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Published on Thursday, February 28, 2008
Buddy Miles: 1947 - 2008 
 

Buddy Miles, the flamboyant drummer who played a major role in 1960s rock and enjoyed an unexpected rebirth as the featured voice behind the California Raisins advertising campaign, died February 26, 2008 at the age of 60 from a heart attack.

 

A musician since his youth, Miles played with acts like Wilson Pickett and the Delfonics prior to joining the blues-rock ensemble Electric Flag in 1967.  One of the more respected bands of the era, the group recorded only one album before its leader, Mike Bloomfield, quit over creative conflicts with Miles.  Under his leadership, the band could not sustain its momentum and they broke up in 1968, although Miles retained their horn section for his Buddy Miles Express.


Expressway To Your Skull
was their debut and it was produced by Jimi Hendrix, one of his few outside productions.  While a promising blend of rock, funk, and blues, the album was unsuccessful, and having already worked with Miles on a couple of songs on Electric Ladyland, Hendrix invited Miles to join the Band Of Gypsies, his vehicle for exploring rhythm-based music. 


A short-lived and controversial group, the Band of Gypsies only performed a handful of concerts before disbanding, reportedly because Hendrix’s management felt the all-black lineup would reduce the guitarist’s popularity among his white audience.  Nevertheless, their album stands as a foundation of funk-rock and Miles shined on “Who Knows” and “Them Changes,” the song that would become his calling card, as he recorded it at least four times.


After the Gypsies, Miles resumed his solo career while also working with Carlos Santana. Their live album is memorable for being recorded inside a volcano and Santana’s blistering guitar lines.


Miles recorded for Columbia and Casablanca, never establishing himself as a superstar but maintaining a reputation as a strong and consistent performer.  Some of his more popular albums are Chapter VII, Bicentennial Gathering Of The Tribes, and More Miles To The Gallon. He frequently had stars like Stevie Wonder contribute to his records and he played on Funkadelic’s Hardcore Jollies.


Convictions for a variety of charges landed him in prison in the early 1980s, but upon his release Miles hit paydirt as the singer of the California Raisins, belting out “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” on commercials.  The Raisins concept was so popular that it resulted in two albums and a television series.


In his later years, Miles continued to perform with the likes of Bootsy Collins and his group Blues Berries. A truly dynamic personality and one of the funkiest drummers around, Buddy Miles will be missed.   
 

 

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