Coming from live performances on New Year's Eve 1969 and New Year's Day 1970, "Band of Gypsys" is the last album that Jimi Hendrix authorized to be released before his death, his 4th and only live album. Later live albums such as "Woodstock" and "Live at Winterland" would be released in the 1990s by Experience Hendrix, the company owned and operated by Jimi's family that maintains his estate and constantly searches his vaults for material that has never been heard outside of his inner circle. Hendrix had been stressed out over his contractual obligation to produce another album and the easiest way to do this was to record live performances.
Some people overlook this album because it is not the classic Jimi Hendrix Experience lineup with Noel Redding and (John) Mitch Mitchell. Here is the lineup for this live album:
Jimi Hendrix - guitar
Billy Cox - bass
Buddy Miles - drums
Personally, this is my favorite Hendrix album. As much as he loved rock 'n roll, Jimi because he listened to anything he could get his hands on, was also very deep into the blues, as most of the songs would indicate. This album has Jimi at his funkiest. He feels very relaxed with his longtime Army friend Billy Cox beside him and his friend Buddy Miles from the band Electric Flag was an extremely funky drummer in contrast to Mitch Mitchell's jazz background as well a great singer in his own right. With Billy and Buddy, Jimi and his music was pushed to new heights and into new directions that he might have never gone if the Experience had stayed together. For those who aren't hardcore Hendrix fans, you might know that Noel Redding was originally a guitarist and not a bassist, but Jimi hired him mainly because he liked Noel's hair and thought that it looked like Bob Dylan's hair. Anyway, here goes the track-by-track:
1) Who Knows- This track is a spectacular way to open a great live album. The first words you hear are the announcer saying, "The Fillmore is proud to welcome back some old friends with a brand new name... A Band of Gypsys!". Jimi starts it up with the funky guitar riff as the bass and drums join in. Many of Jimi's vocal lines are accompanied by the same notes played on his guitar. He was a master at this even though he had no musical training. At many times throughout this album, it seems that there are 2 or more guitarists when in fact it is only Jimi. For a long time Jimi had learned to play a sort of lead, rhythm, and bass simultaneously. Buddy goes insane with scat vocals and keeps it rocking. The wah-wah also keeps the guitar sounding awesome.
2) Machine Gun - Hailed by everyday fans and famous guitarists such as Joe Satriani as "the greatest performance on an electric guitar of all time". The '60s was a decade famous for anti-war statements, but this one tops them all and leaves you to pick your dropped jaw from the floor! One of the reasons that Jimi Hendrix is universally accepted as the greatest guitar player ever is that he was able to create sounds eerily similar to bombs, guns, and screams and moans from his guitar. This song features Jimi's first use of the Univibe, wah-wah, Fuzz Face, and Octavia pedals in a live setting. Jimi's voice throughout the song is haunting and sounds like he is in pain. The first sustained note of his solo that is held for about 15 seconds is possibly one of the coolest moments in the history of the guitar. Whatever comes out of his Marshall amp, Jimi makes use of it. Equally haunting is the high-pitched "Ooh" from Billy and Buddy in the third verse. The emotional pique is approximately 11:30 into the song when Jimi turns his Fuzz Face all the way up. You can't help but envision the bloody battlefields of dying soldiers in Vietnam. An amazing end to an incredible song.
3) Changes - Next is a Buddy Miles original song. Buddy would throw in some of his own songs in the shows that these songs were taken from to give Jimi a break from singing. Great start kicking the song into overdrive with Jimi's wah-wah. Great guitar and bass accompaniment through the whole song. Buddy proves that he has an incredible and versatile voice. Jimi's wah solo is very tasteful and it fittingly starts coming out of a "breakdown". Buddy starts to stir up the audience by asking, "Can you clap a little louder"!" and the song slowly builds up similarly to the intro. The original version is also well worth listening to, even though there's no Jimi.
4) Power to Love - This song starts out immediately with Jimi soloing freely and then momentarily he stops on a sustained 7th chord only to break out into, yes you guessed it, another wah-wah solo! Who can honestly say that they are sick of hearing Jimi play a wah-wah solo" Not me! : ) Very cool chord progression as well as another amazingly funky guitar riff. In the breakdown riff, the time signature is changed to 9/8 and 7/8 twice before returning to 4/4. Overall another great song, despite Jimi's ranting about floating like a jellyfish.
5) Message to Love - One of the coolest ways to start up a funky song is to slowly ascend and Jimi does just that on the fretboard of his black Fender Stratocaster. "Machine Gun" aside, this song is my personal favorite on the album. Yet another spectacular solo from Jimi as he goes down and gets funky and slides up and makes his guitar sing and cry. Some of his heaviest lyrics, "I said find yourself first, and then your talent/ Work hard in your mind, so you can come alive/and prove to the man you're as strong as him/'Cause in the eyes of God, you're both children to him". Very cool breakdown solo as Jimi does some more scat singing along with his guitar and "Everybody love alive/Everybody hear my message". Yet another solo leads to the intro riff that ends an awesome song.
6) We Gotta Live Together - What can I say, this is another great Buddy Miles song. He tries to start the crowd going again as he asks, "We'd like to say that, if you can, we'd like for you to clap your hands one more time and sing along with us". Jimi's voice and guitar have another duet. Another funky song with another great funky guitar riff. Jimi does a very cool solo with his Fuzz Face and the trills near the end of it are great. This song's starting tempo is 102 BPM, but in the outro guitar solo the tempo slowly accelerates to 162 BPM and Jimi lays it down one more time. Great way to end an album like this.
Summary - Simply, this is a phenomenal live album by a phenomenal trio. This is Jimi at his funkiest and, in my opinion, on the top of his game. This album is essential to anyone who likes classic rock, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, and/or funk and R&B. I give this album 5 humongously big stars.