Drummer Buddy Miles, who recorded with Jimi Hendrix as Band of Gypsys in 1970 and had a career revival in 1986 as singer in the California Raisins claymation commercials, died Tuesday night in Austin of congestive heart failure. He was 60.
Although he was born in Omaha, Neb., and lived for many years in Chicago, where he co-founded Electric Flag in 1967, Miles had moved to Austin after suffering a stroke in 2005. “He wanted to get back to music,” stepdaughter Chealsea Shahan said. “He moved to Austin for peace and harmony.” Backed by the New Orleans Social Club, Miles performed “Them Changes” at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Sept. 2006. He also played at La Zona Rosa in October with an all-star Austin blues band.
“He was a real strong guy who overcame a lot,” said local blues guitarist Randy Pavlock, who said Miles “was like a father to me.” Pavlock was playing a club on Sixth Street two years ago when he looked up and saw Miles in the audience. “Band of Gypsys” was probably my favorite record when I was a kid,” said Pavlock, who said he felt “a friendship bond” that first night. Miles relished the role as a mentor.
A child prodigy, whose father had a jazz band, Miles was playing with Wilson Pickett in the ’60s when guitarist Mike Bloomfield asked him to form Electric Flag, a band that would fuse soul, rock and blues. Originally known for his powerhouse drumming, Miles also became known as a soulful rock singer on a million-selling 1972 live album recorded with Carlos Santana.
An enduring classic, “Them Changes” was performed Monday and Tuesday at Madison Square Garden by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. The former Blind Faith frontmen are expected to play the song again tonight with a special dedication to their old friend.
Miles is survived by spouse Sherrilae Chambers-Miles. A memorial concert will take place March 30 at Threadgill’s on Riverside Drive.
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Feb. 27, 2008.