Classic Album: Jimi Hendrix-Band Of Gypsys.

When the Jimi Hendrix Experience took to the stage at the Denver Pop Festival in June 1969, bassist Noel Redding knew it was his swansong with the group. He had been told by a journalist before the show that he was going to be replaced by Billy Cox. It was the end of an era for the bassist.

Ironically, the Jimi Hendrix Experience gave a majestic performance during what was an eventful  farewell for Noel Redding. Events turned ugly offstage and the free concert descended into a near riot. This marred what had been one of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s  finest performances of 1969. Amidst chaotic scenes the band were spirited from Denver Pop Festival in the back of a van and it was an ignominious end to The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s career. 

The next day, Noel Redding headed home to London, and 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 Hendrix had moved into the eight-bedroom Ashokan House, in Boiceville near Woodstock. The times they were a changing.

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 his client to begin work on a new album, but it was to no avail. However, he 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 him to appear on The Tonight Show, he was accompanied by bassist Billy Cox and session drummer Ed Shaughnessy. However, by August 1969, Jim Hendrix’s new band had been born.

When The Jimi Hendrix Experience split-up, its leader was the highest paid musician in the world. Promoters were desperate to add Jimi Hendrix to festival bills and the promoter of The Woodstock Music and Art Fair was no different. 

The Woodstock Music and Art Fair

It was another three-day festival that was scheduled for took place between the ’15th’ and ‘17th’ of August 1969 on a dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains of southern New York State. Jimi Hendrix accepted the invitation and would close the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

By the time Jimi Hendrix arrived at the three-day Woodstock Music and Art Fair, which had been eventful and sometimes chaotic, he was keen to showcase the new lineup of his band. It featured drummer Mitch Mitchell, replacement bassist Billy Cox and recent additions rhythm guitarist Larry Lee and conga players Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez. As the band took the stage it was 9am on the ‘17th’ of August 1969 ‘only’ 200,000 people watched on as MC Chip Monk introduced the group as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but the bandleader was quick to clarify: “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.”

That night, Jimi Hendrix unleashed what was a spellbinding performance that made musical history. After the Introduction, he led his band through a set that included Message To Love, Izabella, Fire, Voodoo Child (Slight Return). Then the former paratrooper unleashed a breathtaking performance of The Star-Spangled Banner, and incorporated a myriad of feedback, distortion, and sustain to replicate the sounds made by rockets and bombs exploding during this incredible and spellbinding rendition of the American  national anthem. Having set the bar high, Jimi Hendrix launched into the Purple Haze which gave way to Woodstock Improvisation,  Villanova Junction and closed a blistering and breathtaking set with Hey Joe. Once again, Jimi Hendrix was able to make his guitar do things other guitarists could only dream about as he closed his set at 11:10 am having made musical history. The big question was, when would the Band Of Gypsys record an album? 

Soon, there were plans in place to record a new Band Of Gypsys 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 he 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 Gypsys.

 Jimi Hendrix and the rest of Band Of Gypsys 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 Gypsys.

After the Band Of Gypsys barnstorming performance at Woodstock, they 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 Gypsys played on The Dick Cavett Show. That night, the Band Of Gypsys was reduced to its core trio. The expanded lineup was no more.

Now that the Band Of Gypsys was reduced to a trio, it began to hone new songs, and record some demos. By then, the Band Of Gypsys  booked to record four shows at the Fillmore East. Jimi Hendrix’s manager Michael Jeffery saw the potential to record a live album and approached Jimi  Hendrix with the idea. He then 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 Gypsys 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 Gypsys, who weren’t just preparing for the Fillmore East concerts, but a new album. This meant familiarising themselves with not just new songs.

Already 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, he 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 Gypsys 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, and was transformed by the Band Of Gypsys. 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 Gypsys fused elements of blues, funk, jazz, R&B and rock. There were even diversions via fusion, psychedelia and soul. No musical genre was off limits, 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 rein to experiment. The Band Of Gypsys rhythm section had a tightness that was lacking in The Jimi Hendrix Experience. With the start of this new chapter in Jimi Hendrix’s career, the Band Of Gypsys moved to the Record Plant recording studios in New York.

At the Record Plant, demos recorded by the Band Of Gypsys. 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 Gypsys.

Earlier that year, on the ‘3rd’ of 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 him and customs officials found 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’ of May 1969.  

Just over a month later, Jimi Hendrix returned to Toronto for a preliminary hearing on ‘8th’ of June 1969. That day, a trial date was set for December ‘8th’ of 1969, when he 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 Hendrix.

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, and this resulted in a not guilty verdict being reached on the ‘10th’ of December 1969. Jimi Hendrix left Toronto a free man. He flew to New York, and continued preparing with the rest of the Band Of Gypsys at the Record Plant.

For the next three weeks, the Band Of Gypsys 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 Gypsys. 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 Gypsys 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 Gypsys would play forty-seven songs which were recorded by Wally Helder who owned a recording studio and was an experienced and talented recordist.

That night, Jimi’s new band, the Band Of Gypsys took his music in a totally new direction. For the Band Of Gypsys 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?

31st Decemember 1969.

As the Band Of Gypsys 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 Hendrix would call out. Over the course of the set, he chose eleven new songs. The original version was only a starting point, as the Band Of Gypsys 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 Hendrix called out was Power Of Soul. As the Band Of Gypsys began playing, there were some problems with the microphones. They recurred during  Lover Man. To add to the problems, Jimi Hendrix was experiencing some problems with his guitar, which kept going out of tune. This was caused by his heavy use of his Stratocaster’s vibrato arm.  Despite this, the Band Of Gypsys continued determinedly. Sometimes, he nodded to signal a change in tempo and time and seamlessly, the music would slow down or speed up, or the Band Of Gypsys would switch from 4/4. All the time, the Band Of Gypsys  switched between and combined disparate musical genres. 

Everything from blues, funk, jazz, psychedelia, R&B, rock and soul were combined by the Band Of Gypsys. They even pioneered funk rock, and took diversions into fusion, as the Band Of Gypsys showcased their versatility and talent. Especially, now the microphone problems were solved. The Band Of Gypsys 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 Gypsys returned to Stop, with Buddy Miles on lead vocal. This familiar song was reinvented and 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 Gypsys. 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 Gypsys showcased their new sound.  

What was the first in the four shows at the Fillmore East, is now regarded by some as a warmup show.  That was despite the Band Of Gypsys played as if their very lives depended upon it and overcoming adversity and technical problems to deliver a breathtaking performance.  It was discarded in favour of the third and fourth show.

‘1st’ of January 1979-Band Of Gypsys.

On the second night, the Band Of Gypsys once again  performed a mixture of new and old songs. During the first set, they open with a near ten minute version of Who Knows which later opened Band Of Gypsys. This was followed my a blistering and breathtaking version of Machine Guns where the song is transformed into a thirteen minute epic. The other seven songs recorded during the first set on New Year’s Day 1970 didn’t make the cut.

During the second show that night, the Band Of Gypsys  work their way through thirteen songs and four made it onto the album. This included the third song they played that night Changes, which opened the second side.  Just like the rest of the second side, including Power To Love and Message To Love it was a song with a message. Especially We Gotta Live Together which saw the Band Of Gypsys  bid farewell to the audience. Many in the audience wondered when they would return?

Just eleven days later, on January the ’12th’ 1970, just Jimi Hendrix and recording engineer Eddie Kramer met at Juggy Sound Studios in New York and began choosing which songs would feature on the album. Any song with that had problems  with the recording and any Jimi Hendrix wished to complete as studio recordings weren’t added to the list. Eventually by the ‘21st’ of January 1970 they had a longlist and began preparing the mixes of the multitrack recordings.

Although Jimi Hendrix had agreed to mix the album, it was as if he felt under pressure to do so. As he listened to the recordings he asked Eddie Kramer if Buddy Miles’ jamming and vamping could be edited. Eventually, songs like Changes and We Gotta Live Together, which was edited from fifteen to just over five minutes long were completed. Only then was Bob Ludwig brought in to master the album which was completed on February the ’19th’ 1970.

By the time Band Of Gypsys was released, Jimi Hendrix’s new group was no more. They had already split-up and would never take to the stage again. This was a disaster for a group with a new album coming out.

When critics heard Band Of Gypsys, most were won over by the genre melting album. Some felt the that the album wasn’t up to the standard of the three albums The Jimi Hendrix Experience had released. However, most critics realised that Band Of Gypsys was another important, ambitious and innovative album. Machine Gun, they felt, was the best track on Band Of Gypsys. It was the album’s centrepiece, and showed what Jimi Hendrix, musical maverick was capable of, even without the Experience. That was the past,  and Band Of Gypsys was the next chapter in the Jimi Hendrix story and should’ve been the perfect vehicle for him.

Band Of Gypsys was released in Britain on the ‘25th’ March 1970, it reached number six. Nearly three months later, on June 12th 1970, Band Of Gypsys was released in America, reaching number five in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Band Of Gypsys being certified double platinum. Jimi Hendrix it seemed could do no wrong. Everyone waited with bated breath to see what direction his career headed.

Six months after the release of Band Of Gypsys, music was in mourning.  On the ‘18th’ of September 1970, it was announced that Jimi Hendrix  was dead. He had been found around 11a.m. on the ‘18th’ September 1970, unresponsive at an apartment in the Samarkand Hotel, in Notting Hill, London and 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.

Band Of Gypsys was Jimi Hendrix’s swansong and  is a reminder of one of the giants of music at the peak of his powers. With the rest of the Band Of Gypsys, Jimi Hendrix combines flair and flamboyance, with urgency, invention and imagination throughout, as he delivers a virtuoso performance that is breathtaking in its brilliance and makes this classic album an essential part of any record collection.

Classic Album: Jimi Hendrix-Band Of Gypsys.

1 Comment

  1. Taylor Styes

    Such a great example of the vivid new directions Hendrix could have steered his profound abilities toward in the 1970s. Much in the same way that Beatles fans continue to ask if the band would have been AOR revolutionaries in the next decade, one continues to wonder about the pioneering stew of soul, fusion, and rock that Hendrix could have crafted – Miles Davis was already building his next phase based on his sounds.

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