Band of Gypsys
Released: April 1970
Chart Peak: #5
Weeks Charted: 61
Certified Gold: 6/30/70
This is the album that Hendrix "owed" Capitol for releasing him over to Reprise Records and significantly, it isn't a studio effort, as his Reprise effort's have been. Which is not to imply that it is any better than those Experience albums. The context of the album is vital -- Band of Gypsys was one of Hendrix' 1969 amalgamations consisting of Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass, among others. They hadn't been together very long when this session was recorded live at the Fillmore East, New Year's Eve 1969/70, and the music shows it.
Both sides are basically extended jams with lots of powerful, together guitar by Hendrix, able bass by Cox, at times overbearing drums by Miles and rather lame, buried vocals by both Hendrix and Miles. The group sound is surprisingly similar to Hendrix' old "Foxy Lady" and "Purple Haze" days, with the significant difference that here Hendrix really gets into his guitar playing. No more the flashy, crotch-oriented gimmickry and extended wah-wahs -- here he just stands still and shows us how adept he is with the ax. The support from Cox is always inventive, but Miles' drumming is definitely disturbing and exceedingly pedestrian at times. Hendrix overcomes on pure tension alone, as both "Message To Love" and "Who Knows" aptly demonstrate.
This album is Hendrix the musician. With just bass and drum support he is able to transfuse and transfix on the strength of his guitar-work alone.
- Gary Von Tersch, Rolling Stone, 5/28/70.
Jimi is back, refurbished with Billy Cox (who used to play third base for the Brooklyn Dodgers) and Buddy Miles whose drumming is worth the price of your admission. Hendrix, the heavy of all time, is refining his music and the result is a tighter more evenly spaced out recording, full of power and a more technically proficient set. I never believed that he played up to his popularity, his image, but give me time, I'll come around. He's about the only black musician playing for a white audience a peculiar blend of black records and white traditional acid rock. Hendrix is into black liberation in a heavy way, though his music has always been liberating, driving an intensely pitched energy level that has often been overshadowed by his act. I don't think he's acting anymore but getting into his playing, which is a relief.
- Jonathan Eisen, Circus, 7/70.
Band of Gypsys has been here and gone, while drummer Buddy Miles and Hendrix, a Reprise artist, have since formed a new combo. But Capitol caught the heavy duo live at Fillmore East last New Year's Eve, and with bass Billy Cox, they rip through "Who Knows" and "Power to Love," plus two Miles compositions. A hot item for Capitol and a big bonus for Hendrix fans.
- Billboard, 1970.
Because Billy Cox and Buddy Miles are committed (not to say limited) to a straight 4/4 with a slight funk bump, Hendrix has never sounded more earthbound. "Who Knows," based on a blues elemental, and "Machine Gun," a peacemonger's long-overdue declaration of war, are as powerful if not as complex as anything he's ever put on record. But except on the rapid-fire "Message to Love" he just plays simple wah-wah patterns for a lot of side two. Not bad for a live rock album, because Hendrix is the music's nonpareil improvisor. But for a Hendrix album, not great. B+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Recorded live at the Fillmore East New Year's Eve Concert 1969, Band of Gypsys provides a fairly generous dose of Hendrix at his live best but the CD sound is something of a drawback. Hiss is very grainy and loud between songs while bass seems to have taken on an even more overpowering droning nature.
Hendrix himself was dissatisfied with the line-up of this set, although containing the talented Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums and recalled ex-Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell for his last studio recording.
Only personal auditioning can balance the musical/sound quality scales here.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Maybe the finest live album ever and arguably one of the best blues records, this set is timeless, effortless, beautiful. Recorded at legendary Fillmore East with Hendrix's old army pal Billy Cox on bass, this is as far from pop as the undisputed genius of electric guitar got. If you really want to hear Jimi stretch out on his Strat, get this. * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Recorded at the Fillmore East in New York on New Year's Eve -- the last night of the 1960s -- this is Jimi Hendrix tearing out toward a bold new kind of mind-warp. He'd exhausted the possibilities of the conventional verse-chorus song context on such enduring albums as 1967's Are You Experienced, and as the new decade dawned, the former paratrooper and his newly assembled "black" band -- the drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox -- sought different horizons. This trio was not tiptoeing to get there: It was into the hard and the harsh. The group's wide-open vamps were often built on static single chords, some leaning toward the shadowy landscapes of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, some with the kinetic thump of Sly Stone funk.
With Hendrix, the starting point doesn't matter much -- a few minutes into any of these pieces, he's off in the ether, giving guitar clinics for contortionists. Band of Gypsys just might be the heaviest explosion of electric guitar ever caught on tape -- these writhing, screaming, bent-over-backward solos are works of herculean imagination. At the same time, the album is one of the most thrilling glimpses of a new sound being born. Hendrix wasn't exactly sure where he was going, and neither were his cohorts. They knew the general terrain, and knew how to support Hendrix when he stepped into the spotlight, but the "form" was mostly free. Hendrix being Hendrix, there were no raod maps, and the group hadn't been playing together long enough to have developed protocol. That created its own blank-slate energy: Listen as the stuttering funk of "Machine Gun" progresses, and you'll hear the band follow Hendrix first at close range, then with less-note-by-note attention. As he builds up steam, the pulse behind him becomes brutally physical, a whomp that registers in the gut.
Band of Gypsys contains material that Hendrix was just working up at the time -- these are the definitive recordings of "Who Knows," "Message to Love," and "Machine Gun," among others. It's the only live album Hendrix authorized, and though the Band itself was short-lived (Hendrix dissolved it several weeks after this show), Band of Gypsys remains a once-in-a-lifetime explosion of cosmic guitar.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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