Take a healthy dose of psychedelic rock, add a pinch of Stax, and you get "Them Changes," a Buddy Miles composition that manages to rock and funk out at the same time. Although primarily known as a drummer, Miles was also an accomplished songwriter, guitarist, and singer, and remained an unfairly underrated musician and vocalist until his 2008 death.
Born in 1947, Miles picked up the drums at age nine, eventually playing for Ruby & the Romantics, the Ink Spots, and the Delfonics. In 1966, he joined Wilson Pickett's touring band, and was discovered by guitarist Mike Bloomfield (formerly of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band), who asked him to join his new group the Electric Flag. They recorded one album, but Bloomfield and other band members left the band in 1968. Miles took center stage, released one more album with the new lineup. But he soon departed the struggling band, taking the horn section with him. Newly christened the Buddy Miles Express, the group attracted an incredible mentor: Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix produced their first album, 1968's Expressway to Your Skull; in return, Miles played on the legendary Electric Ladyland disc. After producing one more Buddy Miles Express record, Hendrix disbanded his own backing group, the Experience, in 1970. Subsequently he asked Miles to join his new group, the Band of Gypsys, and they recorded one album together. For this record, Miles presented Hendrix with an original composition: "Them Changes." As the video below demonstrates, Hendrix took an aggressive rock stance on this version, although that distinctive bassline and Miles' bluesy vocals remain. Hendrix's typically impressive solo becomes the centerpiece of the record, and no horns are present.
Miles shortly thereafter left Band of Gypsys, which later disbanded. But he made an impressive comeback as bandleader, when he released his seminal work Them Changes in 1970. Remade for the album, the title track retains some of its original rock influences, but incredibly soulful horns (courtesy of the Memphis Horns) inject a jolt of pure soul into the tune. Miles' slightly raspy but bluesy vocals are mixed in the foreground this time, and that funky bassline resonates even more than on the Band of Gypsys recording. The lyrics borrow directly from the time-honored blues tradition of the "my baby left me" theme, but "Them Changes" hardly resembles a lament. Even though his girlfriend leaves him alone, "It's all right/You know what I mean/All right" he confidently chants, the Stax horns blaring behind him. Miles sings in a rhythmic manner, interweaving with the steady beat: "She had me runnin'/She had me ridin'/She had me runnin', hiddin', ridin', runnin'" he sings, almost imitating the high hat. Sure, he has clearly suffered in the relationship: "Every time she stepped out on me/She didn't know how I feel, yeah" he wails—but the ebullient tempo suggests that he'll soon get over his emotions. The guitar solo echoes the original recording in its use of the wah-wah pedal, but it does not serve as the central focus on the record. Instead, it's the shuffling rhythm, that memorable bassline, and Miles' voice that elevate the track to classic status.