Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buddy Miles; Tracing R&B History

Buddy Miles's death was reported today in the NY Times and with him an important part of R&B history is closed for good. To trace Buddy's career is almost like tracing the history of R&B. Like all great R&B performers of the sixties and seventies, Miles had a solid foundation that was steeped in Doo Wop. Miles built his skill backing numerous acts on the chitlin circuit and in the studio, on vocals. Something often overlooked. Miles is mentioned in various biographies as the one who lend his pipes to the likes of the Inkspots and the Delfonics. Sweet harmonizing groups, where the instrumentation was an after thought. In Doo Wop the singers were both bass, drums, percussion and melody. Later in his career Miles would become best known for his drumming of course. But I think his harmonic schooling that laid the foundation for his entire career. While touring with the Wislon Picket revue, Buddy was discovered by Mike Bloomfield, who included him in his Electric Flag. A rather odd outfit playing Big Band Blues with a pinch of Jazz and Fusion. After recording a sound track for a psychedelic film, "The Trip" and one decent album "Long Time Comin'" the band quickly fell apart. Buddy picked up after that by forming the Buddy Miles Express which had its first album produced by one Jimi Hendrix.

Most people will know Buddy best for his work with Jimi Hendrix. The pair had met on the chitlin circuit years before Hendrix started his successful career with the Experience from England. Their best known work together is the stellar live album "Band Of Gypsys" recorded on New Year's eve 1969 at the Filmore. By that time the Experience was falling apart and Hendrix started using Miles on some key tracks for his "First Rays Of The New Rising Sun" project. The inclusion of Miles in the band has been subject to a lot of speculation. From the black community Hendrix was as much criticized as he was influential. Hendrix made his mark on Funk through his influence on Eddie Hazel and Ernie Isley but was often seen as too white because of his association to the Experience and his popularity amongst mostly white audiences. Especially in the quickly radicalizing atmosphere after Martin Luther King's death. Some have seen the inclusion of Buddy Miles in his Band of Gypsys as a move to broaden his audience by showing color. This is however much debatable. Author's on Hendrix often point out that he refused to align himself along racial lines and if he did he was prone to stress his native American heritage. Funnily enough Buddy's studio work with Hendrix wasn't even all that funky. The most notable recordings were the loose rockers, "Room Full Of Mirrors" and "Ezy Rider". Mitch Mitchell was still on drums on the decidedly more funky tracks like "Dolly Dagger".

Though Buddy's work with Hendrix and his own work with the Buddy Miles express was moving away from traditional R&B to something that was closer to Rock or Fusion, there has always been that undeniable Doo Wop influence. Unlike many Fusion artists Miles never lost his sense of harmony, of coherence. Even though his work was marked by a remarkable creative freedom, with alternating success, Miles understood the importance of melody. Where other Fusion drummers would sometimes loose themselves in rhythmic masturbation, Miles always kept his eye on the tune. Buddy pushed and stretched the principles he was taught while performing with the Delfonics but he never really abandoned them. Miles was at the same time a relentless straight forward Funk drummer as he was a free spirit. This might explain his broad appreciation. After his work with Hendrix, Buddy became a much welcomed sparring partner for many musicians ranging from Clapton to Santana, from Umar Bin Hassan (from the Last Poets) to Nils Lofgren. Though Miles was never as prominently visible as Hendrix was he became almost as influential and was an integral part of the history of "black" music, or rather music period. Buddy became 60 years old. He will be missed.

"Room Full Of Mirrors" - Jimi Hendrix
"Them Changes" - Buddy Miles

1 comment:

Deddboy said...

wow....that was a pretty cool blog. i was luicky enough to spend Buudys 60th with him in san diego. i was his P.A. for that trip. just wanted to say thank yuo for the blog - shawn