The Electric Flag
|The Electric Flag|
|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Years active||1967–1969, 1974
|Past members||Mike Bloomfield
The Electric Flag was an American blues rock soul group, led by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, keyboardist Barry Goldberg and drummer Buddy Miles, and featuring other musicians such as vocalist Nick Gravenites and bassist Harvey Brooks. Bloomfield formed the Electric Flag in 1967, following his stint with the Butterfield Blues Band. The band reached its peak with the 1968 release, A Long Time Comin', a fusion of rock, jazz, and R&B styles that charted well in the Billboard Pop Albums chart. Their initial recording was a soundtrack for The Trip, a movie about an LSD experience by Peter Fonda, written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Roger Corman.
With his great appreciation for blues, soul and R&B, Mike Bloomfield wanted to create a group of his own that would feature what he called "American music." He was inspired not only by the big band blues of B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, and Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones), but also by the contemporary soul sounds of Otis Redding, Steve Cropper, Booker T & the MGs, and other Stax recording artists. He also drew inspiration from traditional country, gospel, and blues forms. Initially called the American Music Band, Bloomfield organized the band that would become known as The Electric Flag in the spring of 1967, not long after he produced a session with Chicago harp player James Cotton that featured a horn section. Bloomfield decided that his new band would also have horns and would play an amalgam of those American musics he loved.
The group was initially formed at the instigation of Bloomfield, but with the strong encouragement and organization of Barry Goldberg. Harvey Brooks, who had previously worked with Bloomfield in 1965, recording Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, joined as bassist, and recommended Buddy Miles, then 19 years old, who was the drummer at the time for Wilson Pickett. Bloomfield and Goldberg had originally been considering approaching Billy Mundi, then playing with the Mothers of Invention. (Mundi would later leave the Mothers of Invention to become the first drummer for the intended Elektra supergroup, Rhinoceros.) Miles was persuaded by Goldberg and Bloomfield to leave Pickett, after the former attended Murray The K's Easter Show in New York on March 26, 1967 and met Miles afterwards. Mitch Ryder was initially approached to be the vocalist, since Bloomfield had, through Goldberg, been contributing with Goldberg to some Ryder recording sessions. Ryder declined the invitation, preferring to remain with the Detroit Wheels. Bloomfield next approached Nick Gravenites, originally also from Chicago, who agreed.
Peter Strazza, whom Goldberg knew from Chicago, joined on tenor saxophone. Jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, who had developed his career in Seattle while a university student, recommended Seattle-based Marcus Doubleday on trumpet.
Bloomfield and Goldberg developed the group in San Francisco, under Albert Grossman's management, and immediately began working on the band's first project: the soundtrack for the film The Trip. Actor Peter Fonda approached Bloomfield for the project, as a replacement for Gram Parsons' International Submarine Band. Director Roger Corman did not find the music of Parsons' band appropriate for a movie about the LSD experience. At the time, the Electric Flag was rehearsing in Gram Parsons' Laurel Canyon, California home.
Bloomfield was solely credited for all of the compositions on the album. He hired keyboardist Paul Beaver to add texture to the soundtrack, through the use of one of the first Moog Synthesizers on record. The soundtrack recording was reportedly completed in ten days. While the movie received mixed reviews, the soundtrack attracted positive critical notice. As described by David Dann in his biography of the Electric Flag, "The record was also one of the most adventurous for pop music in 1967, sampling freely from jazz, rock, blues and classical idioms, and doing so with wit and intelligence. It very much favored the eclectic approach toward American musical forms that Bloomfield wanted the new band to embody. That Michael could create such unusual and wide-ranging pieces said much for his appreciation and knowledge of those forms, and displayed his characteristic fearlessness when it came to experimentation."
One of the Bloomfield compositions from The Trip soundtrack, "Flash, Bam, Pow," was later included in the soundtrack to the 1969 film Easy Rider. The song was omitted from the release of the original soundtrack and has not been included in subsequent reissues.
The band made its debut appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the first of the '60s rock music extravaganzas. Now called the Electric Flag, the group was well received by the audience of 55,000, though its performance fell short of Bloomfield's high standards. Following Monterey, the Flag proceeded to tour the Northeast and perform in the San Francisco area while working on a recording for Columbia Records. Though a critical success, the Flag remained largely unknown to the general public due in part to the band's inability to complete its first album in a timely manner. In addition, Marcus Doubleday had joined the Electric Flag as a heroin addict, while Peter Strazza, Barry Goldberg and Michael Bloomfield developed heroin problems thereafter. In November 1967, Barry Goldberg left the Electric Flag in an effort to bring his personal cirumstances under control. He was replaced by Michael Fonfara, at the time playing with David Clayton-Thomas in New York, and who was recommended by Buddy Miles. Fonfara was fired by Albert Grossman by December, after a drug bust in Los Angeles. Herb Rich, who had recently joined on saxophone, assumed Fonfara's role on keyboards and was in turn replaced on saxophone by Stemzie Hunter, a friend of Buddy Miles.Fonfara was shortly thereafter selected as the keyboard player for Rhinoceros, where he rebuilt his musical career. He spent the 1970s playing, recording and producing with Lou Reed, among other activities, prior to developing a successful career in Canada as a member of the Downchild Blues Band and as a producer of other artists.
Subsequent to completing the soundtrack to The Trip, the band commenced work on its long-awaited first album, A Long Time Comin'. The album, released in March 1968, was recorded between July 1967 and January 1968. The album was one of the first pop recordings to blend sound and voice samples with music. By early 1968, drummer Buddy Miles had become a dominant force in the Flag's musical direction. The group's repertory by then included numerous contemporary soul covers, featuring Miles on vocals, plus many classic blues tunes. The band produced fewer than a dozen original pieces, mostly written by vocalist Nick Gravenites. Bloomfield's original "American music" concept appeared to have narrowed considerably. In terms of the band's original material, Miles Davis praised the Bloomfield–Goldberg composition, "Over-Lovin' You", in a Down Beat Blindfold Test in 1968.
By June 1968, only months after the release of the album, Bloomfield quit the group, based on exhaustion brought on by continuing insomnia that was ineffectively medicated through heroin. In the weeks prior to his departure, there had been much public speculation as to whether Bloomfield was leaving the group or whether the group was leaving him. Buddy Miles, rather than Bloomfield, had become the de facto leader of the group. Though they strove to carry on under Miles' direction, the Electric Flag was effectively finished. They issued the late 1968 album The Electric Flag: An American Music Band, but personality conflicts, differing aesthetics, and a series of drug problems hastened the band's downfall.
Though the Electric Flag was together in its original configuration less than a year, the band made a strong impression on critics and musicians, primarily in the San Francisco area where they were based. One of the first rock groups to include horns, the Electric Flag preceded the earliest edition of Blood, Sweat and Tears with Al Kooper.
Al Kooper left BS&T in April 1968, and was inspired by a jam recording with Moby Grape to organize the similarly structured Super Session album. The lineup included Electric Flag members Bloomfield, Brooks, and Goldberg. Bloomfield eventually dropped out of the sessions due to insomnia, and was replaced by Buffalo Springfield's Stephen Stills. Bloomfield and Kooper later toured together, while drummer and vocalist Buddy Miles went on to form the Buddy Miles Express and play in Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys. Bloomfield developed a solo career, commencing with the release of It's Not Killing Me in 1969, which included former Electric Flag bandmate Marcus Doubleday on trumpet.
Mike Bloomfield released several albums after this, including Nick Gravenites Live at the Fillmore which includes Taj Mahal doing "One More MIle". Buddy Miles started the Buddy Miles Express with a big hit "Down By the River". As noted Miles played with Hendrix in Band of Gypsies and then later with Carlos Santana. Miles passed away in 2008.
A reunion took place in 1974, with the Electric Flag releasing The Band Kept Playing, but the recording was not a commercial or critical success and the band quickly disbanded after several months of sporadic gigs. This lineup of the band featured Bloomfield, Goldberg, Miles, and Gravenites, along with new member Roger Troy on bass and vocals.
On July 28 and 29, 2007, a concert took place at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival. One of the acts featured was a one-time reunion of The Electric Flag, anchored by original members Gravenites, Goldberg, and former member Hunter, backed by members of the Tower of Power and The Blues Project. The one hour set featured material from the first album, as well as several blues covers.
- Mike Bloomfield — lead guitars, vocals (1967–1968, 1974; died 1981)
- Barry Goldberg — keyboards (1967, 1974, 2007)
- Harvey Brooks — bass (1967–1969)
- Buddy Miles — drums, vocals (1967–1969, 1974; died 2008)
- Nick Gravenites — rhythm guitars, vocals (1967–1969, 1974, 2007)
- Peter Strazza — saxophone (1967–1969)
- Marcus Doubleday — trumpet (1967–1969)
- Michael Fonfara — keyboards (1967)
- Herb Rich — keyboards, saxophone (1967–1969; died 2004)
- Stemzie Hunter — saxophone (1967–1969, 2007)
- Roger Troy — bass, vocals (1974)
- The Trip "Musical Score Composed and Performed by The Electric Flag, An American Music Band" (1967, Curb Records; CD abbreviated version 1996)
- A Long Time Comin' (1968, Columbia) (with Bloomfield and Goldberg)
- The Electric Flag: An American Music Band (1968, Columbia; led by Buddy Miles, after Bloomfield and Goldberg left)
- The Best of the Electric Flag (1971, Columbia)
- The Band Kept Playing (1974, Atlantic; CD Reissue 2002, Wounded Bird; reunion recording); without Harvey Brooks, who was replaced by Roger Troy
- Old Glory: Best of the Electric Flag, An American Music Band (1995, Sony; "best of" compilation, including outtakes and selections from the band's Monterey Pop Festival appearance)
- Groovin' Is Easy (1983), The Electric Flag: Live (2000), I Found Out (2000), Funk Grooves (Classic World Productions, 2002), I Found Out (Dressed To Kill, 2005), I Should Have Left Her (Music Avenue, 2007. It is the same material on different releases, namely outtakes from the 1974 reunion recording and live performances from the original band in 1968). The track listing for the Class World Productions Funk Grooves release, subtitled "The Best of Electric Flag" is as follows:
- "It's Not The Spotlight"
- "I Was Robbed Last Night"
- "I Found Out"
- "Never Be Lonely Again"
- "Losing Game"
- "My Baby Wants To Test Me"
- "I Should Have Left Her"
- "You Don't Realize"
- "Groovin' Is Easy"
- The only live recording appears to be "You Don't Realize", with "Groovin' Is Easy" being a poorly recorded version of the original. Most of the songs are blues-based Bloomfield originals. No performer credits are provided. Harvey Brooks appears on the cover, even though he was not part of the 1974 reunion. Buddy Miles appears as lead vocalist only on "It's Not The Spotlight", a 1973 song co-written by Barry Goldberg and Gerry Goffin. The song was recorded by both Manhattan Transfer and Rod Stewart, but did not find its way on to The Band Kept Playing (1974).
- Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 313–314. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
- See The Trip (Original Soundtrack), as reviewed by Matthew Greenwald; www.allmusic.com.
- Dann, David. An American Music Band: Mike Bloomfield's Electric Flag; www.mikebloomfieldamericanmusic.com.
- Easy Rider (soundtrack)
- A Long Time Comin '
- See The Trip (Curb); www.allmusic.com.