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By mid-1969, despite his rising fame, Jimi Hendrix was in a personal and professional impasse. The renowned Jimi Hendrix Experience had disbanded with a final show at the Denver Pop Festival. After the disbanding, Jimi Hendrix, feeling lost, returned to New York. His new recording studio was consuming vast amounts of money, but there was no band to record. Jimi Hendrix expressed his exhaustion, but also his unceasing passion for music.

Soon after the Denver event, Jimi Hendrix appeared on popular late-night TV shows, including “The Dick Cavett Show” and the “Tonight Show,” showcasing his versatility by performing with various musical combinations. A significant shift took place when Jimi Hendrix moved to a large house in Boiceville, near Woodstock, an area becoming a hotspot for prominent artists like Bob Dylan and The Band.

In 1969, Jimi Hendrix found himself at a critical juncture. Having gained unprecedented fame as a guitarist, he was eager to experiment further and expand his musical horizons. While the world recognized him for his iconic performances and recordings, he wasn’t merely content resting on his laurels.

Jimi Hendrix decided to gather a group of talented musicians around him, forming the band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. This wasn’t a mere whim; it was a decisive action to steer his music in a fresh direction. Billy Cox, a bassist and a trusted friend from Jimi Hendrix’s army days, became an integral part of this new venture. Their chemistry was undeniable, having played together earlier in Nashville. The depth and richness Cox brought to the group’s rhythm section allowed Jimi Hendrix to explore new dimensions in his guitar playing.

Then there was Larry Lee, another guitarist. Like Cox, Lee shared roots with Jimi Hendrix in Nashville. Together, they formed a dynamic duo, pushing each other to reach new musical heights. Adding to the mix were percussionists Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez, each contributing their unique flair and rhythm to the band’s evolving sound.

Perhaps one of the most telling accounts of Jimi Hendrix’s dedication during this period was his commitment to rehearsals at the Boiceville house. Here, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows came alive, working tirelessly to refine their sound. Accounts from close associates, such as producer Alan Douglas and Mike Jeffery, reveal that Jimi Hendrix was deeply involved in every aspect of the band’s development. Whether fine-tuning a song or discussing new ideas, he was always at the forefront, guiding and leading.

This period wasn’t just about forming a new band; it was about Jimi Hendrix reaffirming his passion for music. While challenges were plenty – from financial strains to the lack of a clear musical direction – Jimi Hendrix never lost sight of his vision. He wanted to create music that resonated, that told stories, and that pushed boundaries. And with Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, he aimed to do just that.

Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Mike Jeffery, also settled in Woodstock, persuading Jimi to follow. Their close proximity, many believe, was Jeffery’s way of monitoring his top client. Jimi’s musical exploration continued as he connected with Juma Sultan, known for his Afro-jazz style. Eventually, a diverse group of musicians gathered at Jimi’s Boiceville residence, forming a new band configuration. Their preparations were briefly interrupted when Jimi Hendrix took an unexpected trip to Morocco. Rumors of his romantic adventures in Paris during his return added to his enigmatic persona.

The end of Jimi Hendrix Gypsy Sun and Rainbows and the dawn of Band of Gypsys

Jimi Hendrix performing as the headliner at Woodstock with his new band, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows.
Jimi Hendrix, the iconic closing act of Woodstock, takes the stage with Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, marking a new chapter in his musical journey.
Credit: spinditty

In the ever-evolving world of rock and roll, few artists have experienced as many transformative phases as Jimi Hendrix. By mid-1969, after the dissolution of the iconic Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jimi Hendrix was at a crossroads both personally and professionally. The newfound freedom, combined with an insatiable passion for musical exploration, led to the formation of Gypsy Sun and Rainbows.

This ensemble, comprised of talented musicians including army buddies like Billy Cox and Larry Lee, was a bold experiment. While the band had a relatively short lifespan, their importance in the Jimi Hendrix chronology can’t be overstated. It’s crucial to understand that their formation wasn’t a mere stopgap for Jimi Hendrix; it was a deliberate attempt to chart a new musical course.

Despite the undeniable talent, Gypsy Sun and Rainbows encountered its share of struggles. While they were the backing band for Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Woodstock performance, drummer Mitch Mitchell’s observations indicated cohesion issues within the band. In essence, the band lacked the seamless integration that characterized Jimi Hendrix’s previous group.

Yet, it wasn’t just internal dynamics that posed challenges. External pressures mounted on Jimi Hendrix. The success of “Electric Ladyland” created a daunting shadow, with management and record label executives eager for a worthy successor. Adding to the tension was Jimi Hendrix’s lack of a producer like Chas Chandler, who had previously guided him. Overwhelmed by the breakneck pace of touring and the studio’s demands, 1969 became a year of little tangible progress on the recording front.

Simultaneously, legal woes lurked in the background. Ed Chalpin, a manager from Hendrix’s early days, engaged in a legal tussle over releasing content from Jimi’s initial career phase. To settle the matter, a resolution was struck, requiring Jimi Hendrix to release a record under Chalpin’s label, further stretching the artist thin.

In the wake of these challenges, the flame of Gypsy Sun and Rainbows began to wane. But for an artist of Jimi Hendrix’s caliber, stasis was never an option. Drawing from the trials and tribulations of the year, and combining them with his perpetual urge to innovate, Jimi Hendrix turned towards a new project: Band of Gypsys.

Band of Gypsys wasn’t just another musical endeavor; it was a testament to Hendrix’s resilience. Here was an artist, fresh from the disbanding of two groups in quick succession, dealing with external pressures, yet, undeterred in his mission to produce groundbreaking music. The band, which saw Hendrix collaborating with the likes of Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, would go on to deliver performances that are etched into the annals of rock and roll.

The transition from Gypsy Sun and Rainbows to Band of Gypsys wasn’t just a change in band members; it was the continuation of Hendrix’s journey, a journey that sought to redefine the boundaries of music.

Jimi Hendrix’s Gypsy Sun & Rainbows songs recorded

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Jimi Hendrix – Freedom (Live at the Atlanta Pop Festival)

Jimi Hendrix‘s “Gypsy Sun & Rainbows: New York City” stands as a testament to the musical genius and his experimental tendencies. One of the most standout pieces from is “Freedom (29) Jam“. While the exact recording date remains a mystery, the song encapsulates Jimi Hendrix’s trademark guitar riffs combined with the fluidity of the jam sessions that were so characteristic of the era.

Another highlight is “Message to Love“, with its varying takes revealing the intricate process of crafting a song to perfection. “Easy Blues” provides listeners with different versions, each offering a unique experience. It’s intriguing to note how a piece like “Easy Blues (1)” provides a more complete version, while “Easy Blues (2)” and “Easy Blues (3)” offer edited insights, each differing in their own way.

The series titled “Izabella” stands out, showcasing a series of instrumental sessions. Through the various iterations, from “Izabella (1)” to “Izabella (6)”, we get a glimpse into the meticulous process Jimi Hendrix undertook. Not just content with his initial work, Hendrix constantly sought to refine and redefine his sound. The “Machine Gun” series on the same disc further attests to this dedication. Each version presents a different mood, a testament to the versatility and adaptability of Jimi Hendrix as an artist.

Jungle Jam / Jam Back at the House (3)” is a captivating piece, drawing listeners into a trance-like state, indicative of Jimi Hendrix’s talent for creating immersive musical experiences. “Valleys of Neptune (22)”, an instrumental, is another testament to the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix.

The track “Blues for Me and You” deserves special mention. Through its different mixes and versions, it allows listeners to witness the evolution of a song, from its initial raw state to the polished version. The variations in the instrumental placement and the addition of vocals in certain mixes provide a multifaceted listening experience. It’s not just a track, but a journey through Jimi Hendrix‘s creative process.

Lastly, “Stepping Stone (1)” offers historical significance. As the only recording not from the Hit Factory, it marks the last session of the original GSR line-up. The shift in dynamics and tone is palpable, hinting at the changes that were on the horizon for Jimi Hendrix and his band.

The timeless masterpieces: “Machine Gun” and “Freedom”

The Gypsy Suns and Rainbows lineup was short-lived but essential. Their studio sessions in New York City gave birth to tracks that would later become staples in Jimi Hendrix’s discography. While many of the songs from these sessions weren’t performed at Woodstock, their significance can’t be understated.

Tracks like “Freedom” and “Machine Gun“, originating from these sessions, offered a glimpse into the new direction Jimi Hendrix was taking. They moved away from the psychedelic sounds of his earlier years and marked a more rhythm-focused, funk-infused approach to rock. “Freedom” boasts of a groove-oriented rhythm section combined with the trademark Hendrix guitar riffs, while “Machine Gun” delves deep into the anti-war sentiment of the time, with Hendrix’s guitar emulating the sounds of warfare.

Though the Gypsy Suns and Rainbows didn’t last, its dissolution led to the creation of the Band of Gypsys. This band played a crucial role in laying down the live sound Jimi Hendrix would be remembered for. Their performance at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969 is still regarded as one of the most iconic live rock performances. Their rendition of “Machine Gun” from this show is particularly legendary, showcasing Hendrix’s ability to evoke raw emotion through his guitar. The Band of Gypsys’ sound was tighter, funkier, and more soulful than any of Hendrix’s previous lineups.

By 1970, the Band of Gypsys lineup disbanded after just a few months, but the influence of this era on Jimi Hendrix’s sound was evident throughout the “Cry of Love Tour“. Both “Freedom” and “Machine Gun” were frequently featured during the tour. Notable performances include the Atlanta International Pop Festival, where Hendrix played to one of the largest audiences of his career, and the Berkeley Community Theatre, where his live renditions captivated the audience. The Isle of Wight Festival, which would be one of his last performances, also witnessed the power of “Machine Gun”, resonating with an audience of over 600,000 attendees.

The transition from Gypsy Suns and Rainbows to Band of Gypsys wasn’t just a change in band members for Jimi Hendrix, but a profound transformation in musical direction. Tracks that had been conceived during the New York City sessions became iconic in their own right. They paved the way for a sound that was simultaneously a return to Hendrix’s blues roots and a move towards a new, funkier rock style.

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