Classic Rock Corner

Jimi Hendrix & Band Of Gypsys Explode At Fillmore East

Jimi Hendrix & Band of Gypsys Live at Fillmore East (Experience Hendrix/Columbia Legacy) 140 minutes, $13.98.

The latest release in a busy year for the Hendrix estate is this 1999 documentary, pumped up with extra footage, that explores Jimi's short-lived but influential Band of Gypsys lineup.

Born out of the dissolution of his previous backing group, the Experience (bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell), as well as a legal recording issue that needed to be fulfilled, Hendrix recruited ex-Army pal Billy Cox on bass and the powerful drummer/singer/songwriter Buddy Miles, formerly of the Electric Flag, for the venture.

And while the Experience broke incredible ground with psychedelic music, the Gypsys were a far funkier, earthier, and more soulful trio on songs like "Who Knows," "Message to Love," "Stepping Stone," "Power of Soul" and the Flag's "Them Changes."

The fact that Jimi was now standing alongside two black men instead of two white guys was also not lost on anyone, particularly the front man who desperately wanted to see more black faces at his shows and in rock music in general. However, the often-repeated rumor that Jimi was "forced" to choose two black musical partners as part of some arm-twisting by those in the Black Power movement are entirely unfounded.

The new version of this film collects all eight songs of the the existing footage, albeit in somewhat fuzzy black and white, from the group's Jan. 1, 1970 show at Manhattan's Fillmore East. Selections from this show and another the night before have long been available on the Band of Gypsys CD, which got Jimi out of the legal tussle upon its release.

Redding, Mitchell, Cox, and Miles are all interviewed, along with original engineer Eddie Kramer, who contributes a sterling new music mix for this DVD, plus business associates and musos influenced by Hendrix like Slash, Lenny Kravitz, and Living Colour's Vernon Reid.

Alas, the full potential of the Band of Gypsys was never explored, as Miles was let go by Hendrix's management - reasons vary to this day; Miles is still visibly upset talking about it here nearly three decades after the fact - but Jimi was on to his next muse anyway.

That the Fillmore shows and some studio jamming are the group's only recorded/visual legacy seems a shame, but for the year that would unknowingly prove the last of his life, Jim Hendrix started 1970 on a very high note with a couple of Gypsys.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero