The Band of Gypsys work their way up to a comfortable groove on a previously unreleased recording of “Ezy Ryder,” recorded at the Fillmore East half a century ago, which will feature on a new box set. From the start, drummer Buddy Miles sets the tempo, while Jimi Hendrix and bassist Billy Cox establish the riff, all leading up to an explosion of Hendrix singing, “Ezy, Ezy Ryder, riding down the highways of desire.” The band had already played the song once already that day in an earlier set, and you can hear a new confidence in this version as they work together to give the tune a steady foundation for Hendrix to play a guitar solo that nearly levitates over the rhythm section.
“The Band of Gypsys was a group about growth, and evolution without ego,” Cox tells Rolling Stone of the experience. “It was just musicians loving each other and loving the music. It was another way to express the music.”
The trio’s shared musical intuition is on full display on the upcoming box set, Songs for Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts. The collection, which will be available Friday digitally or as either a five-CD or eight-LP set, marks the first release of the ensemble’s legendary debut gigs in full — four performances on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in 1969 and 1970 — which provided the raw material for Hendrix’s live album, Band of Gypsys, in 1970. It contains several previously unreleased recordings, unedited cuts of tracks that had once been trimmed down, and a number of tunes that had been out of print.
When Cox hears the recordings, he says he can still picture the effect it had on the crowd. “I distinctly remember you could see people with their mouths hanging wide open about five, six, 10 rows,” he says. “They had never heard anything like that, but evidently it had sounded good to them, because we got almost a standing ovation after every song.”
In the years since Cry of Love came out, recordings from the concerts have come out at various points. A two-CD release, Live at the Fillmore East, came out in 1999, while Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show was released in 2016 on a single disc. When Cox considers why there has been so much interest in this music and why it came from the three members of Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, he says, “Jimi’s music was spiritual and that what is spiritual never divides.
“Jimi Hendrix’s music is as relevant today in the 21st century as it was in the 20th century, because Jimi impacted the lives in many untold ways,” he adds. “It influenced everyone from the soldiers in the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam to the brothers and sisters in the hood. It inspired everyone from the young people who were lovers of peace and justice and for those musicians who were looking for a new direction in music. The Band of Gypsys has always been in the now because we were about musical excellence, expression, and soul all wrapped up into the body of spirit.”