Saturday, November 9, 2013

# 2 Paul Butterfield and Rare Chicago Blues

    Fans of Post-war blues often don't realize that they are in fact listening to an urban folk music rooted in a the oppression created by a slave economy. It's a very humble beginning for a music which will become powerful enough to spawn the most important music of 20th century Western Culture.

    However, in spite of its international profile, blues is to all folk music in that it is created by a community of people with stories to tell in an effort to as Art Blakley says, to help settle the dust of the day. After all, authentic folk music, not the music manufactured in an advertisers office, breathes.

   Unfortunately, it seems that cultural movements, including folk music, become a victim of capitalism. It happens with Dixieland in the 20's, again with Rock 'n' Roll in the 50's and is happening now with Rap, and Hip Hop. During the 50's. the music industry is eager to capitalize on the popularity of Rock 'n' Roll naively over sell the music the mainstream audience and in the process a lose a an emerging group of baby boomers who are coming of age, The result is that millions of young fans are suspicious of the squeaky clean fun of Elvis, Pat Boone, and Jay and the Americans and listen for something new.  Traditional folk music will become their logical choice for some fresh and authentic.

   Their reaction is to turn away from the mainstream pop music of the day, and seek out music which they feel expresses something more authentic. During their quest, they reach back into the archives of their folk music heritage, and adopt some of it as their own.  In their quest for discovering their past they breath new life into hundreds of forgotten artists and their songs.

   By the late '50's the folk music fad becomes a movement, the audience grows, so does the commercialism of the movement. Recorded versions of old songs are bought, and being played in homes throughout the Western World.  Then, young folk singers begin appearing on television, radio, and in films, creating stars of kids who can play a couple of chords on a guitar and sing simple harmony. Once this market is established, a folk music festival circuit springs up across several countries and an official folk music revival is born.

    While hobbyists collect rare recorded performances, the real enthusiasts emulate the Lomax's, and literally track down long forgotten folksingers, documenting their lives. Many real fans are kind enough to invite artists into their homes, feed them, and then offer employment in local Coffee Houses.

    Some enthusiasts turn folk music into an academic venture, and engage in long circular discussions about genuineness of songs which often evolves into heated exchanges, and on occasion physical confrontations. Most of these young devotees are white, liberal educated, very middle class, and for many, the folk revival was just another form of cultural tourism.

    Paul Butterfield, and many other like minded kids in Chicago are drawn into this folk revival too. Folk music has become hip! Experiencing "authentic", "real" music is the de rigueur of the day, and they want to be part of that scene. So, it isn't unusual for a University of Chicago student like Norman Dayron to get involved in the local campus folk boom, and then venture into the culture of the South Side looking to record real creators of the art form.

     In the '40's, Chicago is a hub of the post war industrial migration of Afro-Americans, and the South Side is where most of them land. So, it is a community rich in the resource of a living folk music, called Post War Chicago Blues. It must seem like a gold mine for these young university students to realize they are only blocks away from such a resource. Butterfield, and a few other adventurous young people are rewarded for making the journey and end up with front row seats to see and hear some of the greatest blues singers of all time.

   Which leads us to the focus of this post. To be honest, when I first buy  Rare Chicago Blues, 1962 - 1968  in 1995, it's only because of the Butterfield tracks. I have heard of some of the other artists, but never entertain much interest in their work. However, I discover that most of the other music is pretty good too. It is also a great historical document for what was going on locally in Chicago and it is really well produced. I am happy to say, it has manages to remain one of my favourite Chicago Blues albums.

    Butterfield plays on three of the twenty tracks and as we are only interested in the Butterfield contributions, let's look at what he does on those tracks:

# 8 Diggin’ My Potatoes: Butterfield's playing is featured along with James Cotton on vocals, and Elvin Bishop, guitar. Butterfield's acoustic harp work is stunning when you consider he is only around 20 years of age. He has such a full, confident tone and already wailing in his own distinctive diatonic harmonica  voice. Keep in mind that James Cotton is a veteran bluesman by this point, and Butterfield the newbie. However, the listener will hear Butterfield as an equal not a novice.

 # 15 Big Joe Williams - Wild Cow Moan, You can hear Butterfield's  signature clucking single note tone and clean fast runs. Even his powerful vibrato is evident on this track. I am pretty sure he is using a harmonica in C.

#17  Three Harp Boogie(instrumental). James Cotton, (Muddy's former harp player), and a solo act by this time, and Billy Boy Arnold who is already a successful recording artist with a 1955 Veejay hit I Wish You Would . Butterfield's future bass player, Jerome Arnold is Billy Boy's brother.  Another point that should be mentioned about this track is how impressive it is that both Butterfield, and Elvin Bishop demonstrate that they can hold their own with established blues artists. This is quite a feat for guys who could not have been playing very long.

     If you are a fan of Butterfield's harmonica style this is a great place to start. These tracks are probably his first known recordings. It is inaccurate to think you will witness his playing in its infancy because at 20 years of age, he is advanced. He definitely capable of sitting in with these two veteran harp players.


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