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Paul Butterfield – “The world was changing”

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Although I was disappointed with the Chicago blues segment of Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series, two great moments in the film were brief snippets of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band rocking at home in Chicago, and backing Bob Dylan at the fateful Newport Folk Festival of 1965. A lot of people today don’t realize what a great and pioneering band they were.

In 1964 Elektra talent scout and producer Paul Rothchild heard about a group in Chicago that was combining the grit of the blues with the excitement of electric music, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

On a visit to Chicago, Rothchild was blown away by the band. At the end of a long night’s club crawl through Chicago with Butterfield, he also found a guitarist who “tore,” as Rothchild told Joe Smith in Off the Record, his “mind apart.”

Michael Bloomfield had turned down Butterfield’s offer to join his group innumerable times, but when Rothchild and Bloomfield sat down together and did “a half hour of intense intellectual Jew at each other,” Bloomfield agreed to join the band.

After two false starts (a studio session and a live session – the studio session was released in 1995 on Rhino as The Original Lost Elektra Sessions), Elektra put out The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, one of the great blues albums of the ’60s featuring Butterfield on harmonica and vocals, Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on guitars, and veterans of Howlin’ Wolf’s band Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay, on bass and drums respectively.

Rothchild and Holzman got the band included in the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, a first for an electric band at the pristine acoustic festival. Musicologist Alan Lomax introduced the band with a diatribe against electric music, after which Butterfield’s (as well as Dylan’s and Peter, Paul and Mary’s) manager, Albert Grossman, punched Lomax in the nose.

Impressed, Bob Dylan picked the Butterfield band to back him up for his first-ever electric set the next day. Rothchild was the only member of the festival management who had ever recorded electric music, so he was asked to run the sound for Dylan’s set.

As the band struck up the opening to “Maggie’s Farm” on electric instruments, “it seemed like everybody on my left wanted Dylan to get off the stage, and everybody on my right wanted him to stay … Here comes Pete Seeger with an ax wanting to cut the power cables … It was the turning point. The old guard realized the world was changing.”

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About Eric Olsen

  • Taloran

    Butterfield’s East-West was one of the albums that set the rock world on its ear – it sounds a bit dated today, but one can still hear the revolutionary quality of the music.

  • Eric Olsen

    Tal, certainly it continued the inroads Butterfield was making into the rock audience, but I think the first one was epochal.

  • Taloran

    I became aware of Butter through my worship, as an 18-year-old aspiring blues guitarist, of Michael Bloomfield. And his appearance on The Band’s The Last Waltz, performing Mystery Train.
    A few years ago I had a long email conversation with his then-keyboardist, Mark Naftalin, through whom I purchased both East-West and East-West Live on CD. The 38 minute live version of East-West still blows me away – Bloomfield is sublime throughout.

  • Taloran

    1973’s It All Comes Back and Better Days are both excellent, as well, though perhaps not as important in defining the Chicago white boy blues sound.

  • Eric Olsen

    Not so much “white boy” as hybrid: the rhythm section of Lay and Arnold were black.

  • Taloran

    Eric, it still doesn’t sound like Muddy. It’s white boy blues. Think of all the guys of that era, genre and location who became well known (compared to other bluesmen, not to Van Halen) – Butter, Bloomfield, Barry Goldberg, Charlie Musselwhite, Harvey Mandel, Neil Merriweather, Lynn “Mama Lion” Carey….
    What do they have in common?

    I’m not dissing Chicago white boy blues – I love it! It’s one of my favorite musical styles. But it is different from the music of its African-American predecessors and contemporaries.

  • Eric Olsen

    Tal, okay, but although it doesn’t sound like Muddy, it also doesn’t sound like The Electric Flag or The Blues Project, or Super Session, or Bluesbreakers, or early Fleetwood Mac. It’s a hybrid.

  • Taloran

    Yep, it’s a hybrid known as “Chicago white boy blues!” ;-)

  • Taloran

    I pulled out East-West Live today…. man, it rocks!

  • gabriel butterfield (son of)

    Thank you for your true and wonderful comments on my father. As in many ways he is getting shoved to the wayside.
    My fiance and I are working diligently to preserve his memory and educate the masses as to what a pinicle role he played in Blues history making. We recently achieved placing him in The Sweet Home chicago tour as part of Year of the Blues and are in the process of establishing The Paul Butterfield Fund/Society dedicated to assisting struggling artsts with emergency relief and medical funds, project support and cultural enrichment projects.

    Thank you for your support and fond words of memory for my father.

    With warmth,
    Gabriel Buterfield–son of Paul Butterfield and fiance–Salli Squitieri

  • Shark

    Man, what memories! I think East-West was maybe the second or third album I bought as a kid. For me, it pretty much IS the sound of the 60s.

    And “Work Song” is one of the greastest pieces of music ever put on vinyl.

    Best of luck, Gabriel, and as you can tell, there are MANY of us out there keeping the memory alive.

    Shark

  • HW Saxton Jr.

    Gabriel,I wish you continued good luck
    with your projects.Your pops & his band
    rocked like mad.I was just listening to
    the “Lost Sessions” earlier this week.
    Beautiful stuff. One of the true unsung
    heroes of ChiTown Blues.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks so much for stopping by Gabriel, and I’m glad you found my comments worthy. Best of luck with your efforts – having an advocate makes a big difference.

  • Frank Macias

    Hey Gabriel, just wanted to let you know that your father has not been forgotten here in San Antonio, TX. I’ve been turning on people to PB since I returned to TX in 1970. The latest is my next door neighbor who is beginning to teach himself harp. He listens to a lot of players but it took one hearing for him to know that PB was the best there ever was.
    I last saw PB around ’82-’84 when he did his last Southern tour and came through San Antonio. He did a great performance that night with a band of unknown musicians. His show astounded my wife! She had never seen anything remotely like it.

    I got to meet him that night and spoke to him some but I was mostly dumbfounded! He looked great and appeared healthy. I had no idea we would lose him so soon after.

    When the show was over I decided that I would try to keep that caliber of musicianship with me everytime I played my guitar. I still do a few PB songs in public in memory of him.

    There is no way I can forget all the years of joy your father brought to me through his music first in the bay area of ’66 – ’68 and in later years through his records. I listen to his music to this very day and the joy has not ended.

    Frank Macias

  • RandallT4

    I discovered Paul Butterfield through first listening to “Super Session” and finding out who this guy Mike Bloomfield was in 1968. Months later my buddy bought “East-West”, easily one of the best albums of the late ’60s. I had the rare opportunity to see Paul and his band perform in San Diego in the early ’70s. What blew my mind about Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield was the way they incorporated blues, rock, jazz and eastern music. “East-West”, lasting most of the side of an album obviously was not going to bet much radio play. I remember playing it for some of my friends who were only into hard rock and they would sit there shaking their heads in disbelief, grab the album cover, read every word and immediately head to the record store to find a copy. Too bad we lost so many of these fine young artists so early, but their great works will be preserved and serve to educate musicians and elevate the emotions of listeners always.

  • Jim West

    “Harvey Mandel, Neil Merriweather, Lynn “Mama Lion” Carey….”

    I remember seeing Harvey Mandel at the Whiskey, great show! I was present at a recording session with Lynn Carey and the band Mama Lion at the Hollywood Spectrum, Oh what a night! It was my first days of being a DJ… little did I know then I was going have 23 notches on my gun from some of the best stations in California, and finally ending up at heritage station WMMS in Cleveland!

    I loved Lynn Carey and met Neil of few times, he was always riding around in the Limo. I ran into this band called “Hot Property” from Mendocino California and they were big Merriweather fans and had a few of his albums on hand. Lynn was a Hotty and that party is one of my fondest memories. Those were the days!! Take me back take me back!