Mike Bloomfield

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For the astronaut, see Michael J. Bloomfield.
Mike Bloomfield
Mike Bloomfield 1960.jpg
Bloomfield circa 1968
Background information
Birth name Michael Bernard Bloomfield
Born (1943-07-28)July 28, 1943
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died February 15, 1981(1981-02-15) (aged 37)
San Francisco, California, United States
Genres Blues, blues rock, Chicago blues
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, piano
Years active 1964–81
Associated acts The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bob Dylan, Electric Flag, Al Kooper, Nick Gravenites, Dr. John, John P. Hammond
Website mikebloomfield.com
Notable instruments
Gibson Les Paul
Fender Telecaster

Michael Bernard "Mike" Bloomfield (July 28, 1943 – February 15, 1981) was an American musician, guitarist, and composer, born in Chicago, Illinois, who became one of the first popular music superstars of the 1960s to earn his reputation almost entirely on his instrumental prowess, since he rarely sang before 1969 and 1970. Respected for his fluid guitar playing, Bloomfield knew and played with many of Chicago's blues legends even before he achieved his own fame, and was one of the primary influences on the mid-to-late 1960s revival of classic Chicago and other styles of blues music. In 2003 he was ranked at number 22 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".[1]

Early years[edit]

Bloomfield was born into a wealthy Jewish-American family on the North Side of Chicago but preferred music to the family catering equipment business, becoming a blues devotee as a teenager and spending time at Chicago's South Side blues clubs, playing guitar with some black bluesmen (Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell, Little Brother Montgomery). Bloomfield's family eventually moved to suburban Glencoe, Illinois, where Bloomfield attended New Trier High School for two years before being expelled. He attended Cornwall Academy in Massachusetts for one year before returning to Chicago where he spent his last year at the local YMCA school.[2]

The young guitarist's talent "was instantly obvious to his mentors," wrote Al Kooper, Bloomfield's later collaborator and close friend, in a 2001 article. "They knew this was not just another white boy; this was someone who truly understood what the blues were all about."[3] Among his early supporters were B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy. Michael used to say, 'It's a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country. Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering's the mutual fulcrum for the blues'."[3]

The Butterfield Band[edit]

During those haunts, he met Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop, ran his own small blues club, the Fickle Pickle, and was discovered by legendary Columbia Records producer/scout John Hammond, who signed him to the label at a time when the label had had no recent association with blues.

Bloomfield recorded a few sessions for Columbia in 1964 (which weren't released until after his death), but ended up joining the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which included Bishop and Howlin' Wolf rhythm section alumni Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold.

Their exuberant, electric Chicago blues inspired a generation of white bluesmen, with Bloomfield's work on the band's self-titled debut, and the subsequent record East-West, bringing wide acclaim to the young guitarist. Especially popular was "East-West's" thirteen-minute title track, an instrumental combining elements of blues, jazz, psychedelic rock, and the classical Indian raga. Bloomfield's innovative solos were at the forefront of the ground-breaking piece. He had been inspired to create "East-West" after an all-night LSD trip according to one legend, but a subsequent anthology of the Butterfield band included a booklet saying Bloomfield had also been influenced by John Coltrane and other blues-friendly free-style jazz musicians, plus traditional Indian and Eastern music in creating the piece. (The original title for the piece was "The Raga.")

Bloomfield was also a session musician, gaining wide recognition for his work with Bob Dylan during his first explorations into electric music. Bloomfield's sound was a major part of Dylan's change of style, especially on Highway 61 Revisited; his guitar style melded the blues influence with rock and folk. Al Kooper has since revealed – in the booklet accompanying the posthumous Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964–1969 – that Dylan had invited Bloomfield to play with him permanently but that Bloomfield rejected the invitation in order to continue playing the blues with the Butterfield band. But Bloomfield and fellow Butterfield members Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, backing Dylan for his controversial first live electric performance.

Rock critic Dave Marsh, in Rock and Roll Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles of All Time, claimed Bloomfield to have been the lead guitarist for Mitch Ryder's hit "Devil With The Blue Dress." However, Marsh's claim is disputed by Bloomfield collaborator Barry Goldberg, who played keyboards on that track. For the online bio, "The Bloomfield Notes" (#6), Barry states that Mike played on the following recording after "Devil", and "Sock it to Me", another track mistakenly credited to Bloomfield.[citation needed]

The Electric Flag[edit]

Bloomfield tired of the Butterfield Band's rigorous touring schedule and, relocating to San Francisco, sought to create his own group. Bloomfield left to form the short-lived Electric Flag in 1967 with two longtime Chicago cohorts, organist Barry Goldberg and vocalist Nick Gravenites. The band was intended to feature "American music," a hybrid of blues, soul music, country, rock, and folk, and incorporated an expanded lineup complete with a horn section. The inclusion of drummer Buddy Miles, whom he hired away from Wilson Pickett's touring band, gave Bloomfield license to explore soul and R&B. The Electric Flag debuted at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and issued an album, A Long Time Comin', in April 1968 on Columbia Records. Critics complimented the group's distinctive, intriguing sound but found the record itself somewhat uneven. By that time, however, the band was already disintegrating; rivalries between members, shortsighted management, and heroin abuse all took their toll. Shortly after the release of that album, Bloomfield left his own band, with Gravenites, Goldberg, and bassist Harvey Brooks following.

Work with Al Kooper[edit]

Bloomfield also made an impact through his work with Al Kooper, with whom he had played with Stephen Stills, on the album Super Session in 1968. The direct impetus for the record, according to Kooper, was the twosome's having been part of Grape Jam, an improvisational addendum to Moby Grape's Wow earlier in the year.

"Why not do an entire jam album together?" Kooper remembered in 1998, writing the booklet notes for the Bloomfield anthology Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964-1969. "At the time, most jazz albums were made using this modus operandi: pick a leader or two co-leaders, hire appropriate sidemen, pick some tunes, make some up and record an entire album on the fly in one or two days. Why not try and legitimize rock by adhering to these standards? In addition, as a fan, I was dissatisfied with Bloomfield's recorded studio output up until then. It seemed that his studio work was inhibited and reined in, compared to his incendiary live performances. Could I put him in a studio setting where he could feel free to just burn like he did in live performances?"

The result was Super Session, a jam album that spotlighted Bloomfield's guitar skills on one side; Bloomfield's chronic insomnia caused him to repair to his San Francisco home, prompting Kooper to invite Stephen Stills to complete the album. It received excellent reviews and became the best-selling album of Bloomfield's career; its success led to a live sequel, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, recorded over three nights at Fillmore West in September 1968.

Solo work[edit]

Bloomfield continued with solo, session and back-up work from 1969 to 1980, releasing his first solo work It's Not Killing Me in 1969. He recorded an album called Try It Before You Buy It which Columbia declined to release a year later. Bloomfield also helped Janis Joplin put her Kozmic Blues Band (for the album of the same name) together in 1969, co-wrote "Work Me, Lord" for the album, and played the guitar solo on Joplin's blues composition "One Good Man." Columbia also released another 1969 album, a live concert jam, Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, including former Butterfield bandmate Mark Naftalin, former Electric Flag bandmates Marcus Doubleday and Snooky Flowers, and a guest appearance by Taj Mahal; and, re-uniting with former bandmates Paul Butterfield and Sam Lay for the Chess Records all-star set, Fathers and Sons, featuring Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, also the same year. Bloomfield also composed and recorded the soundtrack for the film, Medium Cool by his cousin, Haskell Wexler set during the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.

For a time, however, Bloomfield gave up playing because of his heroin addiction:

During the late 1970s, Bloomfield recorded for several smaller labels, including Takoma Records. Through Guitar Player magazine he also put out an instructional album with a vast array of blues guitar styles, titled If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em as You Please. Bloomfield also performed with John Cale on Cale's soundtrack to the film Caged Heat in 1975.

In 1973, Bloomfield teamed with Dr. John and John Hammond, Jr. for an album called Triumvirate, Bloomfield's final album under his Columbia contract. In 1974 Bloomfield hooked up with a failed supergroup called KGB, from the initials of Ray Kennedy (co-writer of "Sail On, Sailor"), Barry Goldberg on keyboards and Bloomfield on guitar. The band had a rhythm section of Rick Grech on bass and Carmine Appice on drums. Grech and Bloomfield immediately quit after its release, stating they never had faith in the project. The album was not well received, but it did contain the standout track "Sail On, Sailor". Its authorship was credited only to "Wilson-Kennedy", and had a bluesy, darker feel, along with Ray Kennedy's original cocaine related lyrics.[citation needed] Through the 1970s, Bloomfield seemed satisfied to play in local San Francisco Bay Area clubs, sitting in with other bands. During 1979–1981 Bloomfield performed often with the King Perkoff Band, often introducing them as his own "Michael Bloomfield and Friends" outfit. Bloomfield recorded "Hustlin' Queen", written by John Isabeau and Perkoff in 1979. Bloomfield had planned a tour to Sweden to complete an album of his favorites, including "Hustlin' Queen". Aside from a triumphant return to the stage sitting in with Bob Dylan at the Warfield in 1980 his rock star days were behind him. Bloomfield was found dead in the front seat of his 1965 Chevy Impala of an apparent heroin overdose in early 1981.

Death[edit]

The exact events and circumstances that led to his death are not clear. What is known is that Bloomfield was found dead of a drug overdose in his car on February 15, 1981.[5] The only details (from unnamed sources) relate that Bloomfield died at a San Francisco party, and was driven to another location in the city by two men who were present at the party. His tombstone is in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Culver City, near Los Angeles, California.

Style[edit]

Bloomfield's musical influences include Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, B.B. King, Big Joe Williams, Otis Rush, Albert King, Freddie King and Ray Charles.[6]

Bloomfield originally used the Fender Telecaster, though he had also used a Fender Mustang while recording for Columbia following his 1964 signing to the label. During his tenure with the Butterfield Blues Band he switched to a 1954 Gibson Les Paul model, which he used for some of the East-West sessions and which he was said to have found in Boston. In due course, according to biographers Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenom, Bloomfield swapped that guitar for a 1959 Les Paul Standard and $100. This was the guitar Bloomfield used as a member of the Electric Flag, and on the Super Session album and concerts. He later veered between the Les Paul and the Telecaster, but Bloomfield's use of the Les Paul—as did Keith Richards' with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton's with John Mayall—influenced many others to use the model, helping prod Gibson to re-introduce the line (which it had discontinued in 1960) by mid-1968. Bloomfield eventually lost the guitar in Canada; Wolkin and Keenom's biography revealed a club owner kept the guitar as partial compensation after Bloomfield cut short a round of appearances. Its location today is unknown.

Unlike contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, Bloomfield rarely experimented with feedback and distortion, preferring a loud but clean, almost chiming sound with a healthy amount of reverb. One of his amplifiers of choice was a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb. Bloomfield's solos, like most blues guitarists', were based primarily on the minor pentatonic scale and the blues scale. However, his liberal use of chromatic notes within the pentatonic framework, and his periodic lines based on Indian and Eastern modes, allowed a considerable degree of fluidity to his solos. He was also renowned for his use of vibrato.

Gibson has since released a Michael Bloomfield Les Paul—replicating his 1959 Standard—in recognition of his effect on the blues genre, on helping to influence the revived production of the guitar, and on many other guitarists.[7] Because the actual guitar had been unaccounted for so many years, Gibson relied on hundreds of photographs provided by Bloomfield's family to reproduce the guitar. The model comes in two configurations—a clean Vintage Original Specifications (VOS) version with only Bloomfield's mismatched volume and control knobs, missing toggle switch cover, and kidney-shaped tuners replacing the Gibson originals indicating its inspiration; and, a faithful, process-aged reproduction of the guitar as it was when Bloomfield played it last, complete with the finish smudge below the bridge and various nicks and smudges elsewhere around the body.

His influence among contemporary guitarists continues to be widely felt, primarily in the techniques of vibrato, natural sustain, and economy of notes. Guitarists such as: Joe Bonamassa, Arlen Roth, Carlos Santana, Slash, Jimmy Vivino, Chuck Hammer, Eric Johnson, Elliot Easton, Robben Ford, John Scofield, Jimmy Herring, Phil Keaggy, remain essentially influenced by Bloomfield's early recorded work.

Selected discography[edit]

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band[edit]

Electric Flag[edit]

Solo[edit]

  • It's Not Killing Me (1969)
  • Try It Before You Buy It (1973) (Remained unreleased until the 1980s, Additional recordings during these sessions were released on "Bloomfield: A Retrospective" in 1983)
  • If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em As You Please (1976)
  • Analine (1977)
  • Michael Bloomfield (1978)
  • Count Talent And The Originals (1978)
  • Between A Hard Place And The Ground (1979)
  • Bloomfield-Harris (1979)
  • Cruisin' For A Bruisin' (1981)

Collaborations[edit]

  • 'Blueskvarter' (recorded 1964, published 2007) - many Swedish CDs, recordings on Swedish radio. Bloomfield plays guitar with Little Brother Montgomery, Sunnyland Slim, Yank Rachell, Eddie Boyd and others
  • Super Session - Bloomfield, Kooper and Stills (1968) - this album has since been remastered, with new editions featuring several Bloomfield performances not included on the original album, including "Blues for Nothing" and "Fat Gray Cloud."
  • The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1968)
  • Fillmore East: Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield. The Lost Concert Tapes 12/13/68, (recorded 1968, published 2003)
  • Two Jews' Blues (1969), with Barry Goldberg; uncredited due to contractual constraints.
  • My Labors (1969) with Nick Gravenites
  • Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West (1969) with Nick Gravenites, Taj Mahal, Mark Naftalin. (Note: some of the performances at the same concerts that yielded this album were included on My Labors. Those performances, except for "Winter Country Blues," are now part Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West 1969, released in 2009 and credited to Michael Bloomfield with Nick Gravenites and Friends.)
  • Medium Cool (1969) Original Film Soundtrack featuring Bloomfield and others
  • Steelyard Blues (1973) Original Film Soundtrack with Nick Gravenites and others
  • Mill Valley Bunch - Casting Pearls (1973), with Bill Vitt, Nick Gravenites and others
  • Triumvirate (1973), with John Hammond and Dr. John
  • KGB (1976) - Ray Kennedy - Vocals, Barry Goldberg - Keyboards, Mike Bloomfield - Guitar, Ric Grech - Bass, Carmine Appice - Drums

Selected session work[edit]

Posthumous releases[edit]

  • Living In The Fast Lane (1981)
  • Bloomfield: A Retrospective (1983)
  • I'm With You Always (Live recordings from McCabe's Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, CA; 1977)
  • Between The Hard Place And The Ground (Different to the original 70s LP - containing further selections from McCabe's Guitar Shop)
  • Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964–1969, an anthology that includes five songs from Bloomfield's original 1964 Columbia sessions.
  • Live at the Old Waldorf (Recorded live in 1976 and 1977 by producer Norman Dayron at the Old Waldorf nightclub)
  • Barry Goldberg & Friends - Live (Features Mike on guitar on most tracks)
  • Michael Bloomfield, Harvey Mandel, Barry Goldberg & Friends (with Eddie Hoh on drums) - Solid Blues, ed . 1995 (St.Clair Entertainment Group Inc.)
  • If You Love These Blues by Wolkin & Keenom (Miller Freeman Books, 2000)contains a CD of early recordings made by Norman Dayron
  • From His Head to His Heart to His Hands: An Audio-Visual Scrapbook (2014); a Columbia Legacy career retrospective, produced by Al Kooper, including tapes from Bloomfield's original audition for John Hammond, Sr.|John Hammond]] at Columbia Records in 1964, previously unissued live performances, and a DVD that includes the documentary film Sweet Blues: A Film About Mike Bloomfield," directed by Bob Sarles and produced and edited by Bob Sarles and Christina Keating. The film premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October, 2013.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". August 27, 2003. Archived from the original on 2008-07-01. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  2. ^ "Michael Bloomfield's Early Days, Part II". Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  3. ^ a b "Bloomfield's Doomed Field". Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  4. ^ Wolkin, Jan Mark; Keenom, Bill (2000). Michael Bloomfield: If You Love These Blues. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. ISBN 0-87930-617-3. OCLC 237403183. 
  5. ^ "Michael Bloomfield Biography". Mikebloomfieldamericanmusic.com. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  6. ^ Wenner, Jann S. (1968-04-06). "Archives | Mike Bloomfield Interview Part 1". Jann S. Wenner. Retrieved 2014-06-14. 
  7. ^ "Gibson - Gibson Guitar: Electric, Acoustic and Bass Guitars, Baldwin Pianos". www2.gibson.com. Retrieved 2009-08-23. 
  8. ^ "MVFF36 - Sweet Blues: A Film About Mike Bloomfield". Prod3.agileticketing.net. Retrieved 2014-06-14. 

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