The Greatest Album Nobody Knows Of
Recorded live at the Fillmore East in New York on New Year’s Eve 1969-1970, Band of Gypsys is without a doubt the greatest live performance of Hendrix’s all-too short career.
Accompanying Hendrix on the stage was long-time friends Buddy Miles on drums and backup vocals (who sadly recently passed away), and Billy Cox on electric bass. Together, these three musicians successfully molded blues, funk, fusion, and rock in a way that nobody had heard previously.
The performance begins with "Who Knows," which immediately draws the audience into Hendrix’s world as he conjures up a slow groove and then improvises like an uncoiling piece of string around that melody, creating an incredibly varied array of musical color and tones. The vocals are handled by both Hendrix and Miles here, at one point using an amusing call-and-response technique. About halfway in, the song descends into a peaceful bridge that allows Miles the opportunity to provide some soulful scat-singing (something he was famous for) before the instruments build up to a powerful crescendo that closes out the song.
The next song is really the masterpiece of the album (and Hendrix’s career for that matter). "Machine Gun" is a near 13-minute long epic that changed the way the instrument of guitar is looked at. The theme of the song was directly influenced by the Vietnam War and Hendrix reflects this not only in his incredibly poignant lyrics ("Same way you shoot me down baby, you’ll be going just the same, three times the pain, with your own self to blame") but also in the way he utilizes his guitar. Overflowing with a dangerous amount of pulsating feedback, Hendrix manipulates his instrument to literally create authentic sounds from a war zone – from rapid machine-gun fire, to bombs exploding, and even to jetfighters shooting across the sky. Hendrix is able to sum all these violent images in sound with his bare hands.
The rest of the album is nearly as stunning, with "Changes" being a short, fast-tempo piece with infectious melodies, and "Power of Soul" a high-energy shred fest with Hendrix cranking out amazingly catchy guitar riffs left and right with fluid ease. The album closes with "Message to Love," a very uplifting song with spiritual lyrics and funky melodies that make you want to sing along with them.
All in all, Band of Gypsys , the last album that Hendrix would record before his death a short time later, is probably his least known work but arguably contains some of the most progressive and ambitious compositions he ever recorded.
Highly recommended if you like music.