The final album released by Jimi Hendrix in his lifetime was the live record 'Band of Gypsys'. Recorded on New Year's Eve 1969/70 at the Fillmore East in New York, the record showcased new material reflecting a more mature and soulful Hendrix, backed by his old army friend Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums and vocals.
Jimi had lost a bit of momentum after the release of his masterpiece album Electric Ladyland in 1968. With Chas Chandler and Noel Redding both having departed during the EL sessions, which they saw as indulgent and directionless, Hendrix put a random bunch of musicians together for his performance at Woodstock in August 1969. They were loosely billed as "Gypsy Sun and Rainbows" and Hendrix referred to them as “just a band of gypsies”.
Hendrix’s business affairs were complicated by the fact he was contracted to provide an album to a former manager, Ed Chalpin and his company PPX Enterprises. With Cox and Miles now in tow, Hendrix was encouraged by his current manager Mike Jeffrey to work on material that could be used to settle the contract with Chalpin.
|Just 'Hendrix' - the contractual obligation honoured|
Buddy Miles had played on the Electric Ladyland two-part track "Rainy Day, Dream Away” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming" and the Band of Gypsies material reflected this slightly more funky approach, though with less of the humour and lightness evident on EL.
Bill Graham booked Hendrix to appear at the Fillmore over New Year’s and plans were made to record the shows. The recordings were not perfect. Hendrix had problems with mild feedback and he admitted himself he was out of tune on some numbers. Nonetheless, his playing is still remarkable and the album's standout track, ‘Machine Gun’, bears all the hallmarks of his iconic performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock.
Hendrix dedicated the song "to all the soldiers that are fighting in Chicago and Milwaukee and New York, oh yes, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam". The combination of Hendrix’s guitar and Miles rat-a-tat-tat drums give the track a haunting power that few other rock artists could get close to at that time.
|Advert in the UK music press for the forthcoming album, three months late in the UK|
The contractual obligation nature of Band of Gypsys cast an unhappy shade over the whole episode, but the album was well-received for the most part on release in March 1969 in the US. It became his best-selling album since his debut ‘Are You Experienced’. The ongoing dispute between Chalpin and Hendrix’s management meant that the album wasn’t released in the UK until June 1969.
Following the release of Band of Gypsys, plans were made to take it on the road, but it didn’t last long. A concert at Madison Square Garden on January 28 1970, ended prematurely after just two numbers.
Observers at the show, including other performers such as Johnny Winter, commented on how down and detached Hendrix appeared. There were a lot of rumours about the effect drugs were having on him. There were also tensions between Hendrix and Miles, with the latter refusing to play second fiddle. Whatever the truth, the band dissolved right then and Hendrix was encouraged to reconvene the Experience, with Cox on bass replacing Redding.
What we have left is a reminder that on his day, Jimi Hendrix was still way ahead of everyone else in terms of imagination on the guitar. That he couldn’t sustain the high quality he established from 1967 onwards is perhaps not surprising.
Melody Maker's reviewer Chris Welch noted that Hendrix's playing is at times restrained and even "old-fashioned". But he still has "a sense of drama that gives an eerie slightly menacing mood to his performance".
Here's a clip containing interviews and footage of the band playing "Who Knows", the first track of the album:
|The gatefold inside cover of the original north American release of Band of Gypsys|