At the very beginning of his career, Jimi Hendrix played guitar in the Isley Brother’s band. The fact that a pioneer of the psychedelic rock scene once played backup guitar in an R&B band might surprise you, but if you listen carefully, the R&B influence was never too far from his playing. You hear it clearly on “Changes,” which was on the last complete album Hendrix put out before he died. This is Hendrix at his earthiest and most focused.
I think this focus stems from the fact that this isn’t a Hendrix composition. Drummer Buddy Miles wrote it and sings lead vocal, so Hendrix works within Miles’ frame. Since he’s not concerned with singing, Hendrix has more freedom to lock in on dynamics and groove while interweaving rhythm and lead parts. The main riff is almost like a bass part, subtle and down low in the mix, but the incandescent solo at 2:03 is in the upper register and powered by his deft manipulation of the wah.
And though the solo is good (it is Hendrix, you know) it’s always been his rhythm work on this track that fascinates me. He harnesses his guitar to drive the song’s energy forward in a way that puts him closer to Keith Richards, Mark Knopfler, or other more rhythmic players—it’s not typical Hendrix. Not to say that Hendrix wasn’t a rhythmic player—anyone who has heard the intro to “Voodoo Child” knows he had great rhythmic sense—just that he didn’t always have the opportunity to showcase it.
And Hendrix’s rhythmically oriented playing here supports the rest of the group, allowing Miles to focus on his two jobs. It’s almost like Hendrix is back to being a sideman. As a drummer, Miles isn’t as showy as Mitch Mitchell was, but it’s hard to imagine Mitchell dropping out for a breakdown the way Mitchell does at 3:17. Miles feeds into the primal, four-on-the-floor groove in an elemental way that Mitchell didn’t. And he’s a pretty funky vocalist to boot.
It’s this driving rhythm that defines this track for me, and it’s here you begin to form a more complete picture of Hendrix: not as just a hall-of-fame soloist, but as a sensitive and keen musician willing to support and work with the rest of the band. And that’s definitely something to Shout about.