Ripping off the roof

The seal of purity on the Buddy Miles Express guarantees you nothing less than legendary drummer Buddy Miles’ own traveling gene pool of sonorous chemistry. So when Miles and company jump into a gig feet first, the audience is left shaking like wet puppies in the middle of an earthquake.

The band features Miles on drums and vocals, Rod Kohn on guitar, Charlie Torres on bass, and Mark Leach on keyboards — not to mention backup drummer Ken Moutenot, who’s there to anchor the house whenever Miles straps on an electric guitar and threatens to rip off the roof.

While other artists of Miles’ generation (his career spans more than 40 years) were influenced by music heard on the radio or the record player, he developed his sound by actually playing with a virtual Who’s Who of music legends. A professional drummer since age 12, Miles played for years in his father’s jazz band, The Bebops. In his early 20s, after recording with Jimi Hendrix on the seminal Electric Ladyland (Reprise, 1968), he joined Hendrix and bass player Billy Cox as the drummer for the Band of Gypsies (the first all African-American rock ‘n’ roll band, according to historians). By the way, that group recorded only one album, Band of Gypsies: Live at the Fillmore East (Capitol, 1970) before Hendrix’s untimely death.

Miles’ career has included stints with such luminaries as the Ink Spots (who are credited with inspiring the “doo-wop” vocal genre of the 1950s), The Delphonics, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. In 1967, blues-guitar genius Mike Bloomfield attended a Wilson Pickett show and, afterward, recruited Miles for his own band, Electric Flag. Miles recorded two albums with Carlos Santana, in 1972 and 1987. Additionally, he has collaborated with Parliament-Funkadelic alumnus Bootsy Collins, Muddy Waters, John McLaughlin, Merle Saunders, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie. Last October, Miles received a standing ovation — while sitting in with hot young jam band Phish at Madison Square Garden — for his arrangement of Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower.”

Though known primarily for his drum work, Miles plays guitar like a house on fire. He plays it Hendrix-style, in fact — left-handed and upside-down — and his mercurial solos almost spookily invoke the ghost of Hendrix’s spirit, up and down the fretboard.

Those unfamiliar with his guitar playing and machine-gun drumming, however, will undoubtedly recognize the voice of Buddy Miles: He sang lead for the dancing California Raisins (those claymation icons who starred in the most successful commercial in television history) on their hit single, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

True to his name, Miles is racking up the miles, dividing his time between studio (he’s released more than a dozen albums) and stage. His performances, however, are anything but road-weary. Miles’ explosive drumming could make an Egyptian mummy rise up and do the boogie-woogie. His guitar solos could melt a lightening rod. And his vocals invoke the rollicking soul of a Hammond organ, moving from funk to blues to Motown, smooth within a single, inventive arrangement.

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