One of the first blues albums I ever owned was the first release by the Butterfield Blues Band. I’m sure I bought it on a trip to Robert’s Records with “Guitar Johnny” Nicholas in the summer of 1967.
Up until that time, my musical education, which had began with the Kingston Trio and Bobby Darin, had only advanced from AM radio and Spector’s Wall of Sound to the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Dylan’s early albums. Like a lot of American kids, I got my first taste of blues and roots music through the cover versions recorded by the English groups like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Animals. Before that, I had very little exposure to the blues.
I can still remember dropping the needle on the first track of the album and hearing the blast of "Born in Chicago". First, the rhythm section kicks in along with Butterfield’s harp right there. After the vocals start, there is that distinctive lead, like the buzz of an angry bee, from the guitar of Mike Bloomfield. It was a kind of music I had never heard before and I couldn’t get enough of the whole album. Something about the look of the band and their raw sound captured my imagination and made me hungry to hear more blues.
Within the year, I was diving deeper into Dylan’s music and history. I found a newspaper article about Dylan’s electric breakout at the Newport Folk Festival in the summer of 1965. Looking at a newspaper picture of the band from that night, I recognized Bloomfield on the bandstand. There he was with his Jew Fro and trademark hunched stance over his telecaster. Later someone gave me a bootleg tape of that night. His guitar playing jumped off the tape at me. It was vintage Bloomfield and loud enough to help Bob shake up the folk establishment.
Next, I realized that the lead guitar on my new favorite album, Highway 61 Revisited was Mike Bloomfield as well. The story of the contribution of Al Kooper and Bloomfield on Highway 61 is well known. In his fantastic book Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, (Highly recommended and available at Amazon) Kooper describes the scene when Bloomfield arrives in the studio: “Suddenly Dylan exploded through the doorway, and in towwas this bizarre-looking guy carrying a Fender Telecaster without a case. Which was weird, because it was the dead of winter and the guitar was
all wet from the rain and snow. But he just shuffled over into the corner, wiped it off, plugged in and commenced to play some of the most incredible guitar I ever heard.”