February, 26, 2008 – George Allen ”Buddy” Miles, Jr. (Band of Gypsies) was born on September 5, 1947 in Omaha, Nebraska. Buddy’s father played upright bass for the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Dexter Gordon and by age 12, Miles Jr. had joined Miles Sr. in his touring band, The Bebops. In 1964, at the age of 16, Miles met Jimi Hendrix at a show in Montreal, Canada, where both were performing as sidemen for other artists.
“He was playing in the Isley Brothers band and I was with Ruby & The Romantics,” Miles remembered, adding: “He had his hair in a pony-tail with long sideburns. Even though he was shy, I could tell this guy was different. He looked rather strange, because everybody was wearing uniforms and he was eating his guitar, doing flip-flops and wearing chains.”
Then in 1967, Miles joined Hendrix in a jam session at the Malibu home of Stephen Stills. In that same year, Miles moved to Chicago where he teamed with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and vocalist Nick Gravenites to form The Electric Flag, a blues/soul/rock band. In addition to playing drums, Miles sometimes sang lead vocals for the band, which made its live debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in mid-1967.
In early 1968, the band released A Long Time Comin’, its first album for Columbia. The Electric Flag’s second album, An American Music Band, followed late the same year. Hendrix occasionally joined Electric Flag on stage and Miles took part in the sessions for the Electric Ladyland album. Miles played drums on one long jam that was eventually split into two album cuts, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”, with a different song, “1983 a Merman I Should Turn To Be”, edited in between. Shortly after that release, though, the group disbanded. After the breakup of The Electric Flag, 21 year old Miles put together a new band with Jim McCarty, who later became the guitarist for Cactus. This new group performed and recorded as the Buddy Miles Express. In 1969, Hendrix wrote a short poem as a liner note for Expressway To Your Skull, the first studio album recorded by the Buddy Miles Express. Hendrix went on to produce four of the tracks on the group’s follow-up album, Electric Church. The title of the latter LP was taken from Hendrix’s poem on the first.
A powerful drummer and a soulful singer, Miles worked with influential guitarists: Mike Bloomfield, in 1969 he recorded an album with John McLaughlin “Devotion”and in 1972, he teamed up with Carlos Santana, most famously on the Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! album. But his collaborations with Jimi Hendrix in 1969 and 1970 are the most memorable ones.
Following Hendrix’s meteoric rise over the previous two years, the scene around him had got pretty heavy, and both his bassist Noel Redding and Mitchell eventually left, the latter after appearing at Woodstock. There were changes in the management set-up too, with Jeffery and the producer Alan Douglas vying for control of Hendrix’s career. In October 1969, Hendrix put together the Band of Gypsys with Miles and Cox.
“Jimi was not happy,” said Miles. “He felt powerless. He couldn’t do what he wanted to do.”
Hendrix and his managers had also been involved in a legal dispute with the producer Ed Chalpin, and he was ordered to deliver an album as a final settlement in 1969. As work in the studio dragged on, the Band of Gypsys decided to play and record four shows at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969, and on New Year’s Day 1970. “I’ll never forget our first set,” said Miles: Jimi tried to come out and be real modest, but when we jammed for about three or four hours, you could see this whole thing building up and, when we hit “Wild Thing”, all hell broke loose. Jimi started bending and squatting, and picking his guitar with his teeth, and the audience went nuts.”
Jeffery was suspicious of the friendship between Hendrix and Miles and eventually fired the drummer at the end of January 1970, after a disastrous concert at Madison Square Garden. “Jeffery slipped him [Hendrix] two half-tabs of acid on stage as he went on,” said Miles. “He just freaked out. I told Jeffery he was an out-and-out complete idiot and a fucking asshole to boot. One of the biggest reasons why Jimi is dead is because of that guy.”
Issued in May 1970, Band of Gypsys made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and spent over a year in the US charts, accruing more sales after Hendrix’s death that September. After Jimi’s passing, Miles worked with Santana, re-united several times as the Band of Gypsies in the 1970s and various reincarnations of the Buddy Miles Band.
In late 1984 and early 1985 while living in a halfway house in Oakland, California, Miles commuted almost every single day to Marin County to collaborate with a handful of musicians and songwriters at the Ice House Studios in San Rafael. The list of collaborators included David Jenkins of Pablo Cruise, Pat Craig and Dave Carlson with Tazmanian Devils, Robbie Long, Bill Craig, Tony Marty, Tony Saunders and Drew Youngs. First recorded as a demo, the result was an album’s worth of material. The project was soon moved to the Record Plant in Sausalito, where Jim Gaines of Huey Lewis and the News fame came in to take over production chores.
The group produced over 15 songs ranging from funky, soulful grooves to R&B ballads. One cut, “When The Train Leaves the Station”, featured solos by both Carlos Santana and Neal Schon from Journey. “Anna”, the title song of the proposed album, helped Miles land his next recording job with the California Raisins. However, during the album’s production, the Record Plant was seized by the United States Government when its owner was indicted on drug trafficking charges. The musicians and employees working there began calling the studio “Club Fed”; hence the name “The Club Fed Sessions”. Unfortunately, the album was never released, and the masters remain in the can, in the hands of Miles’ former manager. Years later, Pat Craig digitized some of the mixes and has been known to offer the album from time to time on eBay as a collector’s item under the title Buddy and Me. The songs included on the tracklist were “Anna”, “Forever in a Moment”, “Tonight”, “Next to You” and “This Could Be An Everlasting Love”.
In 1986, Miles performed vocals for the “California Raisins” claymation ad campaign, most notably singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, and also performed lead vocals on two California Raisins albums featuring 1960s R&B covers. In 1986 and 1987, he rejoined Carlos Santana as a vocalist on Santana’s album Freedom. In 1987–1988, Miles moved to Southern California and formed the lineup of Marlo Henderson on guitar, Derek Sherinian on keyboards, and Michael BeHolden on bass. The band toured the California coast, then eventually did a tour of the Chitlin’ Circuit in the deep south before disbanding in early 1989.
From 1994 to 2007, Buddy Miles formulated his new version of the Buddy Miles Express in the New York City area, with Charlie Torres on bass guitar and vocals, Rod Kohn on guitar and vocals, the then-longest-standing Buddy Miles Express member and band leader Mark “Muggie Doo” Leach on Hammond B3, background vocals, and keyboards, and Kenn Moutenot on drums and vocals and handling management. They toured nearly nonstop in the United States and overseas, with nearly one thousand concerts and festivals to their credit.
In 1996, he also sat in with rock band Phish at Madison Square Garden.
Miles’s drumming is featured on many posthumous Hendrix albums. He often performed the guitarist’s material at tribute concerts and for documentaries. Asked how he would like to be remembered, Miles, whose flamboyant dress sense often matched Hendrix’s, simply said: “The baddest of the bad. People say I’m the baddest drummer. If that’s true, thank you world.”
Buddy Miles was 60 years old when he died on 26 February 2008 from congestive heart failure.