It was sad news this weekend to hear of passing of legendary funk/rock drummer Buddy Miles, who died in Texas at the age of 60 after suffering from congestive heart failure. A versatile songwriter, vocalist, and collaborator, he was probably most famous his brief stint with Jimi Hendrix in the Band of Gypsys. and his fuzzed-out hit “Them Changes” (a favorite on the set list with the Stiff Joints).
Miles started playing drums in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, when he was nine years-old. His musical career spanned over 40 years, and included over 40 albums, six world tours, television specials, and TV commercials (remember the “California Raisins?”). He has performed with many of the biggest names in music during his career as a singer, drummer and band leader.Miles got his start in music performing with his father’s band, The Bebops, at the age of 12, and played drums for the jazz-influenced combo for several years. He went on to play in numerous jazz and R&B groups and worked with Wilson Pickett.In 1967, the drummer was approached by guitarist Mike Bloomfield and asked to join the newly-formed blues-rock band, The Electric Flag
. Miles later referred to it as “the best band I ever played in.” A year later, he formed The Buddy Miles Express, recording several successful albums, including Expressway To Your Skull
and Electric Church
, which was produced by Jimi Hendrix. Buddy toured non-stop, opening for such acts as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, as well as headlining concert halls all over the world. Buddy was also asked to play on many classic albums such as Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland
and Muddy Waters’ Fathers And Sons
In 1969, Miles and Hendrix formed the power trio Band Of Gypsys, along with bassist Billy Cox. They recorded only one album, Band Of Gypsys/Live At The Fillmore East
, before Hendrix’s untimely death.Miles soon reformed the Buddy Miles Express and recorded the successful album, Them Changes
, which lasted an impressive 74 weeks on the Billboard
Album Chart. This album spawned several hit singles such as the soulful, fuzz bass-driven title track and a version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River.”
He recorded a live album with Carlos Santana in 1974 and in 1979 began a four-year stint as the lead singer for the group. Over the years, Miles has also recorded and performed with Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, John McLaughlin, Phish, and Bootsy Collins. 1997 saw the release of The Best Of Buddy Miles
on Mercury Records. The collection’s sleeve featured the classic photograph of Miles posing with his custom-painted Rogers drum kit from the Them Changes
I had the opportunity to interview Miles for a magazine in 2000, when he and his band were touring behind an album titled Miles Away From Home
(Hip-O/Universal) — a solid, smooth-rockin’ soul album, and his first record of new material since 1994. Here’s an excerpt of that Q&A:How did you first become involved in music?
Buddy Miles: My dad, George A. Miles, Sr., had a lot of influence over me at the time, even when I was very young. He was a jazz musician, and I’m lucky to have had that around me at the time.What music drew you in as a teenager learning how to play and write songs?
Buddy Miles: Soul music, bebop band, organ trios, that kind of thing. I started out first by learning to play bebop, and that involved a lot of R&B overtones and influences and blues as well. The rock ’n’ roll didn’t come in until the middle ’60s.Tell us about that groovy-looking drum kit on the cover of
Buddy Miles: That’s a pre-CBS Rogers drum kit. Five-piece. I think I was one of the first in pop music to design drum kits like that.Right after that album, you joined the Band Of Gypsys with Billy Cox and Jimi Hendrix. That’s when the world really took notice of your drumming skills, right?
Buddy Miles: A lot of people have given me personal high praise as a drummer from my work with Hendrix — and that’s not to exclude Mitch Mitchell, because I think he’s a hell of a drummer and did a hell of a job with the Jimi Hendrix Experience — but by comparison, it is different worlds. There’s a lot of great musicianship in both bands.The band broke up very soon after that big Fillmore East gig: what happened?
Buddy Miles: The public was led to believe that it broke up because I was uncooperative and this and that. As far as I’m concerned, the live album we did speaks for itself. It’s one of the most popular live rock albums ever made.That was a great album and one that allowed you to stretch out as a drummer and vocalist. When you started singing, did it take a while to learn how to write lyrics and arrange songs?
Buddy Miles: It all worked hand in hand together.It must have been an incredible shock when Hendrix passed away soon after.
Buddy Miles: That effected me very emotionally and very deeply. To this day, I miss him as a true soul brother.Who were some of your favorite musicians early on?
Buddy Miles: Oh, I had a very diverse taste in drummers. Buddy Rich was a mentor. I loved Louie Bellson, Grady Tate, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, John Bonham, Roger Hawkins from Muscle Shoals … there were so many. I was fond of anybody who had a great sense of creativity.How about singers?
Buddy Miles When I first started? Oh God, everybody. My favorite was Otis Redding without a doubt. I listened to Sam Cook and Benny King, Chuck Jackson, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett — even before I started playing with him. And a lot of white soul singers like the Righteous Brothers and Gregg Allman. Anyone who was purely and tastefully soulful.How were those years playing with, or rather, for Carlos Santana?
Buddy Miles: I wasn’t totally into everything Carlos was doing, but I have the ultimate respect for anyone who is bold and brave enough to experiment with their music. Let’s face it, everyone doesn’t always get into a situation where they can do that. Carlos and I have had differences of opinion, but I happen to love the man and I’m very proud of him and especially his latest success. I wish him nothing but the best.How has popular music changed the most?
Buddy Miles: Despite all the different formats of today, when it comes down to it, it’s got to be a song that has a melodic structure and a good groove. That’s what I define as a hit.There always seems to be a refreshingly positive vibe in new and old. Does that reflect a lot of your life story?
Buddy Miles: I try my best to get that type of positive attitude and message in my music as much as I can. I try to keep it emotional and sensitive.Do you still play “traditional grip” style on the drums?
Buddy Miles: Oh sure, yeah. I’m still an O.G. when it comes to that! Playing delicately comes with time and experience. I’m playing guitar and singing a lot, too.And drums on stage?
Buddy Miles: Oh, of course! That’s my bread and butter! I don’t have these big feet for nothing!