shows were recorded, with the album being culled from the two January 1 performances. However, Jimi said that certain songs (like "Isabella" and "Ezy Rider") were off limits. He wanted to finish them in the studio first before sending them out for public consumption. In a show of fairness, Jimi said he wanted the album to include two of Buddy's tunes--"Them Changes" and "We Gotta Live Together." Consisting of only six tracks, Band of Gypsys was the last album Hendrix released before he died.

"Who Knows" is what funk is all about. The only bad part is Buddy's vocal in the middle section. For most fans of this part of Jimi's repertoire, "Machine Gun" is the album's centerpiece. Personally, I always thought Mitch Mitchell did a much better job with the drums on this song than Buddy, but the guitar work on the track (and the album as a whole) is stunning. The vocals on "Message to Love" are better on Crash Landing, but the jamming on Band of Gypsys blows the studio version away. Like the other 'new' Hendrix titles, there is audible tape hiss in the quieter passages. Nevertheless, in terms of overall sound quality, Band of Gypsys is excellent. The booklet features a new essay by John McDermott, along with photos from the venue. The only bad thing is that Capitol still owns the rights in the US, so it's not being released here yet. You can currently find it outside the US, but domestically, you'll have to wait for them to release the new version sometime this summer.

© 1997 Steve Marshall