Posts Tagged ‘The Butterfield Blues Band’

 

Mike Bloomfield – is the subject of a new multi-disc anthology produced by Al Kooper, “From His Head to His Heart to His Hands”, released by Columbia/Legacy – is rock’s greatest forgotten guitar hero. From 1965 to 1968, he was nothing less than the future of the blues, charging the primal forms and raw truths of his idols – B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf – with cutting-treble tone, breakneck improvising and incisive, melodic articulation on a machine-gun series of classic records: Dylan’s epochal single “Like a Rolling Stone” and the Highway 61 LP; the Butterfield band’s ’65 debut album and ’66 raga-blues thriller, East-West; and the 1968 Top 20 hit Super Session, a dynamic jamming collaboration with Kooper. In 1966, Eric Clapton, on the verge of his own stardom, called Bloomfield “music on two legs.” But in the Seventies, as Clapton ascended to sold-out arenas, Bloomfield slipped into twilight in San Francisco, working with low-profile bands and making small-label records while wrestling with chronic insomnia and heroin.
Bloomfield – (1943-1981) Born in Chicago, Bloomfield gravitated toward the Blues after playing in high school Rock and Roll bands. He was born to play the Blues, spending time in Chicago’s South Side Blues clubs with black bluesmen such as Sleepy John Estes, eventually performing with Chicago’s finest, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters during the early ’60s. He also met harmonica player, Paul Butterfield and guitarist Elvin Bishop. A grandfather, Max, owned a pawnshop, and Bloomfield got his first guitar there. Born left-handed, he forced himself to play the other way around. “That’s how strong-willed he was,” says Goldberg. “When he loved something so much, he just did it.”

The Butterfield Blues Band was born in 1965 with the addition of keyboardist Mark Naftalin, bassist Jerome Arnold, and drummer Sam Lay. The debut album the eponymous “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” was released in October 1965 and met with little success nationally. But more important, Bloomfield played on Bob Dylan’s epic single “Like a Rolling Stone,” and on most of the tracks of Dylan’s 1965 “Highway 61 Revisited,” album. Additionally, he also joined Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July, along with the balance of Butterfield’s band (sans the leader). and keyboardists Al Kooper and Barry Goldberg. This was Dylan’s historic appearance in which he strapped on a Telecaster, and the band played electric – the first instance of an electric-guitar performance by the folk rocker. Dylan remembered Bloomfield as “the guy that I always miss. . . . He had so much soul. And he knew all the styles.”

“He put tremendous force into what he was doing,” says pianist Mark Naftalin, who played with Bloomfield in the Butterfield band, then on many post-’68 gigs and sessions. “But that’s not the same as ambition. He turned away from possibilities of success ritually.

The Butterfield Blues Band’s second LP “East-West” from 1966 fared much better than its predecessor and has gone on to become a classic. During this period, Bloomfield also contributed guitar on albums by Chuck Berry, James Cotton, and Mitch Ryder. Next, after relocating to San Francisco in 1967, he formed Electric Flag with his long time collaborators Goldberg and Nick Gravenites, and bassist Harvey Brooks and drummer Buddy Miles completed the band. Michael was organic – he played directly from his heart into an amp,” says keyboard player Barry Goldberg, who met the guitarist in high school in Chicago and was in Bloomfield’s psychedelic-R&B big band the Electric Flag. “When he shook a string, it was like Otis Rush. He had the intensity in his soul. He didn’t need anything else.

They appeared together for the first time at the Monterey Pop Festival and released the “A Long Time Comin,” album in 1968, featuring “Killing Floor,’ “Texas,” and “Wine,” among other tasty tracks. The record was seen as uneven, and hostilities between band members and heroin abuse subverted the group. Teaming up with Kooper once again and Steven Stills., The band released the one-off “Supersession,” with one of Bloomfield’s finest moments on the soulful “Albert’s Shuffle,”

The classic example is Super Session, Bloomfield’s only hit record under his own name. Tracks from that album, outtakes and associated live material – arguably some of his most sublime, furiously poetic soloing on record – comprise From His Head‘s second CD. Guitarist Jimmy Vivino, the bandleader on Conan and a lifelong Bloomfield disciple, cites the gleaming tangle of vocal-like phrasing and diamond-hard melodic certainty in “Albert’s Shuffle,” the opener on Super Session, as the peak. “The intro and first chorus are breath taking,” he raves. “And it’s just a Les Paul Sunburst into a Super Reverb amp with that Bloomfield tone – no bass, volume all the way up. And you control it from the guitar.”

But Bloomfield is on only one side of the original LP. He quit the sessions after one night of recording, leaving Kooper a note: “Alan, couldn’t sleep. Went home.” Kooper finished the album with Stephen Stills. “You know what it was in retrospect? Michael wasn’t properly challenged by anyone,” Kooper says now. “Even I didn’t want to take that position. I’d rather be his friend.”

The album was a big hit landing at #12 on the Billboard Album Charts, and resulting in a sequel “Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper”, recorded at Fillmore West. Bloomfield turned to solo. session and backup work for the next 12 years, including guitar on a track of Mother Earth’s “Living With the Animals,” in ’68. He also produced James Cotton’s “Cotton in Your Ears,” sessions in ’69, and contributed to Janis Joplin’s “I Got Dem Ol’ Kosmic Blues Again Mama,” 1969 album – and helped put together the band.

His last major work was on “Fathers and Sons,” on the Chess label reuniting with Butterfield and Lay, backing Chess masters Muddy Waters and pianist Otis Spann. He gave up guitar playing in 1970 because of his addiction but did manage a few more albums in the 1970s, including “Triumvirate,” in 1973 with Dr. John and John Hammond Jr., and a reformed Electric Flag for an album “The Band Kept Playing.” He sat in with Dylan at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre on 11/15/80, and continued to play live dates, with an appearance at S.F. State College on 2/7/81 that would be his last.

Sadly, Bloomfield was found dead in his car from a heroin overdose on 2/15/81. His guitar prowess would live on in his wake, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #22 on its list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” in 2003, and he was inducted into Blues Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.