Buddy Miles passed away February 26, 2008 at the age of sixty. I had been meaning to review one of his albums but time has passed so quickly and here it is over fourteen months later.
Miles, as a drummer and vocalist, first came to my attention as part of the brilliant but short lived Electric Flag. He gained international acclaim as a member of Jimi Hendrix’s Band Of Gypsies. Between 1968 and 2005 he issued close to twenty solo albums including two excellent ones with Carlos Santana in 1972. My favorite Miles album, which is also considered one of his classic releases, is Them Changes. Released in 1970, it helped to define and explore the fusion of rock and funk music. He was basically a powerful rock drummer who had a fine rhythm & blues oriented voice; the combination of which made his sound versatile and unique.
The title song is the first track and sets the tone of the album. Old band mate Billy Cox is on hand to lay down some nice bass lines which compliment his dominating drumming. The rock guitar runs counterpoint to the funkiness of the supporting brass. Miles vocal ties it all together and allows this song and what will follow to embrace both a rock ‘n’ roll and a rhythm and blues sound.
Classic songs follow one after the other. “Heart’s Delight,” which was written by Miles, contains a blazing brass section complete with trumpet, tenor saxophone, trombone, and even a funky flugelhorn. Gregg Allman’s “Dreams” is a song that builds and builds as he is supported by a virtual choir of backup singers. “Paul B. Allen, Omaha, Nebraska,” which has to be of the strangest titles in history, demonstrates what a creative drummer he could be as only an organ and minimal guitar appear in support. “Memphis Train” just rolls along as he leads practically a big band sound on this old Rufus Thomas track. The album closer is the Otis Redding tune, “Your Feeling Is Mine” where it is interesting to hear Miles vocal take.
The only real miss is Neil Young’s “Down By The River.” It is a difficult song for him to sing plus he steps out from behind his drums to play lead guitar on the track which was not a wise decision.
Them Changes is a fitting epitaph for Buddy Miles. The classic cover of a young Miles just sitting behind his drum set is the way I want to remember him. It spent a deserved year and a half on the American Billboard charts and remains a fitting legacy of one of rock’s powerhouses.