Band Of Gypsys
Capitol Records, 1970
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/15/1997
When it comes to looking at the career of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, there are two schools of thought. The first is that every note Hendrix ever played is solid gold, and is to be admired and worshipped. The other school claims that while Hendrix was one of the most innovative guitarists of his time, his star was all but faded out by the time of his tragic death in 1970.
Me? I subscribe to theory number two - and his album Band Of Gypsys serves as proof of how far Hendrix slid in just under four years - and so soon after his legendary appearance at Woodstock.
After dissolving the Experience, Hendrix teamed up with an all-black band, including old Army buddy Buddy Miles. Apparently tired of the pop rock world, Hendrix wanted to return to his roots and turn a little more towards funk. His dream took the stage of Fillmore East on New Years' Eve in 1969 and recorded this album, now legendary in Hendrix circles.
If only it lived up to the hype. By the time Hendrix played note one with this band, his glory days were over. He had shown possibly the last of his glory in the first rays of sunlight the last day of Woodstock - he seems to be reduced to a mere shell of himself on this one. He would be dead less than ten months later.
I know, it is pointless to compare different periods of an artist's career. But when you compare Hendrix's performance on the opening track "Who Knows" to early hits like "Purple Haze" and "All Along The Watchtower," it just isn't the same performer there. The fire in his playing isn't there, the songwriting has taken a turn for the worse and for the overblown - it just ins't Hendrix anymore.
And yes, "Machine Gun" has some flashes of the old Hendrix brilliance. But it hasn't held up well to the test of time - lost in the span of 27 years is the anger over the Vietnam War, It may have been a more potent song had it been shorter. Take a thousand "what-ifs" and apply them to "Machine Gun" - each one could have kept this song fresh.
Leave it to Miles to save the day for his old friend. "Changes" is a well-written song that seems to be the perfect vehicle for Hendrix - here is the funk he was looking to capture. Miles is in strong voice and shows a flair for songwriting. His other song on this one, "We Gotta Live Together," is not as strong, but is also a decent effort.
On the remainder of the album, Hendrix shows that when he shortens the songs, he tightens them up - though they still aren't up to his best work. Of these, "Message Of Love" was the best of the bunch - the trio of Hendrix, Miles and bassist Buddy Cox show how good they sounded after just a few short months together.
But the fact is that Band Of Gypsys is a difficult listen. It's difficult not just because it is a reminder of how little time Hendrix had left, nor because it is far from his best work. It is difficult because of Hendrix's loss of direction musically. I'm not going to say he should have stayed writing pop songs, but at this point in his career, Hendrix was quite confused musically. He was torn between being a rock superstar and a spokesman for black musicians and for their style of music. And when he suffered, the music suffered even more - because it was so close to his heart.
Hendrix fans may think this is blasphemy, but I find the end result of Band Of Gypsys tragic - an album which spelled the end of Hendrix's days of popularity during his lifetime. And while his status and legend has grown since his death - and rightfully so - this is still not one of Hendrix's shining moments.
|This is the 2nd time I've read this review, part of me agrees with Chris, none of the 6 tracks on this album are as entertaining or as creative as the three Experience albums, it is very possible if Jimi had lived, he would not have produced anything of that magnitude again ... On the other hand, this album could have been a sign that Jimi was in a transition that had to happen, Band of Gypsys is a "Jam" album, a Live album given to Capitol Records to fulfill a Contract, and IT's A GREAT LIVE ALBUM! It's not some retread versions of Foxy Lady and Purple Haze, or some Dylan Covers. It was a small collection of new songs that showed a new direction, from an Artist with a great track record.|