The great Buddy Miles is surely one of the most influential funk and rock drummers of all time. An incredibly dexterous musician, inventive composer and versatile collaborator, Miles is best known for his work with Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox in Band Of Gypsys.
However, he also had an illustrious solo career, which saw him release some of the most refreshing rock fusion records of the 1970s. Blending funk, soul, jazz, and rock, Miles was an inspiration to his contemporaries and continues to inspire ambitious young players to this day.
George Allen Miles Jr was born in Omaha, Nebraska, where his father had established himself as one of the best jazz bassists working the Bebop scene, having played with the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Buddy started playing drums at a young age and showed prodigious talent. His father, George Miles Sr., let his son sit in during band rehearsals, offering him an important lesson on how to play with a group of musicians. A few years later, Buddy was playing with his father’s band, The BeBops, on a regular basis.
. After honing his natural skill with The BeBops and earning the recognition of other performers in Nebraska, Buddy began performing with a variety of soul, jazz and R&B groups, quickly establishing himself as a professional musician in his own right. Still only a teenager, he would spend the next few years performing with a dizzying variety of groups. It is here that our journey begins.
The ultimate beginner’s guide to Buddy Miles
‘Groovin Is Easy’ – Electric Flag (1967)
After performing with a variety of bands in his adolescence including Wilson Pickett, The Delfonics, and Ruby and The Romantics, Buddy Miles moved to Chicago, where he met guitarist Mike Bloomfield and vocalist Nick Gravenistes, forming Electric Flag in 1967. The group make their live debut in the Monterey Pop Festival that same year, and, in 1968, released A Long Time Comin’ on Columbia Records.
While the best-known track from that album is probably ‘Killing Floor, it is ‘Groovin Is Easy’ which really demonstrates Miles’ skill as a drummer.
‘Still Rainin’ Still Dreaming’ – Jimi Hendrix (1968)
The same year, Buddy Miles formed Electric Flag he was invited for a jam session with Jimi Hendrix at Stephen Stills’ Malibu home. While Electric Flag were recording A Long Time Comin‘, Mills was also working with Hendrix on his Electric Ladyland album, contributing drums to two tracks on the LP, including ‘Still Raining, Still Dreaming’ and ‘Rainy Day, Dream Away’.
The song was originally one long jam, which was then split into two separate tracks. Here, we hear Miles at the tail end of this furious, groove-laden jam.
‘Them Changes’ – Buddy Miles (1970)
By the ’70s, Buddy Miles was working under his own name, first with The Buddy Miles Express and then with The Buddy Miles Band, who, in 1970, recorded his incredible album, ‘Them Changes’. Some of the tracks on the LP had already been written and recorded while Miles was drumming for Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys.
One of these was the titular ‘Them Changes’, which went on to become one of Miles’ biggest hits and still stands up as some of his finest work. It was recorded shortly after Miles heard of Hendrix’s death at the age of 27.
‘L.A Ressurection’ – The Buddy Miles Band (1973)
In 1973, Miles recorded another solo album, this time with The Gun’s Adrian Gurvitz. Chapter VII, with its opening track L.A Ressurection’ is a serpentine, soul-infused jewel of a thing, blending the soaring guitar lines Miles had developed a taste for during his time with Jimi Hendrix with elements of Afrobeat and cosmic-funk.
Miles drums absolutely make this track, underpinning twinkling keys, throbbing Hammond organ and an uproarious horn section.
‘Down By The River’ – Buddy Miles (2002)
After serving a couple of prison sentences for grand theft and auto theft in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Buddy Miles returned to the world of music in 1984. After a failed project forced him to consider other sources of income, Miles became the drummer for The California Raisins claymation ad campaign, recording covers such as ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, for which he contributed vocals.
After a lull in the 1990s, Miles emerged in 2002 with his new album Blues Berries. ‘Down By The River’ sees Miles join forces with Rocky Athas to deliver a soaring cover of Neil Young’s classic 1969 track.
‘Power Of Soul’ – Billy Cox & Buddy Miles (2004)
In 2004, Miles reunited with his former Band of Gypsys bandmate Billy Cox to re-record a selection of tracks from the original 1970 live Hendrix album. Featuring guitarists Eric Gales, Kenny Olsen, Sheldon Rey, Andy Aledort, and Gary Serkin, Miles released The Band Of Gyspys Return in 2006. Of all the inventive re-workings from that album, it is ‘Power Of Soul’ on which Miles truly shines.
Opening with a series of gunshot snare-hits, Miles quickly brings the rest of the band under his control, offering up scintillating grooves and mesmeric fills as though they were second nature – which I suppose they were.