Over the course of four extraordinary years, Jimi Hendrix placed his indelible stamp upon popular music with breathtaking velocity. Measured alongside his triumphs at Monterey Pop and Woodstock, Hendrix’s legendary Fillmore East concerts illustrated a critical turning point in a radiant career filled with indefinite possibilities.
The revolutionary impact Jimi Hendrix, Billy Cox and Buddy Miles had upon the boundaries and definitions of rock, R&B, and funk can be traced to four concerts over the course of two captivating evenings. These performances were first celebrated by Band of Gypsys, which featured six songs from the two January 1, 1970 concerts, including “Machine Gun,” the album’s dramatic centerpiece. Issued in April 1970, Band of Gypsys challenged and surprised the wide following of Jimi Hendrix with its extended arrangements and vibrant mix of rock and soul.
In June of 1969, at the height of their fame, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, closed a musical chapter. Before the shockwaves could settle, Hendrix assembled a new, expanded ensemble to perform at Woodstock in August. A new chapter was opened as Hendrix introduced Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. The large ensemble included Jimi’s longtime friend Billy Cox, on bass, whom he had befriended when both were serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky in 1962. This Woodstock lineup was short-lived; from its ashes a new trio emerged in October that Hendrix dubbed Band of Gypsys, consisting of Hendrix, Cox and Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles, who would also contribute occasional lead vocals. Hendrix was inspired by his collaboration with Cox and Miles and this creative renewal drove the development of promising new material such as “Power Of Soul,” “Burning Desire” and the extraordinary “Machine Gun.”
Their debut live performances were a series of four concerts at the Fillmore East in Manhattan – two on New Year’s Eve 1969 and two on New Year’s Day 1970, each of which were professionally recorded. Hendrix had sold out Madison Square Garden just nine months prior, but the Fillmore East was chosen as the setting for a live recording. Long before his fame, Hendrix had signed what he thought was a release for appearing as a studio musician in October 1965. Unfortunately, the one page artist agreement drafted by PPX Industries bound his services for a period of three years. Unwilling to live hands tied, Hendrix agreed to a 1968 legal settlement whereby Capitol Records would be granted the distribution rights for his next album. By the autumn of 1969, Capitol and PPX were pushing hard for the album delivery and Hendrix decided to give them a live album.
However stressful this legal obligation had been for the guitarist, the end result proved to be an artistic triumph. True to his unpredictability, Hendrix opened his four-show stint with a masterful, eleven song set that did not feature a single song he had commercially released. Exciting new songs such as “Izabella,” “Ezy Ryder” and “Burning Desire” thrilled the sold-out house. Hendrix would pepper the remaining three shows with supercharged reworkings of favorites such as “Stone Free,” “Purple Haze,” and “Fire” but these were presented alongside such devastating, newly developed fare as “Machine Gun.” In his review of the second New Year’s Eve concert, Down Beat critic Chris Albertson wrote, “That ability of his to utilize fully the technical possibilities of his instrument, combined with his fertile musical imagination, makes him an outstanding performer.”
By the end of January 1970, the band was history, but the blend of funk, rock and soul pioneered by the trio became history, making a profound impact on popular music in its wake. Notable devotees include funk pioneers Parliament-Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, the Isley Brothers (with whom Hendrix himself had at one time played) and Bootsy Collins, extending all the way forward to hip-hop. Countless artists cite the record as a cornerstone in their appreciation of Jimi Hendrix ’s remarkable abilities.
The original 1970 Band of Gypsys album was edited and sequenced from songs performed during the two Fillmore sets on January 1, 1970. Subsequent collections mined more material from each of the performances with significant chunks of these phenomenal recordings from those nights sitting unreleased for almost half a century. Newly mixed and restored in sequence without edits, fans can finally hear Hendrix, Cox and Miles blast through their genre-defying sets that included freshly written songs like “Earth Blues” and “Stepping Stone,” as well as Experience favorites inclusive of “Foxey Lady,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Wild Thing,” “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze.” Additionally, exciting new versions of Howard Tate’s “Stop,” “Steal Away,” by Jimmy Hughes and a searing “Bleeding Heart” by Elmore James highlighted the command that the trio had over blues & R&B music.
The lavish package is filled with unseen photos from talent such as Fillmore East house photographer Amalie Rothschild, Jan Blom (whose iconic, color saturated images provided the original artwork for 1970’s Band of Gypsys) as well as Marshall Amplifier representative Marc Franklin, who had full access to the group in their dressing room backstage. The booklet features remembrances from bassist Billy Cox and liner notes by author/journalist/filmmaker Nelson George. Songs For Groovy Children was produced by Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott - the trio that has overseen every project for Experience Hendrix since 1995. The box set was mastered by Grammy-winning engineer Bernie Grundman.
All the following Fillmore East songs are in the box set Songs For Groovy Children except*, 5 tracks are missing inexplicably, all from the 2nd show on 31 December.
Many Hendrix fans have longed for this for decades...and here it is! The (near) complete Band Of Gypsys at the Fillmore East recordings. Most of the songs have already appeared on record (see my "The Fillmore setlists" link below) but this release presents many songs in a longer format (still a few edits here and there), including those that were on Jimi's Band Of Gypsys album, plus 9 new versions of songs and 1 completely new song: a cover of Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away" (with Miles on vocals).
The album Live At The Fillmore East (which had been released in 1999) used a mixdown tape (Hendrix/Kramer mixes apparently) and not the multi-track masters which weren't in the possession of Experience Hendrix. A few years later, they purchased the masters from the owner (Paul Allen of Microsoft) and eventually released the Machine Gun album detailed above. So this box set presents practically all the performances from the two nights at the Fillmore with new mixes from Eddie Kramer and a 5-star Bernie Grundman mastering (as had been the case with the Machine Gun album already).
Jimi had cherry-picked and edited down some great performances for the 1970 Capitol album that he was obliged to release but anything else that dribbled out officially or otherwise only served to expose the fact that this outfit (pulled together simply to solve that legal obligation) was a rather an awkward fit in relation to his music. However, it must be understood that these four sets were the band's first ever live concerts! Any artist/band going straight in like that needs time to let things gel and fine-tune their music. Jimi did his utmost to showcase fresh material, steering away as much as possible from the Experience-era songs. He was pushing for a new direction, letting it roll, letting loose, jamming, enabling a fellow musician take centre-stage,... all of the things that he had been talking about in interviews for quite some time. So, aswell as being an attempt to get out of a contractual tangle, the concerts were an experiment, an opportunity to test new songs and also to party (New Year's Eve/Day).
Buddy Miles had a very dominating, heavy handed drum style ("the concreter" as Mitch called him), strong melodic vocals and hip scat-singing plus a love of getting the audience involved. All in good spirits of course but it does take the musical ambiance to territories quite far removed from Jimi's familiar universe (there is an Experience-era interview - Clark University? - where Jimi ridicules this type of soul revue call-and-response thing, "Everybody say yeeaah!"). With some of the music here leaning so heavily towards old-school soul/R&B, Buddy Miles was in a way pulling Jimi back to his pre-Experience days and even his pre-Curtis Knight days. I think think this might have contributed to Jimi having doubts about continuing any further with Miles after these gigs. Job done, time to move on.
One of the paradoxes here is that stunning performances can be followed by lacklustre ones. Jimi does in fact apologise from time to time, explaining that they are just messing about with the tunes and that some of the songs aren't yet finished. When the band do gel, with Jimi soaring away, with Miles and Cox pumping away behind him, some truly remarkable moments have thankfully been captured here.
As this is a box set of concerts performed over two days (four sets) that means of course that there is a lot of repetition. Four performances of "Changes" and three performances of "Stop" are not all that essential for multiple listenings but for numbers like "Machine Gun" (four performances), "Power Of Soul" (three performances), "Stone Free" and "Foxy Lady" (two performances for each), the different directions that Jimi takes in the soloing is fascinating for any hardcore Hendrix fan.
So yes, this is an interesting addition to the shelf (or hard-drive). However, for the casual fan who digs Hendrix, I'd say that Jimi's Band Of Gypsys album of 1970 and the Machine Gun album of 2016 are really adequate (for now).
Actual Set List
31 December 1969
Power Of Soul
Hear My Train A Comin'
Auld Lang Syne
Power Of Soul*
Stone Free (incorporating Sunshine Of Your Love/Outside Woman Blues)
Message To Love
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)*
1 January, 1970
Power Of Soul
Nearly all of this show can be seen on the "Hendrix: Band Of Gypsys" DVD.
Power Of Soul
Message To Love
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
We Gotta Live Together