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Buddy Miles, Drummer for Hendrix, Dead at 60

Buddy Miles, the powerhouse drummer best known for his brief stint as one-third of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, died Feb. 26 in Austin. The cause of death was congestive heart failure. Miles was 60.

Born George Miles on Sept. 5, 1947, in Omaha, Neb., his first significant gig was playing drums in the Bebops, a band led by his bassist father, George Sr. As a teenager Buddy Miles (pictured here with Hendrix) played with a number of well-known jazz and R&B acts, such as the Ink Spots, Ruby & the Romantics and the Delfonics. He began drumming for R&B great Wilson Pickett in 1966 and the following year was tapped by blues-rock guitarist Michael Bloomfield, who had recently left the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Bloomfield recruited Miles to anchor a new horn-centered band called the Electric Flag, which made its debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. The band recorded one highly regarded album for Columbia in 1968, with Miles also singing some numbers, but that same year Bloomfield departed. Miles kept the group going for one further album before going on to form his own Buddy Miles Express, which released its debut album, Expressway to Your Skull, in 1968. A followup titled Electric Church came out in 1969, notable mostly because it was produced by Hendrix, whom Miles had met earlier in Canada when both musicians were still working as sidemen. Miles also contributed to Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland album in 1968.

Hendrix called upon Miles, along with bassist Billy Cox, to join him in a new trio after the guitarist dissolved his group the Experience in mid-1969. Performing newly written music, less showy and more blues-rooted than that of the Experience, the Band of Gypsys recorded a live album at New York’s Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969-70, which ultimately became one of the gems of the Hendrix discography. Simply titled Band of Gypsys, its influence was vast-Miles Davis was one artist who was said to have been impacted by it. Whether Band of Gypsys would have continued remains an unknown as Hendrix died in September 1970.

Buddy Miles recorded his debut solo album, Them Changes, in 1970, its title taken from a track he’d contributed to the Band of Gypsys album. The song, which also appeared on the solo effort, became something of a signature for him throughout his career. With his flamboyant manner of dress, oversized build and equally oversized Afro, Miles retained a modicum of popularity during the early ’70s, but he never regained the high profile he’d enjoyed with Hendrix and the Electric Flag. Among others, he recorded with Stevie Wonder, John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana (their union produced a 1972 live album), Bootsy Collins, Barry White, David Bowie and George Clinton. An Electric Flag reunion album in 1974 was not well received. Miles recorded and produced the ubiquitous California Raisins commercials in the late 1980s, and was later involved in other commercials. A 2002 blues album, Blues Berries, received some positive reviews.

Originally Published