Buddy Miles: Flamboyant Hendrix drummer
Friday 29 February 2008
Best known as the drummer with Band of Gypsys, the short-lived group put together by Jimi Hendrix at the end of 1969, Buddy Miles contributed two compositions – "We Gotta Live Together" and "Them Changes" – to the eponymous live album they released in 1970.
Heavily edited from four shows at the Fillmore East in New York, the recording documents the musical prowess and unfulfilled potential of the all-black trio, which also included the bassist Billy Cox, Hendrix's pal from his days in the military. Buddy Miles was another old friend of the guitarist, but he was soon edged out of the picture by Hendrix's manager Mike Jeffery. Hendrix played the rest of his 1970 engagements, including an appearance at the Isle of Wight festival, with Mitch Mitchell as his drummer.
A powerful drummer and a soulful singer, Miles also worked with two other influential guitarists: in 1967, with Mike Bloomfield, he co-founded Electric Flag; and in 1972, he teamed up with Carlos Santana, most famously on the Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! album.
Born in 1947, Miles was a precocious talent and was playing in his father's jazz band, the BeBops, by his early teens. In the Sixties, he toured with the Delfonics, the Ink Spots and Wilson Pickett. He first met Hendrix in Montreal in 1964. "He was playing in the Isley Brothers band and I was with Ruby & The Romantics," Miles told Johnny Black, author of Eyewitness Hendrix (1999).
He had his hair in a pony-tail with long sideburns. Even though he was shy, I could tell this guy was different. He looked rather strange, because everybody was wearing uniforms and he was eating his guitar, doing flip-flops and wearing chains.
In 1967, Hendrix and Miles jammed at Stephen Stills's house in Malibu, and played together again at various points in Los Angeles and New York in 1968. Hendrix occasionally joined Electric Flag on stage and Miles took part in the sessions for the Electric Ladyland album. When Miles launched a group called the Buddy Miles Express at the beginning of 1969, Hendrix produced their first two albums, Expressway to Your Skull and Electric Church.
He obviously enjoyed working on someone else's project for a change. Following Hendrix's meteoric rise over the previous two years, the scene around him had got pretty heavy, and both his bassist Noel Redding and Mitchell eventually left, the latter after appearing at Woodstock. There were changes in the management set-up too, with Jeffery and the producer Alan Douglas vying for control of Hendrix's career. In October 1969, Hendrix put together the Band of Gypsys with Miles and Cox. "Jimi was not happy," said Miles. "He felt powerless. He couldn't do what he wanted to do."
Hendrix and his managers had also been involved in a legal dispute with the producer Ed Chalpin, and he was ordered to deliver an album as a final settlement in 1969. As work in the studio dragged on, the Band of Gypsys decided to play and record four shows at the Fillmore East on New Year's Eve 1969, and on New Year's Day 1970. "I'll never forget our first set," said Miles:
Jimi tried to come out and be real modest, but when we jammed for about three or four hours, you could see this whole thing building up and, when we hit "Wild Thing", all hell broke loose. Jimi started bending and squatting, and picking his guitar with his teeth, and the audience went nuts.
Jeffery was suspicious of the friendship between Hendrix and Miles and eventually fired the drummer at the end of January 1970, after a disastrous concert at Madison Square Garden. "Jeffery slipped him [Hendrix] two half-tabs of acid on stage as he went on," said Miles. "He just freaked out. I told Jeffery he was an out-and-out complete idiot and a fucking asshole to boot. One of the biggest reasons why Jimi is dead is because of that guy."
Issued in May 1970, Band of Gypsys made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and spent over a year in the US charts, accruing more sales after Hendrix's death that September. Miles's drumming featured on many posthumous Hendrix albums. He often performed the guitarist's material at tribute concerts and for documentaries. Asked how he would like to be remembered, Miles, whose flamboyant dress sense often matched Hendrix's, simply said: "The baddest of the bad. People say I'm the baddest drummer. If that's true, thank you world."
George Allen Buddy Miles, drummer and singer: born Omaha, Nebraska 5 September 1947; married; died Austin, Texas 26 February 2008.
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