Drummer and singer Buddy Miles performs in Hamburg, Germany, in 1972.
Buddy Miles performs in Hamburg, Germany, in 1972. Credit: Heinrich Klaffs / CC-BY-SA

I was walking through Fulton Market on my way home from a work event a few weeks ago when “Yes, I Know” floated out into the summer air from the PA of a nearby restaurant. The song appears on Jiaolong, the 2012 full-length debut of Daphni, a dance-music project by Dan Snaith of Caribou. It’s a club jam with hooks to spare, and it’s made its way onto the type of corporate playlists meant to enhance the atmosphere of restaurants and retail establishments (and I guess increase spending?) without commanding too much attention. Whatever random places I’ve heard the song—a trendy hair salon, an unmemorable sports bar, the lingerie department at Macy’s—it always grabs my attention, less for Snaith’s joyous, up-tempo beats than for its samples from one of my all-time favorite tunes, Buddy Miles’s “The Segment.”

In dance-music project Daphni, Dan Snaith sampled “The Segment” for “Yes, I Know.”

Miles, who passed away in 2008, was force of nature as a drummer, vocalist, and bandleader. He’s arguably best remembered for his collaborations with Jimi Hendrix, especially his contributions to Electric Ladyland and Band of Gypsys, but he amassed a deep discography of great music across his five-decade career. 

Born George Miles in Omaha in 1947, he began drumming at an early age, and his aunt nicknamed him “Buddy” after Buddy Rich. While still a teenager he began accompanying Wilson Pickett in concert, and in 1967 joined Mike Bloomfield in blues-rock band the Electric Flag (he moved to Chicago, where the band was based, and later in his life he lived here again). His other collaborators included Muddy Waters, Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, and George Clinton. 

Miles met Hendrix in 1964, when they were playing as sidemen for different groups, and their friendship also led to Hendrix writing a poem for the liner notes of the Buddy Miles Express’s debut album in 1968 and producing four songs on the group’s second record. Post-boomers may not immediately recognize Miles’s name, but children of the 80s and early 90s certainly know his voice: he provided lead vocals for the most beloved Claymation band of their generation, the California Raisins. 

As a composer and bandleader, Miles seamlessly moved among R&B, jazz, funk, soul, rock ’n’ roll, and more. His raw, powerful playing and stylistic adventurousness on albums such as 1970’s Them Changes (named for the title track, which he first recorded as “Changes” on Band of Gypsys) earned him a reputation as a musician’s musician as well as his share of detractors. 

YouTube video
The studio version of “The Segment”

In any case, “The Segment” is a piece of rock ’n’ soul perfection, whether it’s the two-and-a-half-minute studio gem from 1971’s A Message to the People or the dynamic, nearly 13-minute version from the double album Buddy Miles Live released later that year. Cowritten with saxophonist Hank Redd, the song describes the aftermath a breakup, and Miles wrings every drop of emotion out of its sparse lyrics with his smooth vocal melodies, full-bodied falsetto screams, and soulful call-and-response interplay with the high-octane horn section. It’s sweet, heavy as fuck, and timeless, with zigzagging rhythms (it’s instantly clear why Snaith found it irresistible) and a final sense of triumph—you get the impression that the heartbroken narrator will eventually be OK. As a nerd prone to falling down rabbit holes when I come across random music in my day-to-day life, I’m pretty glad I happened to be walking down that Fulton Market block at exactly the right time to have an excuse to revisit this classic.

YouTube video
Buddy Miles and his band perform “The Segment” on Finnish television in 1971.

The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at thelistener@chicagoreader.com.