Along with expansive anniversary boxed sets, the most welcome recent trend in album reissues is to reconfigure live albums so they present the concert whole, uncut, as they happened. Which is what fans of Jimi Hendrix’s 1970 concert collection Band Of Gypsys are getting with Songs For Groovy Children: The Fillmore East, a four-CD, 8-LP, 43-track digital collection that presents both that legendary show and three others uncut for the first time.
Recorded on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970,
with two shows each night, Songs For Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts has Jimi Hendrix post-Woodstock returning to the trio format of The Jimi Hendrix Experiece, but with drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox taking over for his Experience bandmates Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. While this threesome is best remembered for “Machine Gun” — which is often called Hendrix’s best song — these shows also had them tearing their way through a number of classic Hendrix tunes he originally did with the Experience, including “Stone Free,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” and, of course, the quartet of classics: “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” and “Foxey Lady.”
But unlike previous albums of the Band Of Gypsys shows, Songs For Groovy Children has every song they played during these four concerts. By comparison, the original Band Of Gypsys had six tracks from the January 1st show; 1986’s Band Of Gypsys 2 had two more from that show and two others from the December 31st shows; 1999’s Live At The Fillmore East mixed together sixteen tunes from all four shows; while the 2010’s boxed set West Coast Seattle Boy has three tunes from the second December 31st show. Only 2016’s eleven track Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show presents a complete concert, though it’s the first show on December 31st, not the Band Of Gypsys show.
As a result of being uncut, Songs For Groovy Children has eight live recordings that haven’t been heard before: “Ezy Ryder,” “Changes,” “Message To Love,” and “Stop” from December 31’s second show; “Lover Man,” “Steal Away,” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze” from January 1’s second set. It also has three that were previously only available on video — “Changes,” “Foxey Lady,” and “Earth Blues” from January 1’s second show — as well as the full versions of “Message To Love” and “We Gotta Live Together” from January 1’s second set, which were previously only available in edited form.
Songs For Groovy Children also thankfully puts each show on their own disc or discs, and doesn’t jam shows together to save space. The first show on December 31st, for instance, takes up the first CD and first two LPs.
Photo Credit: Allan Herr / MoPOP / Authentic Hendrix, LLC
each show on Songs For Groovy Children is presented as a concert. Not only is the applause intact — this is not a collection of live tracks that fade out in between songs — but this also has all the stage banter as well as the recording of “Auld Lang Syne” that opened the second show on December 31st before Hendrix and the band went into their own loose version of it.
All of the tunes on Songs For Groovy Children have also been newly remixed for this collection, which makes even the classic tracks we’ve been listening to for decades sound relatively cleaner and crisper.
But while Songs For Groovy Children is obviously a must for anyone who’s been listening to Band Of Gypsys on a daily basis since 1970, even more casual fans of Jimi Hendrix, and this particular group, will find a lot to like about this collection.
More importantly, they won’t find a lot they won’t like. For one thing, Songs For Groovy Children doesn’t have the redundancy you often find in similar collections, such as Miles Davis’ excellent Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3. While they did play “Machine Gun” and “Changes” during all four shows, covers of Howard Tate’s “Stop” at three, and “Ezy Ryder,” “Foxey Lady,” and “Stone Free” twice each, the setlists otherwise remarkably different. And that’s not even taking into account how Hendrix would improvise like a jazz man, making the different versions of the same song sound, well, different each night. Not radically, of course, but enough that you won’t mind hearing “Machine Gun” so many times (well, assuming you don’t listen to this whole boxed set in one sitting).
That said, Songs For Groovy Children won’t change your mind about this band or this show. It is decidedly for people who like the original Band Of Gypsys album and the others that followed. And even then, these shows were not perfect. Just as Noel Redding’s lifeless tunes “She’s So Fine” and “Little Miss Strange” stuck out like sore thumbs on the albums Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland, respectfully, so too do the songs written and/or sung by Buddy Miles here: “Changes,” “We Gotta Live Together,” and “Stop.” But then, that’s why God made the “skip forward” button.
In the end,
Songs For Groovy Children: The Fillmore East Concerts is what the original Band Of Gypsys albums should’ve been all along. And what some of Hendrix’s other concert collection should’ve been as well (I’m looking at you, producers of the botched Winterland collection). Not only does it present the shows with the best sound quality we’ve ever heard them, but they also present them as they should’ve been all along: in all their Hendrixian glory.