The late Buddy Miles was the definition of a “musician’s musician.” Though he’s thoroughly revered by his fellow artists, the casual music fan may not know him by name—but they’ll know virtually every name on the extensive list of artists who sought him out to play with their respective bands. Over the years, Miles recorded and gigged with the likes of Wilson Pickett, Mike Bloomfield, Stephen Stills, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Neal Schon, Bootsy Collins, and even the California Raisins—the TV commercial-turned-R&B band he led in the late 1980s.
The California Raisins – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” [Music Video]
[Video: Michael D.]
Despite the length and star power of Miles’ resume of collaborations as stated above, that list only scratches the surface of his lasting musical legacy. He is perhaps best known as one-third of Band of Gypsys, the power trio convened by guitar icon Jimi Hendrix in 1970 as the replacement for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the vehicle with which Jimi presumed to forge a new path for his career as it stretched into the ’70s.
Of course, things would not turn out as planned. The band made their live debut at The Fillmore East for a two-night, four-show run over New Year’s ’69-70, where they planned to record an album that would fulfill his obligations to a former manager and allow Hendrix the freedom to move forward with his music unshackled. While fans were unsure what to expect from this new-look Hendrix group, the shows were a huge success. Portions of the live recordings were released as the band’s critically-acclaimed self-titled debut album.
After the Fillmore run, the Band of Gypsys would play just one more show (at the Winter Festival For Peace in 1970) before disbanding due to Hendrix’s increasingly untenable drug abuse. By the end of that year, Hendrix had passed away. Band of Gypsys was his final record. Listen to the Band of Gypsys’ official album recording of Buddy Miles singing “Changes” from the fourth Fillmore show below:
Band of Gypsys – “Changes”
All of this history was starkly apparent on 10/22/96, when Miles and former Jerry Garcia collaborator Merl Saunders joined Phish at Madison Square Garden for an encore performance of “All Along The Watchtower,” written by Bob Dylan, popularized by Hendrix, and covered and interpreted by damn near every musician you listen to. While Band of Gypsys never actually performed the tune, Phish used Miles’ presence as a learning opportunity, following his lead and channeling the Band of Gypsys sound.
Below, you can watch incredible backstage footage of Miles and Merl Saunders from the performance, in which Miles talks about his time with Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox in Band of Gypsys and his appreciation for Phish’s innocent, sincere musical sensibilities before teaching the band the finer points of “Watchtower” in pre-show rehearsals at the Garden, via Lawrence Blumenstein. All six parts of the backstage video are available here.
Buddy Miles & Merl Saunders Backstage w/ Phish at Madison Square Garden
You can also watch footage of Buddy Miles and Merl Saunders joining Phish for “All Along The Watchtower” at Madison Square Garden below, via FieryBill:
Phish w/ Buddy Miles, Merl Saunders – “All Along the Watchtower”
Happy birthday, Buddy Miles! The music world will never forget you and all your countless contributions.
[Originally published 9/5/17]