Band of Gypsies, by Jimi Hendrix
Suggested by Simon Rodway
I’m surprised I’ve got this far without encountering Jimi Hendrix.
I’ve an affinity for this legendary guitarist that goes beyond his music. As a founder member of the infamous 27 Club (a collection of great musicians that met untimely ends at the age of twenty-seven), his petulant spirit is one of the central characters of the comic novel that I’ve been pretending to write for the past decade. This project was in part a creative call-to-arms to formulise a writing schedule that’d hopefully propel me past the “constantly rewrite the first chapter” stage, so fingers crossed there.
While yer man Jimi is a bonefide legend, I’m no particular fan of his playing. Sure, I know the supersongs, like Voodoo Chile, Purple Haze, Hey Joe. And bsck in Badger, we did a mean version of Foxy Lady that was ridiculously fun to play. Other then that, I draw a blank. He did the Star Spangled Banner, yeah? With his teeth on fire, or something?
When the Randomiser coughed up Band of Gypsies, I was genuinely thrilled. Not because I’d heard of the album – I hadn’t – but because it’s Hendrix, man. A classic. This was the project, back at the start. A chance to plug the gaps in my knowledge, catch up with the greats.
Unfortunately, Band of Gypsies is not that kind of album. After listening, I feel largely unfulfilled.
Band of Gypsies is a live album. It’s Jimi’s first without his backing band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and it’s his final release before his death some nine months after recording. These facts make it a key piece of the Hendrix canon, but as a standalone work I never quite electrifies.
The album is made up of six recordings, each a guitaring masterclass of sorts, and each based on the central conceit of rocking riffs over a rhythm and blues and funk core. Allegedly, it’s the nucleus of funk rock, a style that has brought me so much pleasure through the years. Unfortunately, it’s also painfully obvious that the songs on offer all sprang from the more flatulent noodling jam sessions imaginable, and as such each track wobbles and bobbles with excess weight that they mage as well be performing in It’s A Knockout.
The vocals are badly recorded and entirely incidental to the songs, and there’s a ton of self-indulgence to be sifted through to find the kernels of interest. Additionally, the drums are slightly strange in a way I’m having difficulty vocalising… you’ll just have to trust me on that one. Songs of some merit include the somewhat rambling Machine Gun, and my personal standout, the rapid fire Message to Love.
This album is for fans of Jimi Hendrix to complete their collection. It’s not an album for anyone looking to be introduced to the man, as while it’s undoubtedly a virtuoso performance it’s hardly a memorable or exciting one. Band of Gypsies gets a generous 5/10, as it never cashes the cheque written by the star-power of its named artiste.