Buddy Miles is probably most famous for his association with Jimi Hendrix than anything else. Often derided over the years as nothing more than a generic drummer with an annoying voice, I myself tend to go against the grain on that argument. Because Buddy was clearly a talented soul, without whom The Band of Gypsys would not have been possible. If Jimi Hendrix was the lightning, Miles was the thunder, and while he may have had an ego the size of the Taj Mahal, his contribution to Jimi’s legacy remains quite considerable.
Released in 1970, Them Changes is another one of those buried treasures few people have heard much less know exist, like a sunken Spanish Galleon off the coast of Bermuda. It’s definitely not the sort of album one can expect to find in the record shop, whether independent or no. In other words you’re going to have to hunt this bastard down. However unlike our hunter gathering ancestors, thankfully we modern homosapians have something called the internet to do all our hunting.
Things get off to a good start with the title track, a song arguably more famous for having appeared on the live Band of Gypsys album from the same year. It’s a superb soul/R&B number and I reckon the best song Buddy ever wrote, except for one thing – where’s Jimi? That’s a question the listener is left wondering over. The melancholic “I Still Love You, Anyway” is another highlight, although not so much the brass dominated “Heart’s Delight”, which is reminiscent of Earth Wind and Fire only without the fire, no matter how much Buddy vomits his vocals into the microphone.
It’s to Miles’ credit that he chose to cover The Allman Brothers’ “Dreams”. The original served as a seemingly mystical incursion into one’s subconscious, whereas Buddy’s interpretation is more upbeat and soulful, replete with horns and whatever else they could think of, no doubt as a way of giving the engineer a headache in the process. Neil Young’s “Down By the River” is given a drifty, dreamy treatment, not too different to what we know, except in slow motion.
“Memphis Train” is just the sort of thing James Brown had been doing for a number of years, yet this has a more urban modern sensibility to it than anything Brown was doing at the time. The strangely titled “Paul B. Allen, Omaha, Nebraska” is like Booker T and MGs on drugs, where Buddy is ‘gut bucking’ as they say, or playing with time, proving that he was as versatile as he was formidable. Last track “Your Feeling Is Mine” is something of a soulful let down, and a song which doesn’t really go anywhere, like a car revving its engine while in neutral.
Them Changes isn’t without its virtues, it must be said. Here he truly established himself as a singer/musician/songwriter in his own right. And what of the album cover. Is that a statement of attitude or what? Talk about the man with the bullet proof afro, looking like some mean motherfucker behind the skins. Nonetheless Buddy was ultimately a universal spirit, open to everything and anything that came before him. And with his passing in 2008, another piece of humanity’s musical jigsaw had vanished. This album proves that there was more to Buddy Miles than California Raisins I promise you.