On the 31st December 1969, a new Hendrix group would take to the stage for the first time at the legendary Fillmore East venue in New York City. Often referred to as Band Of Gypsys, the band consisted of Billy Cox on bass, Buddy Miles on drums and Jimi Hendrix on guitar. It had been over six months since the end of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Band Of Gypsys took Hendrix’s music in a new direction, mainly down to the different musical techniques of his two new band mates. The songs were funky and contained grooves that roamed around the auditorium. New songs were debuted with one in particular leaving a lasting impression that remains to this day. It could only happen at Fillmore East and it could only have been Hendrix.
“On bass, Mr Billy Cox. On drums, Mr Buddy Miles. On lead guitar, Mr Jimi Hendrix. The Fillmore is proud to welcome back some very old friends with a brand new name. Jimi Hendrix and a Band Of Gypsys!”
December 31st 1969: First Night (Wednesday)
- Power Of Soul
- Lover Man
- Hear My Train A Comin’
- Them Changes
- Machine Gun
- Ezy Rider
- Bleeding Heart
- Earth Blues
- Burning Desire
After the band is introduced to the audience they launch into Power Of Soul which gives those listening the first taste of the new direction that Hendrix was heading in at this point. The drums are effortlessly simple yet it’s the bass and guitar which really drive the song forward and the same can be said for the second song, Lover Man. Both opening songs are fast paced and you can only imagine what it would have been like in the venue when these two were performed live. Very much a “hold on to your hats” experience. The Gypsys then slow things down with a fantastic rendition of Hear My Train A Comin’ but if you think slow means laid back then you are mistaken because Hendrix really takes off in the solo sections with enough feedback and power to last any music fan a lifetime. Next up is the Buddy Miles song, Them Changes, which is often considered one of the highlights from the Fillmore East shows. Miles takes charge of lead vocal duties which enables Hendrix to sit back into the groove and supply some tasty wah-wah licks from start to finish. Absolutely divine!
Izabella is the fifth song and ended up being the shortest song performed during this early set at Fillmore East. The song opens with that beautiful and now famous riff before drums and then the bass come in for the main riff. Exquisite playing by Hendrix on this particular number with the band as tight as a ducks arse from the very start. Definitely a highlight from the entire set although it pales in comparison to what would come next, Machine Gun, which is arguably one of Hendrix’s most famous live songs. The version that featured on the live album is taken from the third Fillmore East show (New Years Day, early show) but it was played at each show during the New Year run. Machine Gun itself debuted in September 1969 when Hendrix, along with Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox, played it on The Dick Cavett Show. This version is available to view online although it contains none of the explosiveness of the live performance played at Fillmore East and even though this version played during the early set on New Year’s Eve isn’t the definitive version everyone knows, it still packs one hell of a punch. The feedback that Hendrix creates while he roams the fretboard is astronomical as if he’s deliberately trying to reach into outer space. Fantastic, plus, it’s the first time the song was performed in concert.
Stop follows (or at least tries to) and features Buddy Miles on lead vocals, while Hendrix is allowed to do his thing with a tasty solo midway through the performance. Sadly the solo is probably the most notable moment of an otherwise forgettable song, not that it wasn’t enjoyable to listen to. But any song immediately after Machine Gun is going to struggle to gain attention unless it’s equally as fantastic, which sadly it isn’t. Thankfully the band then turn to Ezy Rider which is a song Hendrix debuted earlier in the year at Olympic Studios but this performance, like Machine Gun, is the first time he ever played it live. The energy level returns to what you’d expect a Hendrix concert to be after Stop, with all three guys on fine form. There are certain songs you listen to and know instantly the band had fun playing them and this is certainly one example of that, without a doubt. The song builds and builds until it cuts out with the audience roaring their appreciation from the rocking auditorium.
Steven Newman (Audience Member)
“What I remember was that at the time Jimi was catching a lot of flack for being a flashy guitarist with no substance. This truly drove him nuts at the time and what I remember the most about that show was Jimi standing in one place the entire concert. Not moving a muscle except to play the guitar. He was getting sounds out of that guitar that were mind boggling. And the entire show he just stood there and played the guitar. He only played new stuff at the early show and didn’t play one song anyone heard at the time. The late show he did some old tunes. I remember leaving the theatre with my jaw agape.”
John Koons (Audience Member)
“Beside my personal recollection which is somewhat unique it was an amazing show. The only other unique thing I can remember is that Buddy Miles’ drumsticks resembled those souvenir bats they used to give kids at Shea.”
Martin Kahn (Audience Member)
“To be honest I (as were many others) was under the influence of hallucinogens. I do not recall which night I went. I can hear the music and I can feel the bass. I am a musician and I was concentrated on the music and between listening intently and being impaired (or ENLIGHTENED) I do not recall the visual portion.”
Bleeding Heart, an Elmore James cover, lights up the auditorium but in a different way. The slow blues radiates from Hendrix’s Stratocaster, drawing the audience in from the very reaches of the venue. From a personal point of view this is probably my favourite song of the set, you cannot beat a slow blues performed by Jimi Hendrix and this one is no exception. It’s quickly followed by Earth Blues which continues in the same vein as the majority of songs before it, fantastic guitar playing and wonderful musicianship between the three guys gracing the stage at Fillmore East. The next, and sadly final song, is Burning Desire. As far as bringing an end to a set goes this is pretty incredible and loose, encapsulating everything great about each song that came before it. Loose playing, roaring solo sections, groovy riffs, tempo changes. Jimi Hendrix at his finest and an excellent end to what would be the first of four incredible shows at Fillmore East.