Talk about impact…! Talk about influence and inspiration! We’re talking about Bloomfield: Mike Bloomfield, guitarist and stylist extraordinaire.
-Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ TOP Guitarist)
It was just a fabulous band. They were tight. The combination of Michael, Elvin, and Butterfield was incredible. The music they played…it was the shit.
-Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane on the Paul Butterfield Blues band)
The guy that I always miss, Mike Bloomfield, he could just flat-out play. He had so much soul. And he knew all the styles, and he could play them so incredibly well.
- Bob Dylan
Music on two legs
-Eric Clapton (Upon seeing Bloomfield live in 1966)
Mike was the primary mover in unleashing the power of the electric guitar in the mid-1960s.
His incendiary guitar solos with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and his collaboration with Bob Dylan on “Like a Rolling Stone” paved the way for guitar heroes to come. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, and Trey Anastasio of the group Phish all became famous in their own right.
But Mike Bloomfield was first.
Sweet Home Chicago
Michael Bernard Bloomfield was born in Chicago, Ill. in 1943 to a wealthy Jewish family. However, he was a restless spirit who wasn’t satisfied with a quiet, normal life. As an eccentric adolescent, he began to hang around his Grandfather’s pawn shop, Uncle Max’s on Clark Street, on the Northside of town.
“My grandad was a pawnbroker and had been one for forty or fifty years, Bloomfield said, and guitars hung in the window. I realized that the one thing that sort of tied all these things together, there seems to be a guitar involved. When I would see Elvis pictures, he had a guitar, and when I would see posters in Chicago of the various blues singers I would be hearing on the radio, I would see them with guitars, and I worked in a store with guitars, so one day I brought an acoustic guitar home with me, and that’s how I started playing the guitar.”
On the Radio!
Because of its atmospheric conditions, and its geographical setting, Chicago was able to receive a nearly boundless array of radio stations from all over the country. It was also a time when blacks and whites migrated to Chicago seeking jobs and prosperity. Needless to say, they wanted to keep part of their culture with them, so the airwaves of the Windy City were full of every kind of music imaginable: country, soul, bluegrass, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, you name it, it was being blasted into the air all over Chicago.
“Man, I had every Elvis Presley magazine, this fat little Jew with his hair combed like Elvis Presley waddling around. You laugh man, but it was very serious to me. The aesthetic of it was very important to me. I saw myself in my mind as this long, lanky hillbilly, and the radio just was the reinforcement of that whole lifestyle,” Bloomfield recalls in Ed Ward‘s excellent biography; Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero.
Changing of the Guard: Mike and Bob Go Electric At Newport
July 25th, 1965, mark this date in history.
Bloomfield impressed Dylan when they first met at a local folk club in 1963, an encounter that led to Dylan’s phone call in ’65 asking Bloomfield to record with him in New York. Kooper, who played organ on “Like a Rolling Stone,” actually showed up for that session expecting to play guitar. Then Bloomfield “walked in, sat down next to me, said hello, and started warming up,” Kooper says. “I’d never heard anybody that good, much less somebody my age. I put my guitar in the case and slipped it under the chair. He got rid of me in five minutes.”
However on that fateful July day at Newport, Dylan and his back electric band, featuring Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, and Paul Butterfield, changed the course of music forever. The folk hero became a rock God with the help of the ubiquitous Mr. Bloomfield. A few days later they would finish up work on Dylan’s breakout LP; Highway 61 Revisited.
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
–Rudyard Kipling (From The Ballad of East and West)
Kipling’s epic poem was a meditation on the various tensions that have divided East and West for centuries, but it essentially argues that when strong people meet up, only their talents and prowess matter, not ethnicity, or culture. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band would bring that perspective into one off the most influential records ever made: East-West. Their LP was, for all intents and purposes, the harbinger of the extended musical jams (Work Song/East-West) which groups like the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band, Cream, Phish and others would come to play on records and concerts till this day. Before East-West, records never featured extended solos and purposeful instrumental interplay.
“The original was the first ‘modern’ recording (East West) I’d ever heard which took me to ‘another place’. They were unique and private places I could visit whenever I dropped the needle onto the vinyl and that Bloomfield was creating for me and everyone else who cared to listen. It was the first ‘head’ music.”
-Steve Shark (Speaking of Bloomdfield’s guitar playing on the Butterfield Blues Band’s epoch making LP; East West.)
AllMusic’s Mark Deming in his review of the band’s seminal LP, writes:
“East-West captures a great group in high flight as the bandmembers join together in something even more remarkable than their estimable skills as individuals would suggest, and its importance as a nexus point between rock, blues, jazz, and world music cannot be overestimated.”
Music From the Outer Limits
It was a hot Summer day in late July of 1965 in North Florida when my neighbor, Raymond Smith, came excitedly rushing down our street, Sunset Drive, to tell me he had just bought a single that I most definitely had to hear. So Ray and I ran back to his place so I could hear what he was so pumped up about. At the time, the Beatles had just released the single and the movie, Help! Musical magic was in the air and any new release might change how you saw the world. Well, as I sat in my friend’s living room and heard the snare drum kick off Dylan’s new opus, I couldn’t believe my ears. Number one, it was electric, and Bob was a folkie, an amusing late night listen, maybe. But this song, well, it was something else. The lyrics were so witty and venomous, and the song so powerful, I was blown away. We listened at least ten more times before we decided the whole neighborhood had to listen as well. Little did I know, but Mike Bloomfield had played his new Fender Telecaster ( he purchased it for this, his first “session”) on this game-changing record; Like a Rolling Stone, and a few days later, would accompany Bob on the stage at the Newport Folk Festival for Dylan’s electric coming out party. So, just like that, a thunderbolt of musical style and depth had been thrown into our world. From then on, our late night record listens would include Dylan along with the usual suspects.
For more about Mike, check out his long-time friend Al Kooper’s compilation:
Mike Bloomfield: From His Head to His Heart to His Hand
Like many legends in the music business, Michael left us far too soon.
(July 28, 1943 – February 15, 1981)
I think they felt if Michael Bloomfield said if he listened to B.B. King, we’ll listen to him too.
-B.B. King (discussing his enormous crossover success with white and black audiences)
Michael Bloomfield was my first guitar hero. I never met or saw him in concert. The sustained, explosive and exploratory brilliance of Bloomfield’s work on record between 1965 and 1968 – with Butterfield, Bob Dylan in ’65, the acid-soul band the Electric Flag and across the first side of 1968’s Super Session with Al Kooper – has no equal in rock or blues guitar history.
-Steve Fricke (Rolling Stone)
They played every night like it was their last night on Earth.
-Peter Wolf (lead singer J. Geils Band, on seeing the Paul Butterfield Band Live)
“Mike Bloomfield is playin’ more blues than I am. If you listened to people like that, you’d stop askin’ stupid questions about whether they can play the blues or not. Mike was the tops, one of the very best.”
-Buddy Guy (When asked if a white man could play the blues)
His brother, Allen, remembered Mike with an ancient poem:
My friend, this body is His lute. He tightens the strings and plays its songs.
If the strings break and the pegs work loose, this lute, made of dust, returns to dust. Kabir says: Nobody else can wake from it that heavenly music.
~ Kabir (Hindu Mystic)
For CP – Artist, Friend, and Astral Traveller.