Goin' through them changes

The slow healing of Buddy Miles

Two weeks later, Miles is sprawled out on a couch in a double-wide trailer in a cul-de-sac fortress of mobile homes northwest of Fort Worth, the aforementioned cassette tape of his newest material pulled from a snakeskin briefcase and in his hand. He's in the middle of a rather bizarre and accelerated monologue that easily rivals Jimmy Stewart's protracted filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. As the diatribe courses through the night in a white-water river of consciousness, it becomes increasingly perturbing to speculate as to exactly what might actually be on the demo: Neo-Chautauqua ravings? The spiritless noodlings of a washed-up former talent? Competent but hopelessly outdated fodder?

To be sure, he's tired. Less than 24 hours ago, he was in Brussels, Belgium, with the latest edition of the Express, on a bill with Earth, Wind & Fire. And after a long flight, he's been driven straight from the airport to this unlikely spot--the site of the Texas Rockin' Blues Concert and Campout, a two day blues-rock festival he's co-headlining with new musical partner Nitzinger.

Outside, in a clearing on a hot August night, several bikers, their old ladies, and their children are gathered in front of tents or on lawn chairs around a Starplex-quality stage draped with Confederate flags. They're cheering a variety of inveterate Fort Worth blues and classic-rock club performers who are cranking out high-volume originals and standards from the time-weary canon of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Led Zeppelin.

Now, just up from a brief nap in his host's bedroom not 20 yards from the stage, Miles immediately launches into a no-introduction-necessary, state-of-the-Buddy address that rolls on for several minutes without benefit of even one question from the visiting journalist who's been ushered in by Nitzinger. It's not entirely clear whether he remembers the previous interview session at the Greenville Bar and Grill. For one thing, his wandering diatribe covers many of the same topics. For another, the cadence and pinballing quality of the speech--from the cruelty of the music business to the stars he's known and the management weasels behind them to his famous obesity--is simply too dusted with that speedy, surreal, jet-lag quality that sets in after much sleep deprivation and global travel.

Still, like some massive Energizer rabbit spawned 20 years ago in the bowels of the Fillmore East and fueled by the magic of the past, Miles--a magnificent, if manic, presence--is absolutely wound up. It's just not quite clear about what.

Although it's true that Miles has put on some weight, he exudes a balletic grace--even sunken into a sofa. "It's a crazy world out here, man, this music business," he says at some point during his speech. "I feel a part of it because of all the work that I've done with Hendrix; of course I do. I haven't gotten my just due; of course I haven't." He laughs. "But I'm not worried about it, because God's gonna give me the will to have it, and I know I worked hard for it. But at the present time, until that happens, it's like till the morning dew. Or Katmandu."

Nitzinger and his girlfriend stand up to head outside and check set preparations. "Before we go on," Miles says, waving the cassette in the air, "I want you to hear this tape."

"I'll be back," Nitzinger smiles. His exit doesn't seem rude; this is, after all, just one of the several times Miles has interrupted his own labyrinthine thoughts to reference the demo. Now, Miles studies the tape as though he might actually pop it in the stereo, then thinks better of it and sets it back down. He yawns.

A biker type comes into the living room, stares in awe at the drummer, helps himself to a beer from a convenient cooler, and asks, "So, you know Johnny Winter?"

Miles, scarcely looking up, says in a tired voice, "I know 'em all, man." The biker, intellectually sated, heads back into the night while Miles shakes his head wearily and excuses himself to go to the restroom.

He seems to feel better when he returns, and without pause jumps back into his flow. "I'm in a state of mind where I've been lucky enough--praise God--but, see, now I got to get back and start pumping. 'Cause all this has just been like I've been a Buddha, you know what I mean? Just sitting around getting fat off the lamb. It's a shame, with what I've done, that I have to go out and ask for work and eulogize people that I've worked with, or answer questions about other people. It's very depressing, and I just wanna make music. And with John [Nitzinger], who's been down this road, too, that's all we ask."

"Buddy is just a monster drummer, man," Nitzinger said enthusiastically earlier that evening in the field in front of the stage. "He's a pure musician. It's so rare to find musicians who just live and breathe it, and that's the only time he's really, fully Buddy Miles, and that's when he's on the stage, you know; when he's behind the drums or a guitar." The two are now recording a CD of new material in Fort Worth's Eagle Studios, and claim to have several major labels interested in the project.

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