Goin' through them changes

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Shortly thereafter, after playing a lean, fevered set, Nitzinger--whose sobriety has clearly fueled his long-dormant talent--steps to the mike, peers through the glare of the stage lights, and introduces Buddy Miles. The biker throng, clearly oblivious to the irony of cheering for a black man amidst a sea of flags from Dixie, roars its approval--and wait. Where's Buddy?

Nitzinger and band continue to vamp, carrying on professionally even as the two-chord introductory valediction continues past the point of its designed pomp and circumstance.

Finally, from the rear of the crowd, Miles can be seen hobbling along; he's escorted from the side door of the mobile home, helped into the cab of a large pickup truck, and literally driven the hundred feet or so to the front of the stage. The effect is not dramatic.

After he emerges gingerly, wearing his trademark black derby and walking with the aid of a cane, he's helped up the stage stairs and painfully takes his place behind the drum kit. He commandeers a microphone, issues a tremulous but predictable introduction of rock star babble, then settles into an awkward groove with all the precision of a sea lion flopping into a dinghy.

It's as though the demo tape was a cruel hallucination, and this seems a sad but strangely fitting time to leave. Then, as the sluggish jam careens across the night, a remarkable thing happens. Like a Catholic school track nerd who suddenly undergoes a transformation into Michael Johnson, Miles suddenly hits stride. You can hear it. The music gels instantaneously and fairly jumps with the man's magnetism; the snare pops with commando precision, the fills are quick and tasteful, and behind the kit, Miles has taken charge with an instinctual assurance. It becomes obvious Miles could drive a junior high garage band like a limo--and that music is very much a healing property for the man.

A month after the rockin' blues festival, as Nitzinger and Miles prepare to go into the studio to work on their first album together, Nitzinger says, "Buddy's been doing really good; he's going to therapy three times a week and getting himself together."

As to what sort of therapy, Nitzinger would only comment that Miles has had leg problems, and that his overall health is much improved. Thinking back on the night of the rockin' blues camp-out, of all the things that poured forth from Buddy Miles, one comment stands out.

"I'll tell you what," Miles said after the demo tape had finished. "You put me on the stage, and I'll show you what God's about. That's all I can tell you. Because I'm a firm believer in the Bible, but my Bible is not something you read out of. It's on that stage, and I thank the world for so many good years of that.

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Rick Koster