On New Year's Day, 1970, Jimi Hendrix stepped onto the stage at New York City's legendary Fillmore East with a new band and a new sound. Though the group's maiden voyage took place with two shows the night before, their third performance featured the passion and exuberance of a band and frontman eager to prove to the audience that the Band of Gypsys was an entirely different project from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. This show is a reminder of what a first-rate band the Gypsys were. Hendrix stuck with the power-trio format, employing the explosive Buddy Miles on drums and Bill Cox—a friend of Hendrix from their time in the army—on bass.
The Band of Gypsys cruises out of the gates with the hair-raising "Who Knows?" Over a funky groove that illustrates the distinctly new sound that Hendrix's new group cultivated, Hendrix unleashes a signature, blazing guitar lead that sets the tone for the passion and energy that the trio exudes for the next seven songs. From there, the group slides into perhaps Hendrix's most famous track from his short run with the Gypsys. "Machine Gun" is a sprawling, soulful masterpiece that features some of Hendrix's finest playing. The set also includes a delightful rendition of the Experience's classic track "Foxy Lady." Other highlights include the Band of Gypsys blinders "Stepping Stone" and "Power of Soul."
Sadly, this New Year's Eve would Hendrix's last, but the show remains a testament to the power and soul of his short-lived Band of Gypsys. In a painfully short, four-year career, a scrawny southpaw with a gypsy's soul and hands like catcher's mitts indelibly changed music forever. Johnny Allen Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, WA.
Hendrix's love affair with music was consummated at 15, when he bought a cheap acoustic guitar from a friend of his father. Due to trouble with the law, Hendrix joined the army, which, by all accounts, he hated. Hendrix gained swift discharge and decided to try his hand as a pickup guitarist. After an unsuccessful tenure in Tennessee, Hendrix relocated to New York, where he was spotted by bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals. Chandler was hoping to reinvent himself as a talent manager. Once he saw Hendrix perform "Hey Joe," Chandler knew he found his talent.
The aspiring manager took his prodigy to London, and hooked him up with local musicians Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums). In early 1966, the line-up was set, under the moniker of "the Jimi Hendrix Experience." In 1967, the trio created arguably the greatest debut in rock history, Are You Experienced? Produced by Chandler at De Lane Lea, their blend of psychedelic rock and blues captivated music fans and critics. Featuring all-time classics such as "Foxy Lady" and "Fire," the disc set an almost unfathomable standard for what rock music should be. Hendrix's acrobatic, face-melting leads punctuated his soulful voice, while Mitchell and Redding's rock-steady rhythm section provided a sturdy backdrop to Hendrix's prodigious talent. Hendrix also demonstrated the rare ability to mix virtuosic guitar leads with intricate, melodic rhythm guitar work. His appearance at Monterey Pop in 1967 made Are You Experienced? a major hit in the US in the latter half of the year, following the success of its singles in England earlier that year.
Though his career was cut short by a fatal cocktail of sleeping pills and red wine, Hendrix achieved an almost incomprehensible amount in merely 27 years on earth and four years in the business as a major artist. Following his debut, he would release two more groundbreaking studio albums, 1967's Axis: Bold as Love and 1968's Electric Ladyland, both of which boasted a more experimental flair than his first record. Hendrix famously performed at Woodstock in 1969, and would release an explosive live album with a new, short-lived band, the Band of Gypsies, following the Experience's disbandment in 1969.
Formed with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox, the Band of Gypsies would release one memorable live album. The Experience would briefly reunite and tour, but Hendrix never realized First Rays of the New Rising Sun, the intended follow-up to Electric Ladyland, because he tragically passed away in September of 1970. As evidenced by posthumous releases, including live material, reissues, and compilations of studio outtakes, and scores of young guitarists trying their damnedest to work out "Purple Haze" and his ubiquity on "Best of All-Time" lists, Hendrix's legacy and influence remains strong decades after his death.
-Written by Alan Bershaw