By the time Barry Fey was booking acts for the first Denver Pop Festival in 1969, The Jimi Hendrix Experience were regarded as one of the most exciting and innovative bands of the late sixties. This made them the perfect band to close the three day festival. There was only one problem. The Jimi Hendrix Experience were one of the highest paid bands in rock.

Despite this, Barry Fey wanted one of the biggest names in music as the headline act for what was being billed as the First Annual Denver Pop Festival.  It featured a star-studded bill. However, The Jimi Hendrix Experience would be the biggest name on the bill. So, Bill Fey booked The Jimi Hendrix Experience to appear on June 29th 1969. They were the headline act, and would close the three day festival. What Barry Fey didn’t realise was that, all wasn’t well within The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

That had been the case for since early 1969, the relationship between Jimi Hendrix and the rest of the Experience. However, Jimi Hendrix’s relationship with Noel Redding had become particularly strained. Noel Redding felt frustrated by what he saw as Jimi Hendrix’s lack of work ethic. This had first cone to light in February 1969. Over the next four months, Jimi Hendrix’s relationship with Noel Redding would worsen.

Ironically, things came to a head at the Denver Pop Festival. Noel Redding arrived at Mile High Stadium, where the Festival was taking place. That was when he was asked by a journalist why he was there? A shocked and dismayed Noel Redding listened as the journalist told him that he had been told two weeks previously, that Billy Cox would replace him. It looked like the Denver Pop Festival would be Noel Redding’s swan-song with The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Noel Redding took to the stage with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, knowing it was the end of an era. As the Experience produced another majestic performance, events turned ugly offstage. The free concert descended into a near riot. This marred what had been one of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s  finest performances of 1969. As the Festival had descended into chaos the band were spirited from Denver Pop Festival in the back of a van. It was an ignominious end to The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s career.

The next day, Noel Redding headed home to London. That was when he announced that he had left The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Noel Redding said he wanted to pursues a solo career, but blamed Jimi Hendrix’s plans to expand the Experience without consulting him. Meanwhile, Jimi had moved into the eight-bedroom Ashokan House, in Boiceville near Woodstock.

That was where Jimi Hendrix spent much of mid-1969. He had downed tools, much to the chagrin of his manager Michael Jeffery. He tried to convince Jimi to begin work on a new album. It was to no avail. However, Jimi agreed to appear on two talk shows.

The first was The Dick Cavett Show, where Jimi Hendrix was backed by the studio orchestra. When it came for Jimi to appear on The Tonight Show, he was accompanied by bassist Billy Cox and session drummer Ed Shaughnessy. However, by August 1969, Jimi’s new band had been born.

They had been booked to headline The Woodstock Music and Art Fair. It was due to take place between August 15th to 17th 1969. Jimi Hendrix’s new band were booked to close this new three day festival. There was only one problem, MC Chip Monck didn’t seem to know that Jimi had founded a new band.

It should’ve taken the stage  late in the evening of 29th August 1969. That was the plan. However, rain delayed the entrance of Jimi Hendrix’s new band. They took to the stage at 8.30am on 30th August 1969. MC Chip Monck intruded the band as The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Quickly, Jimi clarified, telling the 200,000 audience that: we decided to change the whole thing around and call it Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. For short, it’s nothin’ but a Band of Gypsys.” With that, the Band Of Gypsy’s launched into a mythical, mesmeric and electrifying two hour set, where Jimi Hendrix wrote his name into musical history.

The Band Of Gypsy’s was a new chapter in Jimi Hendrix’s life. It began in April 1969, when Jimi Hendrix began to jam with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox. They spent the next four months jamming, writing and rehearsing new material. They then made their triumphant appearance at Woodstock. Following Woodstock, the big question was, when would the Band Of Gypsy’s record an album?

Soon, there were plans in place to record a new Band Of Gypsy’s album. It would feature entirely new material from Jimi Hendrix. The distribution rights to this new album would be granted to producer Ed Chalpin, who spent two years locked in litigation with Jimi Hendrix.

This stemmed from a record contract Jimi Hendrix had signed in 1965. A year later, a legal dispute began into the record contract. Little did Jimi  Hendrix realise he would spend two years trying to resolve this situation. 

Eventually, and after two years, the two parties arrived at a resolution. The agreement was that Jimi Hendrix should release an album of entirely new material, which Ed Chalpin would be granted the distribution rights to. That album would become Band Of Gypsy’s.

Jimi Hendrix and the rest of Band Of Gypsy’s planned to record four concerts at the Fillmore East. The first two took place on the 31st December 1969 and the other two on the 1st January 1970.  Eight tracks from these concerts would eventually make their way onto the classic album Band Of Gypsy’s. However, recently, a new album from the four Fillmore East concerts has been released, Machine Gun Jimi Hendrix The Fillmore East 12/31/1969 (First Show). It’s just been released by Sony Music, and is a further reminder of Jimi Hendrix’s “other” group, the Band Of Gypsy’s.

After the Band Of Gypsy’s barnstorming performance at Woodstock, where they stole the show, Jimi’s new band experimented with the expanded lineup. Larry Lee was second guitarist, while Juma Sultan and Gerardo “Jerry” Velez added percussion. This expanded lineup lasted only until September the 8th 1969, when  the Band Of Gypsy’s played on The Dick Cavett Show. That night, the Band Of Gypsy’s was reduced to its core trio. The expanded lineup was no more.

Now that the Band Of Gypsy’s was reduced to a trio, it began to hone new songs, and record some demos. By then, the Band Of Gypsy’s were booked to record four shows at the Fillmore East. The first two would take place on the 31st December 1969, with the other two taking place on the 1st January 1970. Jimi Hendrix’s manager Michael Jeffery saw the potential to record a live album. Michael Jeffery approached Jimi with the idea; and he began discussing recording a new live album with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. 

They agreed to do the idea, and straight away, the Band Of Gypsy’s began three months of rehearsals. Suddenly, the old Jimi Hendrix was back. He was more disciplined and had discovered his famed work ethic. Day after day, he drilled the Band Of Gypsy’s, who weren’t just preparing for the Fillmore East concerts, but a new album. This meant familiarising themselves with not just new songs.

Already Power Jimi Hendrix had penned Power Of Soul and Message To Love, which had started life as Power To Love. Jimi had also been stockpiling songs from his days with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Like a magician pulling a rabbit from his hat, Jimi produced songs like Lover Man, Here My Train A Comin’, Izabella, Machine Gun, Bleeding Heart and Stepping Stone. Meanwhile, Buddy Miles had written Changes and We Gotta Live. These songs the Band Of Gypsy’s would spend hour after hour playing and honing. They even added the Jerry Ragovoy and Mort Shuman penned R&B song Stop, to their repertoire. It had given Howard Tate a hit in 1968. It was totally transformed by the Band Of Gypsy’s. They combined disparate musical genres during their rehearsals.

Initially, the rehearsals took place at Juggy Sound Studios in New York. Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox launched into lengthy, genre-melting jams. During these jams, the Band Of Gypsy’s fused elements of blues, funk, jazz, R&B and rock. There were even diversions via fusion, psychedelia and soul. No musical genre was off limit, as they switched between and combined a myriad of genres and influences. Gradually, new songs took shape, and old ones were reinvented. Onlookers felt that new rhythm section had the ability and discipline to anchor the arrangements, allowing Jimi free reign to experiment. The Band Of Gypsy’s rhythm section had a tightness that was lacking in The Jimi Hendrix Experience. With the start of what was a new chapter in Jimi’s career, the Band Of Gypsy’s moved to the Record Plant recording studios in New York. 

At the Record Plant, demos recorded by the Band Of Gypsy’s. The days, weeks and months of rehearsals had paid off. They were a tight and talented band, who had a great future in front of them. However, a shadow hung over the Band Of Gypsy’s.

On 3rd May 1969, Jimi Hendrix was travelling to Toronto, Canada, to play a concert. As he passed through customs at Toronto International Airport, a decision was made to search Jimi. Customs officials found Jimi to be in possession of what they believed to be small amounts of hashish and heroin in his luggage. The drugs were sent to be analysed, and after a four hour wait, the results came back positive. Jimi Hendrix was charged with drug possession, and released on $10,000 bail until the 5th May 1969.  

Just over a month later, Jimi Hendrix returned to Toronto for a preliminary hearing on 8th June 1969. That day, a trial date was set for December 8th 1969, when Jimi would be tried on two charges of illegal possession of narcotics. If found guilty, the maximum penalty was twenty years imprisonment. It was no wonder there was a shadow hanging over Jimi.

To prove Jimi Hendrix guilty of illegal possession of narcotics, the crown had to prove that he knew the drugs were in his possession. This the crown were unable to do. This resulted in a not guilty verdict being reached on the 10th December 1969. Jimi left Toronto a free man. He flew to New York, and continued preparing with the rest of the Band Of Gypsy’s at the Record Plant.

For the next three weeks, the Band Of Gypsy’s concentrated on honing their sound. They were already an exciting, inventive and innovative trio, who onlookers felt were about to take the rock world by storm. What better place to start than Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

Meanwhile, promoter Bill Graham was promoting the four concerts as Jimi Hendrix: A Band of Gypsy’s. Concert goers who were fortunate to get a ticket, wondered what direction Jimi’s new band would head in? Many thought that Jimi would pickup where he left off with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. All would become clear.

Eventually, after three months of rehearsals, the Band Of Gypsy’s found themselves at the Fillmore East on 31st of December 1969. That night they were due to play two shows, then two shows the next night. Over the four shows, the Band Of Gypsy’s would play forty-seven songs, which were recorded by Wally Helder, who owned a recording studio and was an experienced and talented recordist. He would oversee the recording on what would become Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69.

That night, Jimi’s new band, the Band Of Gypsy’s took his music in a totally new direction. For the Band Of Gypsy’s this must have been a nerves racking experience, as they had no idea how the audience would react. What if they didn’t like this new genre-melting style, where experimentation and improvisation were key?

As the Band Of Gypsy’s took to the stage, they hadn’t prepared a setlist. It was a journey into the unknown, with Jimi Hendrix calling out the songs. That night, neither Buddy Miles nor Billy Cox knew what songs Jimi would call out. Over the course of the set, Jimi chose eleven new songs. The original version was only a starting point, as the Band Of Gypsy’s improvised and toyed with a song. Even a familiar song like Stop, would be taken in new and unexpected directions. That was still to come.

The first song Jimi called out was Power Of Soul. As the Band Of Gypsy’s began playing, there were some problems with the microphones. They recurred during  Lover Man. To add to the problems, Jimi was experiencing some problems with his guitar, which kept going out of tune. This was caused by Jimi’s heavy use of his Stratocaster’s vibrato arm.  Despite this, the Band Of Gypsy’s continued determinedly. Sometimes, Jimi nodded to signal a change in tempo and time. Seamlessly, the music would slow down or speed up, or the Band Of Gypsy’s would switch from 4/4. All the time, the Band Of Gypsy’s  switched between and combined disparate musical genres. 

Everything from blues, funk, jazz, psychedelia, R&B, rock and soul were combined by the Band Of Gypsy’s. They even pioneered funk rock, and took diversions into fusion, as the Band Of Gypsy’s showcased their versatility and talent. Especially, now the microphone problems were solved. The Band Of Gypsy’s worked their way through Hear My Train A Comin’, before the Buddy Miles penned Changes and Izabella. With the rhythm section providing a tight backdrop for Jimi, he unleashing a virtuoso performance and during the show. 

His finest moment came mid-set, on Machine Gun. The crowd watched spellbound as Jimi’s guitar unleashed a myriad of sounds. It was akin to being caught in a battlefield, as bullets flew overhead and bombs exploded. From there, the Band Of Gypsy’s returned to Stop, which had given Howard Tate a hit single. Not this way though. With Jimi at the helm, and Buddy Miles on lead vocal, the Band Of Gypsy’s reinvented Stop. This gave way to Ezy Ryder and a cover of Elmore James Bleeding Heart. By now the audience awaited and revelled in each twist and turn in this masterful performance. 

After nine songs, the audience had been won over by the Band Of Gypsy’s. There was no room for complacency as a six minute version of Earth Blues, gave way to a near ten minute epic version of Burning Desire. That closed what was the first in four shows at the Fillmore East, where the Band Of Gypsy’s showcased their new sound.

Forty-seven years later, and the first in the four shows at the Fillmore East, is regarded by some as a warmup show. That’s hard to believe, as that night, the Band Of Gypsy’s played as if their very lives depended upon it. Jimi Hendrix embracing his role as the Band Of Gypsy’s bandleader, leads from the front, playing with flair and flamboyance, and urgency, invention and imagination. He unleashes a masterful, virtuoso and spellbinding performance. Incredibly, none of the eleven tracks made their way onto the Band Of Gypsy’s album.

Instead, Band Of Gypsy’s featured two tracks from the third show, and four from the fourth show. Sadly, the first show was overlooked. Not any more. It has been recently released by Sony Music as Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69. This is  first time this legendary show has been released in its entirety. It’s a welcome release, and reminder of Jimi Hendrix’s short-lived “other” group.

By the time Band Of Gypsy’s was released on March 25th 1970,  Jimi Hendrix’s “other” group had split-up. The last show the Band Of Gypsy’s  played was at Madison Square Garden on January 28th 1970. Band Of Gypsy’s never got the opportunity to record a studio album.

The Band Of Gypsy’s story was a case of what if? One can only speculate about what heights the Band Of Gypsy’s might have reached. Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 is a tantalising taste of what the Band Of Gypsy’s are capable of. Three talented and versatile musicians joined together to create an album of innovative and genre-melting music. This  marked the next step in the Jimi Hendrix story.  Sadly, it was almost over.

Six months after the release of Band Of Gypsy’s, music was in mourning.  On 18th September 1970, Jimi Hendrix, it was announced, was dead. Jimi Hendrix had been found around 11a.m. on the 18th September 1970, that Jimi Hendrix was found unresponsive at an apartment in the Samarkand Hotel, in Notting Hill, London. He was rushed to the St. Mary’s Abbot’s Hospital, but pronounced dead at 12.45p.m. Jimi Hendrix was just twenty-seven. However, music had lost one of the most influential and innovative guitarists of his generation.

Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69 is another reminder of Jimi Hendrix at the peak of his powers. With the rest of the Band Of Gypsy’s, Jimi Hendrix combines flair and flamboyance, with urgency, invention and imagination throughout  Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/69, as he delivers a virtuoso performance.




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