Buddy Miles, the rock and R&B; drummer, singer and songwriter whose eclectic career included stints playing with Jimi Hendrix and as the lead voice of the California Raisins, the animated clay figures that became an advertising phenomenon in the late 1980s, has died. He was 60.
Miles died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at his home in Austin, Texas, according to an announcement on his website.
A massive man with a distinctive, sculpted afro, Miles hit his peak of popularity when he joined Hendrix and bassist Billy Cox to form Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, which the New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll called “the first black rock group.” Miles had played with Hendrix on the guitarist’s influential “Electric Ladyland” album released in 1968.
The Band of Gypsys made just one album, a live set recorded on New Year’s Eve in 1969-70, and two of Miles’ songs, “Them Changes” and “We Got to Live Together,” were included on the album. He gave the recording a memorable drum riff on one of Hendrix’s signature songs, “Machine Gun.”
But, according to Miles, the Band of Gypsys association was brief and stormy. He told The Times in 1988 that Hendrix’s management, not the guitarist himself, fired him within a month of the concert. He thought Hendrix’s managers were leery of continuing with an all-black group.
“It had to be a racial thing,” Miles told The Times. “I think it had to scare them because of the political aspect at the time.”
Miles was born Sept. 5, 1947, in Omaha. He developed an interest in drums at an early age and by 12 was playing in his father’s jazz combo. Within a couple of years he was in demand as a session player and a sideman, working with top-name R&B; groups, including Ruby and the Romantics and the Delfonics. According to the Rolling Stone encyclopedia, he played on the session that produced the Jaynetts’ 1963 hit “Sally Go Round the Roses.”
While playing with Wilson Pickett in 1967, he was approached by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, who asked him to join the blues, rock and soul group Electric Flag. Miles played on three of the band’s albums before forming his own group, the Buddy Miles Express, in 1968. Next came his association with Hendrix.
Over the years, Miles recorded two albums with Carlos Santana, one of which went platinum, and worked with other leading music figures, including Muddy Waters and John McLaughlin. He re-formed the Buddy Miles Express in the mid-1970s and had a hit with his song “Them Changes.”
By the late 1970s, however, Miles’ career came to a halt over convictions for grand theft and auto theft. He served time in the California Institution for Men at Chino and at San Quentin State Prison. He was incarcerated until 1985 and formed bands at both prisons.
After he was released, he sang with Santana’s group and got the raisin gig while working on an album with the guitarist. The popular television commercials for the California Raisin Advisory Board featured a quartet of singing and dancing Claymation figures with Miles, as Buddy Raisin, doing the lead singing covering Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
The commercial’s popularity spawned a million-selling offshoot album of remakes of rock and soul oldies, “The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs.”