Buddy Miles (1947-2008)

29. 2. 2008 | Rubriky: Articles,Lives

[by Ken Hunt, London] Buddy Miles was best known as a powerhouse drummer, most famously for his work with Jimi Hendrix on Band of Gypsys – the ensemble with bassist Billy Cox – that followed the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was a short-lived band and the 1970 album, drawing on a New Year’s live set recorded on the cusp of 1969-1970, polarised opinion. The memory most people will have of him was his sound-turned-machine drumming on Machine Gun on Band of Gypsys. Thanks to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the sound of helicopter rotor blades may have eclipsed the stutter of machine guns in people’s Vietnam soundtrack but there was once a time when the machine gun was the sonic image of modern warfare – however it was used, for instance as it appeared in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. Fittingly yet sadly, the Band of Gypsys got mired in the race debate and politics of the day. Rock was still largely a white or mixed-race (Love) affair and who imagined an all-black rock group?

Even though Buddy Miles may be forever linked as a sideman, whether for Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Muddy Waters or John McLaughlin, in people’s minds (or ultimately turn out to viewed that way), he had a long career in music that denied that reductive statement. He was also a singer and songwriter (Band of Gypsys included his Them Changes and We Got to Live Together) and bandleader. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that he was the voice of California Raisins. These were animated clay (‘Claymation’) figures that sold dried fruit at the end of the 1980s in television advertising campaigns. Certainly the adverts were run in the United States and Great Britain – and presumably wherever there was a taste for plasticine turned currant. Or vice versa.

Buddy Miles had worked his way up through the music business from playing with his father’s jazz combo, session and live work with R&B groups and acts, including one of the hottest US soul acts, Wilson Pickett. In 1967 Mike Bloomfield, the Paul Butterfield Band alumnus, invited him to join a new band they were putting together with the master plan of melding blues, rock and soul. He accepted and joined Electric Flag, staying for three albums until leaving to form his own Buddy Miles Express. The same year as founding that group – 1968 – he contributed to the sessions for Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland (1968). The Buddy Miles Express re-formed in the mid 1970s but Miles himself did not reform, winding up with convictions that earned him prison time in Chino and San Quentin (of Johnny Cash guest appearance fame).

On his release in 1985, he joined Carlos Santana and soon after he landed the job as lead singer for a set of infuriatingly infectious television adverts for the California Raisin Advisory Board, then set on world domination. He was the Voice of Billy Raisin singing Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Like these improbable things do, it led to a massive-selling offshoot (all puns intended) album over which we shall lightly skip – or tread – of covered oldies.

Buddy Miles was born on 5 September 1947 in Omaha. He died on 26 February 2008 at his home in Austin, Texas.

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