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Jimi Hendrix: Band Of Gypsys - Album Of The Week Club review

Dull contract filler or full contact thriller? You have your say on Jimi Hendrix's live album Band Of Gypsys

Jimi Hendrix: Band Of Gypsys cover art
(Image: © Sony Music)
Jimi Hendrix: Band Of Gypsys

Jimi Hendrix: Band Of Gypsys cover art

(Image credit: Sony Music)

Who Knows
Machine Gun
Changes
Power to Love
Message of Love
We Gotta Live Together

For a record delivered as a contractual get-out, Band Of Gypsys is some live album. With a new rhythm section after the break-up of the Experience, Jimi Hendrix headed off in different directions to explore the new musical territories of funk and R&B, and did so with a new-found precision and regenerated energy and creativity. His playing here is, in places, truly wonderful and masterfully controlled.

Hendrix was on the brink of new horizons, and Band Of Gypsys was, as he might have said, “a first step” at not only reshaping his direction but that of rock performances. The spontaneous improvised spirit was definitely picked up in the 70s by the Allman Brothers BandLed Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead, among others. 

"It’s not a perfect recording," Joe Satriani told us, "but I’m listening for the heart and soul. He changed the course of music in one evening. If it only contained that version of Machine Gun, that would be enough for me. That’s the Bible, the grimoire of electric guitar."

“I must have listened to this record a thousand times, Billy Sheehan told us. "The automatic arm on the turntable would reach the end, and then it would come up and go back down and start all over again. This went on for weeks at a time – it was a huge part of my life.”

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Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in March 1970

  • Lie: The Love and Terror Cult - Charles Manson
  • Climbing! - Mountain
  • Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • A Beard of Stars - Tyrannosaurus Rex
  • Egg - Egg
  • Leon Russell - Leon Russell
  • Vintage Violence – John Cale
  • Easy Action - Alice Cooper
  • First Step - Faces
  • Sentimental Journey - Ringo Starr
  • Ginger Baker's Air Force - Ginger Baker's Air Force
  • It Ain't Easy - Three Dog Night
  • Bloodrock - Bloodrock
  • Cold Fact - Sixto Rodriguez
  • Don't Think Twice - Waylon Jennings
  • Marriage on the Rocks/Rock Bottom - The Amboy Dukes
  • On Tour with Eric Clapton - Delaney & Bonnie
  • Tom Rush - Tom Rush
  • Travelin' - Tommy James and the Shondells
  • Magick Brother - Gong

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What they said...

"The solo on Machine Gun totally rewrote the book on what a man could do with an electric guitar and is arguably the most groundbreaking and devastating guitar solo ever. These live versions of Message To Love and Power To Love are far better than the jigsaw puzzle studio versions that were released posthumously. Band of Gypsys is not only an important part of the Hendrix legacy, but one of the greatest live albums ever." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

"Both sides are basically extended jams with lots of powerful, together guitar by Hendrix, able bass by Cox, at times overbearing drums by Miles and rather lame, buried vocals by both Hendrix and Miles. The group sound is surprisingly similar to Hendrix’s old Foxy Lady and Purple Haze days, with the significant difference that here Hendrix really gets into his guitar playing. No more the flashy, crotch-oriented gimmickry and extended wah-wahs – here he just stands still and shows us how adept he is with the ax." (Rolling Stone (opens in new tab)

"Because Billy Cox and Buddy Miles are committed (not to say limited) to a straight 4/4 with a slight funk bump, Hendrix has never sounded more earthbound. Who Knows, based on a blues elemental, and Machine Gun, a peacemonger's long-overdue declaration of war, are as powerful if not as complex as anything he's ever put on record. Not bad for a live rock album, because Hendrix is the music's nonpareil improvisor. But for a Hendrix album, not great." (Robert Christgau (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Brian Carr: Although they aren’t my personal favourite band, I believe the Beatles are the greatest of all time due to their influence and historical significance, paired with loads of brilliant songs. I feel the same way about Jimi Hendrix as a guitar player. I don’t listen to Jimi as often as I do others that I prefer, but I do believe he was the greatest (though I’m not typically in the habit of rating or ranking artists).

Back in the early 1990s, Joe Satriani chose the content for an issue of Guitar For The Practicing Musician, a magazine I bought and read every month. Satch talked about Band Of Gypsys and Machine Gun in particular. I wasn’t familiar with the album at all because to my recollection it wasn’t in print in the US at the time. So when an import popped into the music store I worked at, I snatched it up. 

Of course, Satch was right - Machine Gun is brilliant. And it was cool “discovering” a bunch of Hendrix songs completely unknown to me. So why haven’t I listened to Band Of Gypsys more often over the last three decades?

Jimi’s playing is electrifying, of course. The grooves here are often excellent. But the album has the vibe of friends getting together for an impromptu jam session more than it feels like collection of well-written songs. Since my ears tend to gravitate to hooks and melody, Band Of Gypsys, despite moments of greatness, doesn’t get played often by me, even though I’ll still probably rate it on the higher end of the scale.

Bill Griffin: Never really a fan of Purple Haze or Foxy Lady, I have always held Hendrix at arms length. I knew he could be really good though, based on the material that appeared on the Woodstock album. I really liked that stuff and this is in that vein. The "real" Hendrix is the live Hendrix, perhaps?

Mike Canoe: Is Band of Gypsys dull contract filler or full contact thriller? For me, it’s more of the latter. The ramshackle production adds a certain intimacy to the recording. I feel like I’m at the Fillmore East listening to an album being built right on front of me.

While Jimi Hendrix is deservedly the brightest star in any constellation he’s in, I liked what bassist Billy Cox and, especially, drummer Buddy Miles brought to the group. I’m surprised that Buddy Miles gets so much flak, both in contemporary reviews and in this group. I really like the way his voice pairs with Hendrix’s and the flavour he adds to the songs, whether taking verses on Who Knows or singing lead on Changes, he definitely sounds in the moment. Even when he’s just adding wordless vocalising in Machine Gun or Message Of/To Love, I think the songs are better for it. Of course, I have been a fan of Buddy Miles’ album Them Changes (released a few months after Band Of Gypsys) as long as I have this one.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m generally not a fan of live albums for a variety of reasons. Band of Gypsys avoids the usual pitfalls and really works for me.

Greg Schwepe: So, I saw this album in the CD racks (yes, the CD age, not vinyl!) long before I bought it. While obviously knowing who Jimi Hendrix was (had vinyl copy of Smash Hits in High School), I didn’t know the details of all his catalogue then. I knew it was a live album, but I still had a lot of questions; “Where’s Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell? Why don’t I recognise any of these songs? Why is it not called the Jimi Hendrix Experience?” Questions, and more questions!

And you know how some groups had certain albums in their catalogue that were always sold at a discount price? These had “THE NICE PRICE” stickers on them and were usually $4.99 or so. Well, this was the Jimi Hendrix album that was always cheap, so I finally snagged it.

In listening to this live album, I really took a liking to it. Among the many live Hendrix albums I have, this is one of my top three live “go-to” albums. And then finally found out the genesis of it; contractual obligation album with two new bandmates. Ahh, got it!

Basically, you have five funky grooves and one monster guitar shriek-fest with Machine Gun, detailing the horrors of the Vietnam war. An amazing 12 minutes and 40 seconds of sounds that evoke a grim mood and vibe.

Power To Love has become one of my top five Hendrix songs. For me it just has this unique groove that I can listen to over and over. Message To Love follows it and has more of the same.

I think one of the reasons I like this album is that that for me, it’s something I can put on and it’s not too “in your face.” I don’t want to call it “background music” but I can listen to it while working and it doesn’t disrupt my thought process. Kind of hard to explain.

As much as I like the small catalogue of Hendrix’s studio albums, at times I get into moods where I will just listen to his live albums. Always been a live album fan, and I guess I like the live sound of a power trio.

I’m sure this album will get a mixed bag of reviews. But I see it as an artist doing a little exploring just to see where it would lead him. 8 out of 10. And if after reading all these reviews, you decided you want even more, check out Songs For Groovy Children; The Fillmore East Concerts. A full 5 hours and 40 minutes of Hendrix, Cox, and Miles.

John Davidson: Sadly, even Hendrix can't make extended blues funk jams consistently entertaining. Doubtless a brilliant and pioneering guitarist but a mediocre singer and an inconsistent songwriter.

Don't get me wrong he produced some classics. Just not convinced any are on this album. Being there, in the Fillmore, almost certainly in a fuggy haze of exotic smoke would have been awesome, but it's hard to transfer that into a record

Gary Claydon: It's easy to overlook just how significant the Band of Gypsys album was in the Jimi Hendrix story. The band was put together at a pretty chaotic juncture for Hendrix. Financially crippled by the construction of Electric Ladyland studios, facing charges on a drugs bust, seemingly being ripped off by management and with his previous band having fallen apart, Hendrix was also faced with the task of having to put out an album to meet contractual obligations. 

It would turn out to be his last ever album release. In addition, if you discount the Historic Performances LP, recorded at Moneterey and split with Otis Redding, plus some tracks on the Woodstock soundtrack, Band Of Gypsys was the only live Hendrix album released during his lifetime. So an important album then but is it a good one?

Well, no, not really. More 'OK' than good but with one obvious exception. Even the man himself would later say it wasn't particularly good. Recorded, literally, at the end of the 60s, it marked a move away from the heavier, psychedelic material of The Experience into funkier, more bluesy pastures. The band had only been put together a couple of months before and the lack of preparation shows. 

The recording itself sounds a bit gnarly. Buddy Miles is too intrusive, both with his drumming, which is annoyingly plodding at times and his vocals. Billy Cox is capable but unremarkable on bass duties. The whole thing never really gels. Message To Love is nicely done but, for the most part, Band Of Gypsys is an extended jam session that drags its feet, as these things tend to do. Great when you're there and, err, suitably relaxed, not so much when you stick it on your stereo.

With that one exception: the magnificent Machine Gun. Hendrix's most politically charged song and a driving performance that explores the (then) sonic limits of guitar and amp to stunning effect. The rhythm section also do a sterling job here, with Miles' rat-a-tat snare drumming complementing Jimi nicely.

Not a great album then but, in all honesty, everybody should own a copy of Band Of Gypsys for Machine Gun alone.

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Final Score: 8.20 (129 votes cast, total score 1058)

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