Band of Gypsys
Band of Gypsys is a live album by a group of the same name featuring Jimi Hendrix. Released before his death in 1970, it was the last album Hendrix himself authorized, and the only Hendrix album to be released on Capitol Records—the result of a settlement regarding a forgotten recording contract he had signed in 1965 before he became famous. Band of Gypsys is now issued on MCA Records, along with the rest of his catalog.
After The Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up in mid-1969, Hendrix played with a line-up he called Gypsy Sun and Rainbows at Woodstock. This was Billy Cox's (bassist) first appearence on stage(!). The band was short-lived, however, and he formed A Band of Gypsys with his drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox who were already friends for almost a decade. They recorded some studio material, some of which has been posthumously released, and made their live debut at the Fillmore East on New Year's Eve 1969 for a series of four shows, spread over two days.
The recordings included on Band of Gypsys featured selections from the final two shows, which were performed on the evening of January 1, 1970. The set lists for these two shows are as follows with asterisk indicating inclusion on the Band of Gypsys album:
January 1, 1970 (3rd Fillmore East set)
1. Who Knows*
2. Machine Gun*
4. Power of Soul
5. Stepping Stone
6. Foxey Lady
8. Hear My Train A-Comin
9. Earth Blues
10. Burning Desire
January 1, 1970 (4th Fillmore East set)
1. Stone Free / Little Drummer Boy
3. Power of Soul*
4. Message to Love*
5. Earth Blues
6. Machine Gun
7. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
8. We Gotta Live Together*
9. Wild Thing
10. Hey Joe
11. Purple Haze
The Fillmore East concert features Hendrix in his element and in peak form, and the songs Hendrix selected for the Band of Gypsys release highlighted new material. The fact that these songs were never properly released as studio versions elevates the significance of this album. (Studio versions of "Message to Love" and "Power of Soul" are available on some posthumous releases.) Specifically, the included version of "Machine Gun" is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitar performances. Its long intricate guitar solo and percussive riffs decend into a sonic assault of controlled feedback to similuate the sounds and frenzy of a battlefield: helicopters, dropping bombs, explosions, and machine guns. Yet, Hendrix always maintains the melodic center of the song and impeccible tone.
Hendrix selected two Buddy Miles songs for the album as a kind of "sorry" for the break-up of the band. "We Gotta Live Together" is heavily edited for the album. Its original length is about twice of what can be heard on the album (before moving to that song the band seems to play a riff that is taken from Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song"). The full version can be heard on the 2-disc Live at the Fillmore East album.
Due to the demands of four sets over two days, the band faced a lack of material. So, Hendrix did rely on Experience-era favorites "Wild Thing," "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze, "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," "Foxey Lady," "Fire," and "Stone Free" to fill out the sets. In fact, nearing the end of the 4th set, Hendrix said, "We're just trying to figure out something to play, but we only know about six songs right now…seven…nine." He then launched into a blistering version of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." Hendrix was energized by his new bandmates, which infused new life into these Experience-era classics not included on this album. ("Foxey Lady" was included on the Japanese/German release (details below). Further, "Wild Thing," "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" and "Stone Free" can be heard on the widely available Live at the Filimore East 2-disc set.)
After a shambolic show at Madison Square Garden on January 28, Band of Gypsys was disbanded. With Experience member Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was reformed and for the next several months would work on Hendrix's next album, projected to be a double album until the leader's tragic death that September.
Produced by Hendrix (as "Heaven Research"), Band of Gypsys reached #5 in the US and UK and became one of the artist's best-selling albums.
Band of Gypsys is also the name of a documentary concerning the album and Hendrix's performances at the Fillmore during New Year's Eve 1969, and New Year's Day 1970.