Monday, December 30, 2013

# 16 Pure Muddy, Rare Butter

    Muddy Waters is such an significant figure in the history of American Blues, Chicago Blues of the fifties, and then Rock/Blues of the sixties and seventies. He sets so many benchmarks over the course of his career, there are just too many to cover in this short blog.

    Much of the authentic blues based rock created in the sixties is a result of Butterfield, with his peers in the Chicago Crowd. Unlike their British contemporaries they have real teacher/student contact with the artists who are creating blues, and consequently develop a clearer understanding of the nuances of the music. It is the difference between learning a new language via Skype, and moving in with a family who speak the language everyday. This is important because, blues, like all folk arts has the unwritten rule of serving an apprenticeship on the way to becoming a journeyman, and most of the Chicago Crowd serve their masters.

Muddy in action with Butterfield.
   In the early days, Muddy is one of the few great bluesmen who pays attention to the young white kids showing up in the bars. I have read many interviews with members of the Chicago Crowd where they always compliment Muddy on his regal demeanor, and how graciously he affords time to Butterfield, Gravenites, Bloomfield, Bishop when they approach him. There are other bluesmen who are generous with their knowledge, but Muddy's name seems to come up most often.

   As an example, Muddy Waters doesn't think Butterfield is very good the first time he hears him, but he lets him sit-in with his band anyway. Regardless of whether the audiences are enthralled with the novelty of a white kid playing their music, or that Muddy sees opportunities to lay back, Butterfield's first performances in the South Side clubs are part of his genuine education.

   Over my years of reading about this era in Blues, I have come to the conclusion that Muddy has a deeper affinity for Butterfield than he does for the other young players. I think a lot of it has to do with Muddy's love of the harmonica. He is a harp player himself, and hires only the best, Walter, Cotton and Wells to name only three. Also, Muddy likes his harp players to favour the lower register of the harp, or the  'meat' as he calls it. This may be one reason Butterfield rarely ventures above the 6 hole.

   Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any recordings of the young Butterfield serving his apprenticeship with Muddy Waters. There are written documents, and tales from eye witness', but no recordings. What I have included here, may be the earliest recording of the two.

    Below, you will find a pretty rare recording of Butterfield playing harp with Muddy, at least I think it's rare. I definitely have never heard this performance of Mojo before.. The only information I can offer you is: according to the black marker on the CDR, "Mojo, Fillmore, 1966" If you have any other information, please let me know?


Sunday, December 29, 2013

# 15 Peter, Paul and Mary.

    In retrospect, the Folk Revival of the late fifties and early sixties seems to be about a rebellion by young baby boomers who feel disenfranchised from the post war corporate values to which the middle classes have chosen to adapt. Similar to all folk music, it is a bridge between the desires for change in the social and political expectations of the day. However, as its popularity grows, so does the opportunity to make money from the trend.

    Consequently, there is an irony to the success of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Armed with a strict criterion of marketability, artist manager Albert Grossman chooses each one of them to form a folk trio who will sing mainstream friendly folk tunes mixed with the some light protest songs. They are essentially a product manufactured by the very people the music is rebelling against. The strategy works though, because the Peter, Paul and Mary become an international success, selling millions of records. On their first six albums, they are just two acoustic guitars and three voices, but as you will see in the selections below, they did their best to adapt to changes in tastes.

    After Dylan establishes the new direction of folk music with the release of Like a Rolling Stone, and then his controversial  electric performance at Newport, most folk singers feel that if they are to survive, they need to move in the same direction. Peter, Paul and Mary are no different, they too add electric guitars, and amplified drums to their songs.

   In 1966,  twenty musicians who have successfully made the transition to folk/rock are hired to play a supporting roles for the group's new album The Peter, Paul and Mary Album. Among the personnel is Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Mark Naftalin from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Paul's harmonica can be heard on the song King of Names. The album hits #22 on the Billboard charts.

   I have heard King of Names without the funky Butterfield sound included, and I am always impressed with how much his fills, and solo add to the atmosphere of the recording.


   By the late sixties the trio's transition from acoustic folk to the new folk-rock format is complete, and sales indicate the change is a success. As they go into the studio to record Late Again you can't help but notice the diversity of the studio musicians chosen: Elvin Bishop, Herbie Hancock, Charlie McCoy to name a few. It's pretty difficult to call a lineup like that folk.

   So, in 1968 they release Late Again which is mostly originals from the trio except for Bob Dylan's Too Much of Nothing. Of all the songs on the album, this song is definitely the stand out track, and as it turns out, Butterfield is right their plugging the holes with his magic harmonica.  The album peaks at #14


   By the early 80s, so many incarnations of folk/rock have bloomed and wilted since PPM's first release in 1962. Protest songs don't get much radio play anymore, Disco is gasping for its last breath, disenfranchised kids are listening the rise of  Punk, or New Wave and techno is waiting in the wings. Even Butterfield is having difficulty maintaining a direction.

   Butterfield's last recording with Peter, Paul and Mary comes as his own career is hitting all time lows. He is hired to play live in New York for an October of 1981 show. The album, Such Is Love is released in 1982 with Butterfield playing harmonica on But There for Fortune.  The album is an attempt at returning to the original sound from the early 60's, but other than the loyalty of their own shrinking fan base, it goes unnoticed, and doesn't chart.

    I mention this for any harmonica players out there who have followed Butterfield's development of a sound over his career. I prefer the rounder tone he produces when playing acoustically, it seems to be a warmer tone, and the first two recordings above really highlight that tone well. I find that by the later 70's and into the 80's, his acoustic tone seems starker, and sometimes even a little colder.



Friday, December 27, 2013

# 14 Very Rare Gravenites/Bloomfield/Butterfield

   It isn't unusual for most successful artists to have a battery of background talent fueling their success. Elvis, Sinatra, and a long list of other well known singers employ songwriters, who help catapult them up the charts. In the world of 1950s Chicago Blues, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf  are among the many Chess artists who have access to staff writer, Willie Dixon.

   For Paul Butterfield and others in the white blues Chicago Crowd of the 1960s,  it's Nick Gravenites. It seems he has a more lasting influence on Butterfield's choice of career, and then his earlier artist direction, than any other single person. In addition, they aren't just professional associates, but they also maintain a friendship from Butterfield's mid teens until he death in 1987.

   During 1940s and 50s Chicago, Gravenites grows into a street wise young man with an edge in a Greek neighbourhood.. He is four years older than the 15 year old Butterfield, so I suspect that the younger must look to elder as an older brother figure. It is during these early years that Gravenites introduces Paul to many of the South Side blues clubs which surround his cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Hyde Park. They even circulate the local scene as the folk duo Nick and Paul. When Butterfield becomes successful a few years later, it is in part because of the Gravenites composition Born in Chicago. This song establishes both of them in the 1960s blues/rock communities.

    During the mid to late sixties, Gravenites leads most of the Chicago crowd, except Butterfield, to live in and around San Francisco. While living there he becomes a musical handyman in the scene: playing, composing, producing, and performing with many of the local bands. Once he becomes established, many of the west coast critics label him the "original connection" between the San Francisco music scene and the Chicago Crowd.

    Gravenites is an important contributor to the success of many projects in the sixties and seventies. During his career on the West Coast his handyman approach  creates a demand for his talents nationally.  He writes Work Me Lord and Buried Alive in the Blues for Janis Joplin, produces an album for Quicksilver Messenger Service, becomes the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company after Joplin leaves the band. In addition, he also writes the musical scores, produces or contributes to film soundtracks such as The Trip and Steelyard Blues.

    During this period, he has some mainstream success when he produces the Brewer and Shipley's pop single One Toke Over the Line, and carries on to be nominated for a Grammy as the producer of Otis Rush's album Right Place,Wrong Time.  In spite of his success he maintains his loyalty to Bloomfield and Butterfield, including them in many of his projects. I suspect that because Butterfield didn't relocate to the West Coast until the mid 80s he missed out many other Gravenites projects.
   Several years ago I was given a copy of two very rare recordings Gravenites made in a studio with a full band, which include Bloomfield and Butterfield. According to the information at the time, the two tracks were recorded in Chicago in 1966, only a a thousand copies printed, and they have never been commercially released.

   ( I have converted the songs to mp3, and then made a video with them, which are posted below. It is my first attempt at this exercise.)
   The first song is called Drunken Boat and features Butterfield playing harmonica. The second songs is called Whole Lot of Soul, and does not feature Butterfield. I think at some poin,t these two songs were transferred from vinyl to audio tape, so there is some lost quality in the copies I own.

   Every time I have listen to these two tracks I think of a soundtrack to a 1950s movie about the darker side of  a bohemian life. Let me know what you think of them, and if you know anything about their history?


Sunday, December 22, 2013

# 13 Dick Campbell Where It's At

    Dylan's historic performance at Newport '65 isn't planned. The personal accounts suggest a relatively spontaneous event. He does rehearse with members of Butterfield band for a few hours, but it seems plausible that he doesn't arrive at the festival with the explicit intention of playing an electric set. Regardless of the background speculations, his performance is still widely viewed as a pivotal experience for Dylan, his fans, Butterfield, and for popular music in the 20th century. His behaviour is one of the things that distinguishes important artists from the mediocre. They have the ability to change the direction of their art, and they do it.

    However, after Newport, Dylan does make the calculated decision to record his sixth album Highway 61 Revisited. It's an electric album which capitalizes on the sense that his audience is ready for change. In addition to it becoming another one of Dylan's many important contributions to the evolution of popular music; it earns his label, Columbia, yet another success story to their own history. Consequently, it shouldn't be a surprise that other labels try to capitalize on the album's success.

    While the world is talking about Dylan's music, a young singer songwriter from Monroe, Wisconsin writes two songs in the the Dylan style, and then submits the demos to a Columbia competitor, Mercury Records. Mercury's A & R people like the songs, and make a conscious business decision to record an album with Dick Campbell as the rival to Bob Dylan. So, they contract ten more Dylan-esque songs from Campbell, and recording sessions are booked.

    Then  in an effort to capture the Dylan sound, the album producer Lou Reizner, hires Butterfield, Bloomfield, Lay, and Naftalin for the sessions. (The bass duties are filled by a young Peter Cetera who will go on to front the horn based rock band Chicago.)

    The end result is a pleasant enough sounding album, and you will definitely hear the attempt to emulate Dylan's sound in every song. Personally, I find the songwriting too unambiguously introspective. Each song is a testimonial about Campbell's volatile romance with his girlfriend, and it is obvious.

   Dick Campbell, Sings Where It's At  does initiate some artistic accolades for Campbell. It also proves to be a respectable financial success for Mercury, but for some reason, the label fires him after this one project. Personally, I don't know if it's because the Butterfield  is mixed down, or that everything from the guitar to the organ sounds too much like Highway 61 Revisited, but the whole exercise wreaks of a cold, crass commercialism.  However, Campbell doesn't completely drop out of sight, he carries on to moderate success in the entertainment business as an A & R man, a poet, and screenwriter. 

Track List:
1) The Blues Peddlers, 2) You've Got To Be Kidding, 3) Sandi, 4) The People Planners, 5) Aphrodite’s Child, 6) Despairs Cafeteria, 7) Approximately Four Minutes Of Feeling Sorry For D. C., 8) Object Of Derision, 9)Where Were You, 10) Girls Named Misery, 11) Ask Me If I Care, 12) Don Juan Of The Western World.

Personnel:   Dick Campbell, vocals, rhythm guitar, Mike Bloomfield, 12 string guitar, Pete Cetera, bass, Mark Naftalin, organ, Marty Grebb, tambourine, piano, finger cymbals and percussion, Artie Sullivan, tambourine and vocals, Paul Butterfield, harmonica, Billy Herman, drums, Sam Lay, drums, Larry Wrice, drums.

Dick Campbell, Sings Where Its At has never been available on CD , but does seem to have a small cult like following. I have included a YouTube video of one track here, and if you are interested in hearing the rest of the album, it is available on YouTube or his website.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

# 12 Big Joe Williams Stack O' Dollars

   If my memory is still in tune, I am fifteen when I first discover Blues as a music. Most of what I hear comes to me by way of the C.B.C. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) I don't even know what I'm listening to most of the time, I just know that I like it.

   There is no Internet and almost nothing about blues on the television, so, I hunt down recordings in the bigger record stores, and read about it in the school library. One day, I'm flipping through a compilation book of famous blues singer biographies, and I stop at a photo of Big Joe Williams. By this time I have an image in my mind of just what a blues man should look like, and Williams is that man. From my vantage point in my suburban world, I naively conclude that he has all the attributes of a real blues man: old, world weary, despondent, plays a beat up acoustic guitar, and sings about the hardships of life with intense conviction.

   Years later I discover, Williams really does fit into my old image of a stereotypical post war blues man. He's born in 1903, raised in the delta region of the United States, he plays an acoustic guitar modified with a rudimentary pickup, and he has added three extra strings to create both a unique instrument as well as a distinctive sound to support his singing. He makes some other eccentric modifications to his guitar, but you can read about them elsewhere. 

Takoma Blues   The important thing here is that Williams is not only a guitar player and singer, but also a songwriter. During the blues boom of the sixties two of his songs Baby, Please Don't Go and Crawlin' King Snake become concert, and recording standards for artists like Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and of course Paul Butterfield. His song, BabyPlease Don't Go has been recorded by at least thirty six rock artists, and is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll.

   The other interesting thing about Williams is that during the early sixties he is living in Chicago, and is befriended by the folk coterie in that city. Mike Bloomfield knows him, and often hires him to play at his coffee house The Fickle Pickle. Butterfield Charlie Mussellwhite and Elvin Bishop, know Williams too, as do most of the other young white musicians involved in the local white blues scene.

    As I discussed in #2, Rare Chicago Blues, Norman Dayron is a part of the coterie, and records many of the local artists, Big Joe Williams among them. A second set of these sessions are released on either Chicago Break Down or Takoma Blues, depending on your choice. They are from the same period, and probably from the same source released in 1980 on Takoma label

  There is one track with Williams singing  Stack O' Dollars with Paul Butterfield playing harp, and Elvin Bishop on second guitar. As well, there are a couple of tracks I have highlighted below which either have Butterfield in a supporting role or I think he might be there??

   While Rare Chicago Blues is a product of several recording locations, apparently this particular track is from old film studio. I bet it is just part of the Rare Chicago Blues selections, but was held back for marketing purposes. Personally, I don't think much of this version of Stack O' Dollars, it's a little too rough for my tastes. However, at fifteen I would have done almost anything to be a part of these sessions.

Side One
1) Hesitatin' Blues - Little Brother Montgomery
2) Minglewood Town - John Lee Granderson
3) Chicago Breakdown - Dr. Isaiah Ross
4) I Feel Worried - Big Joe Williams
5) V8 Ford Blues - James Cotton (supported by Butterfield)
6) Cryin' Won't Make Me Stay - Maxwell Street Jimmy

Side Two
1) Michigan Water Blues - Little Brother Montgomery
2) Good Morning Little School Girl - John Lee Granderson
3) Hobo Blues - Dr. Isaiah Ross
4) Stack O' Dollars - Big Joe Williams
5) Polly Put The Kettle On - James Cotton (possibly Butterfield on the bass harmonica)
6) Five Long Years -Eddie Boyd

About the video:  This is NOT the version with Butterfield playing harmonica, but I thought you might like to at least hear Big Joe Williams.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

# 11 Fresh Berry's

     One of the benefits of becoming famous or at least well known for your work as a musician is that you get to play with the people who inspired you to learn how to play in the first place. Successful musicians are similar to other successful professionals in that they are attracted to each other.

    By the time Butterfield releases his first album, he has already shared the stage with many of established blues men in Chicago. In addition, he has engaged in regular face time with harmonica masters like Little Walter, Jr. Wells, and James Cotton. These alliances with masters of their craft will serve as a template for the rest of his career.

    So, when the opportunity to play on a Chuck Berry record arrives, I am sure both Butterfield and Bloomfield are keen to participate in the project. Berry started his successful career in 1955 with his first of many hit songs, Maybellene. Then he records a string of hits for Chess, and in the process becomes an important contributor to the relatively new music called Rock 'n' Roll. However, his career peaks within three years, and his success begins to level out. (He is still working today so it has been a long leveling process!)

   But, Berry's catalogue is only a small part of his legacy. I imagine, in the fifties, thousands of adolescent boys sit in their rooms, leaning off the side of their bed, one ear cocked toward the speaker of a mono record player, trying to learn how to play guitar just like the great Chuck Berry. He is considered by millions to be The King of Rock 'n' Roll. He doesn't invent it, but he is an important pioneer of almost everything about the music.

   Fortunately, when his career really does start to wane in the early sixties, many of these young adolescent devotees are now older, still emulating his sound, and preaching to anyone willing to listen, the virtues of Chuck Berry. Most of the rock guitarist: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, to name only a few, will help to revive public interest in his music.

   There has always been speculation among critics that Berry didn't write the music to many of his songs because so many of them are in flat keys. These critics are always quick to point to Berry's piano player Johnnie Johnson as the real composer of the memorable tunes, but none of that academic musing can take away from his guitar style, his voice, or his famous stage antics. In short, Chuck Berry's contributions to mainstream Rock 'n' Roll during the 1950s reemerges in a 1960s generation.

   In spite of his fertile relationship with the great blues label, Chess Records, in 1965 the marriage comes to an end. In September of that year he records a final set of tracks for Chess before moving over to Mercury Records. His last album is Fresh Berry's, a last attempt at regaining his lost audience. While it is an exit recording for Berry, it is also an opportunity for Butterfield and Bloomfield to play with one of the greats.

   There isn't much information available on how Bloomfield and Butterfield were hired, they probably would have done the the sessions for free, so I will need make some assumptions.

   According to Berry's autobiography, the sessions for Fresh Berry's are done Tel Mar Recording Studios in Chicago, on the 1st and 2nd of September 1965.  However, Butterfield and Bloomfield make their contributions on September 3rd. This leads me to believe that they did not actually play in the same room with Berry, but rather came into the studio, and recorded their parts after Berry had left the studio.

   The other notable point is that at the time of release, neither Butterfield or Bloomfield are given public credit for doing the sessions.This could be that by this time both are signed to Elektra Records and Grossman's Management company, which would create legal problems for the two.Whether either one are paid for the sessions is probably lost information by now. For me, there is a comedic element to the obvious neglect of recognition of their participation. Both Bloomfield and Butterfield have such distinctive sounds on their respective instruments, I can't imagine anyone being fooled by the lack of written recognition.

   So, the album is released by Chess Records in the United Kingdom in November of 1965 and
in the United States in April of 1966. Berry wouldn't record again for Chess until the release of
Back Home in 1970.

The tracks of interest for Butterfield and Bloomfield fans are:  It Wasn't Me, Ain't That
Just Like a Woman, Sad Day and Forgive Me.

Guitar: Chuck Berry
Bass: Chuck Bernhard
Harmonica: Paul Butterfield
Guitar: Mike Bloomfield
Johnnie Johnson: piano
Jaspar Thomas: drums.

Many thanks to Greg Wilson in Canada for the great video with all the Bloomfield/Butterfield tracks embedded!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

# 10 Live at the Unicorn

   There is no need to cover the juicy details of being out on the road in a hip new rock/blues band during the sixties. It's a fantasy which has been romanticized numerous times in movies, and the various entertainment trades media.

    In 1966, the Butterfield band doesn't own the slick Calvin Klein uniforms that the Beatles wear on stage, nor do they dress up in the premeditated 'working class' outfits that so many of the British invasion bands are assigned by their management.

    At this point, they are approaching mid-level rock star status in the emerging counter culture music scene in the United States, and looking forward to success abroad. In spite of the perks that go with a critically acclaimed band of young musicians on the road, Paul Butterfield's band looks like a group of college kids getting together to play some great music. There is nothing pretentious about their appearance or there music.

     However, there is a another side to being applauded by your public and the media. When a band goes out on the road it serves a few purposes. Artistically, a band works on its material, tests new songs, works on their sound etc.. (Butterfield rehearsed his band six days a week.)  From a business point of view, it's about promoting a product, usually a recent album, or maybe a soon to be released album, but it is about selling a the music. While the band is idolized by a growing fan base, they don't have any mainstream hits, and that influences the size of venues they play. Unlike most of the blues/rock bands coming over from Britain, the Butterfield band is still traveling, and unloading their own gear from a used Econoline van.

    It seems that the lower a band is on the food chain, the longer they are out on the road. The lifestyle has a lot going for it when you are in your early twenties and single, but it also comes with a price tag. There are issues with sleep, poor diet, little physical exercise, and a host of other distractions from the boredom associated with traveling like a group of door to door salesmen.

   It isn't like they have the perks of a hit record as their contemporaries The Rolling Stones or The Animals do. Those blues based bands stay in better hotels, play to thousands of screaming kids, and enjoy many of the condiments available to artists of that position in the food chain. However, they are in good company. Other ambitious acts like Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Tim Hardin and a host of artists who are eager to become household names, are working the same circuit.

    Even though they earn some critical success with the release of  The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, they are still playing, small bars, roadhouses, coffee houses, and almost any venue willing to let them promote their music. Then a personnel problem is presented to Butterfield; Sam Lay is stricken with pleurisy (an inflammation of the lining around the lungs). According to Lay he thinks his illness is the result of becoming overheated while on stage, and when he goes out into the cold north east night air, his body reacts with the pleurisy. It is possible, but pleurisy is the result of a virus, and he could have contacted that anywhere.The end result is that he can't play in the band, and Butterfield has to hire a new drummer. For years after Lay leaves the band, there are sketchy reports of him leaving because he had been wounded in a gun fight, or he shot himself in the foot with his own gun. All of them romantic tales of life in a blues band.

   Another one of Butterfield's skills is his ability to pick excellent musicians for his bands. Initially, he doesn't want to hire Mike Bloomfield, but like a wise leader he understands the importance of surrounding yourself with strong talent, and at the insistence of Paul Rothschild he hires him. Sam Lay had been an excellent choice for the early band. He had played with some heavy hitters in the blues world, people like Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf plus a host of other acts. Known for his unique energetic style which earns the title of the "Sam Lay double shuffle" he is no slouch at driving the band. In fact, for Buttefield, Sam Lay is just the first of a long line of superbly unique drummers that he hires. As Geoff Muldaur noticed, Butterfield had an obsession with the foot. (bass drum)

     Lay's illness, and departure from the band is a casualty of life on the road. It's also the first causality of the Butterfield lineup. However, Butterfield already has his sights set on another Chicago drummer. Billy Davenport has been working with Chicago jazz bands a fan of Art Blakney's drum roll, and the big sound of Louis Belison's double bass drum knows his way around a drum kit, and after some relentless persuasion and help from Bloomfield, Davenport is hired.

   So, with the drummer issue resolved, the band can regain a renewed level of stability again. In spite of their impending success in the bigger markets, they aren't playing big rooms. Born in Chicago is a hit on FM radio, and is definitely an important break for the band, but it isn't a mainstream hit. So, the band is playing smaller venues, sometimes two different gigs in a single day. They are known nationally, and thank God, some fans are devoted enough to haul massive reel to reel tape machines into these, sometimes remote locations, and record them.

   They are working a number of clubs in and around the New York area, and often driving up to Boston where there is a busy folk scene close to Harvard. One of the places they frequent is a coffee house called The Unicorn. It's a small picturesque room with beautiful pine-paneling in a basement opposite the Prudential Center on Boylston Street. The Unicorn doesn't sell anything more intoxicating than coffee, and tea. For a dollar or two, you can see The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem or maybe Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell or Tim Hardin. It's a small room best suited for artists who are on their way up or on their way down.

    So, this is where The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Live at the Unicorn '66 originates. It is a bootleg recording, the sound quality is pretty rough, and I am glad I own a copy.

   There are a couple of ways of looking at bootleg recordings of any artist. Unfortunately, the artist usually doesn't get any money for the sessions, nor they receive any royalties for the sale of the final product. However, if the artist is important because they make significant contributions to a genre, then the bootleg becomes a historical document. If you are a collector, as I use to be, or a fan as I still am, then bootlegs are a great part of your collection.

    As for this show, because of the sound quality it doesn't do the band justice. It isn't edited, has a long introduction of sounds from the stage, and the audience which nobody wants to hear. If the recording were to be professionally remastered, it could be commercially viable, but as it is, this recording is a novelty.

   When I first got hold of a copy of this show, it was on a C90 audio cassette, and then a couple of years later I was given it as a couple of CDRs. Now, anyone can either listen to the whole show on YouTube (I posted the link below), or you can download it. Don't waste your time with sleazy vendors online.

   In closing, I want to thank the taper who had the foresight, or the impulse to haul a monster of a tape machine down to The Unicorn that spring night in 1966. When that kind of effort is made to record a band, you have to believe they will be creating some great music that night.

 The Paul Butterfield Blues Band at The Unicorn Coffee House in Boston, Spring, 1966,
Look Over Yonders Wall, Born in Chicago, Love Her With A Feelin’, Walkin’ Blues, Don’t Say No
To Me, One More Heartache, Work Song, Thank You Mr. Poobah, Serve You Right To Suffer, Got
A Mind To Give Up Livin’, Walkin’ By Myself, Baby Please Come Home, World Is in An Uproar and
Got My Mojo Workin’,
 Paul Butterfield harmonica and vocals, Billy Davenport drums, Jerome
Arnold bass, Mike Bloomfield guitar, and Elvin Bishop guitar and vocals (Don’t Say No To Me)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

# 9 To Tell The Truth

   It seems to be a given that if a musician is to enjoy commercial success, his work needs to resonate inside as many members of the public as possible. Conversely, artistic success, which doesn't always pay, usually requires some acknowledgements from peers who recognize that some important contribution has been made to an instrument or genre of music. Ideally, most musicians would choose at least a little bit of both of those forms of success.

   So, for a musician to have a shot at successful recognition, he needs frequent exposure to as much of the population as possible. After all, each time an artist plays in front of an audience, there is the potential of adding to the fan base.

    Now, the cynic in me feels that any musician can become a success with the right amount of promotion. However, the realist in me remembers that there needs to be something to back up that promotion, or the success will usually be short lived. As an example, most of the winners of the multitude of American Idol franchises, seen by millions around the world, are really only big stars for about a year or so, and then they tend to slide into obscurity.

    Ultimately, the artist and audience need to empathize with each other for any sustained success to be realized. Paul Butterfield's music has that ability. It reachesout, and emotionally motivates people. It's a unique dynamic, and his work definitely uses it well.

   However, his talents would probably have gone unnoticed without the intervention of a strong manager, and supportive record label. The manager finds the artist opportunities to display their work, and the label promotes and distributes the material. Fortunately for Butterfield, he found those two elements in his manager Albert Grossman and Elektra Records president Jac Holzman. It was because of these two businessmen that Butterfield was able to move out of the relatively obscure world of Big John's on Wells Street in Chicago, and into to the world of artist success on a national scale.

   Every musician wants his musical voice to be distinct from all of his peers, and by 23 years of age, Butterfield has achieved this distinction. His harmonica has a really crisp, undistorted tone, even when using the standard issue Astatic microphone. His style is incessantly intense,single note staccato attacks on a diatonic harmonica, which supports a rich vocal interpretation of blues songs. In addition, he is backed by a band of experienced, and energetic musicians who create a very powerful soundscape. Up until Butterfield entered the blues/rock scene of the mid-sixties, there are no other groups that could match his performance of blues standards. And yes, I would include everything the Rolling Stones do in their early years, regardless of their commercial success. Butterfield and his music is something unique, and his audience as well as his peers recognize it.

   So, on March 28th 1966 the popular American television game show To Tell The Truth airs episode 10 of their 9th season. The show opens up with the sound of Butterfield playing his trademark opening riffs in the background, and the host announces "What you are hearing is the sound of an electrically amplified harmonica...." Tonight's mission for the celebrity panel of Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, Tom Poston and Orson Bean will be to uncover, Who is this harmonica virtuoso Paul Butterfield?. I assume, in 1966, it was difficult to imagine someone could play a cheap little throw away  instrument so well that he warrants national recognition, but apparently this is Butterfield's cross to bear. Keep in mind that Butterfield already has an endorsement deal with Hohner Harmonica, and with the release of his first album, the sale, and consequently, cost of  Hohner Marine Bands rises. Little Walter had the same influence on the harmonica during the fifties.

    Then three young men, Paul Butterfield, Rosalyn Masso and Philip Cousteau walk on stage, and each says, "I am Paul Butterfield." So, it begins for Paul Butterfield, national exposure, and national recognition of his talent is happening, live. Below this blog, I have included a copy of the actual segment so you can have a look at the rest of the episode there. Personally, I think the jazzy version of Born in Chicago alone is worth a listen.
   Gaining national exposure on a popular television game show like To Tell the Truth is a bigger boost to Butterfield's career than the Newport Folk Festival. Newport was an audience of music lovers, but To Tell The Truth presents both music lovers, and many more potential converts.  When I consider the fact that he is performing live, in front of millions of people, for about ten minutes; I can't help but be impressed with his self confidence, in addition to his obvious talent.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

# 8 What's Shakin'

   Over the past three decades, digital music has made it deceptively easy for artists to record, and then access a huge online audience of music consumers. They only need a computer, some competent software, and their music can be recorded, mixed, promoted, and then sold online. For consumers, this easy process generates its own problems. There are far too few knowledgeable critics available to filter out the mediocre music for buyers.

    Regardless of your position on the union of artists, and people in the business of selling music, the A & R representatives have always played a key role in the success of an artist. Good or bad, they are the filters for consumers.

   In the fifties and sixties, Elektra Records played an important part in recording, and promoting acoustic folk artists in the United States. As they watched many electric bands from Britain gain success in the pop market, they wisely made efforts to change their focus from recording acoustic to electric folk music. They started their conversion with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and then they recorded bands like Love, The Blues Project and several others, but The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was their first.

   One of the marketing tools Elektra used to promote their artists a product called the sampler album. It was a vinyl recording of a few bands, packaged, and sold as an artist introduction to the consumer. Personally, I liked the idea of the sampler and still do. I had one in my record collection during the seventies, I can't remember the label. It had a track from Pink Floyd, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and my favourite Guitar Junior's, Broke and I'm Hungry; I probably would never have heard him if it hadn't been for that sampler

The British release.
   So in June 1966, Elektra released a follow up to Folksong '65 sampler with What's Shakin'. Originally, the album was suppose to be a project for the London branch of Elektra, and was suppose to only include music by a newer group of electric artists from that music scene. So, they started the project with a manufactured band called Eric Clapton and Powerhouse, which included Jack Bruce and Steve Winwood, but then the project grew into something much broader. In addition to the final Clapton tracks, the final album included early material from the Lovin' Spoonful, Al Kooper, Tom Rush and of course The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

    After the American release, Elektra's president Jac Holzman boasted that What's Shakin' would become a success in the mainstream market, but instead, it made a mark in the flouishing underground music scene. (This scene was really the chosen music of the counter culture/ hippie movement.) So, in the end, What's Shakin' gained most of its success as a hit album on FM throughout the United States, not AM radio . It probably wasn't the kind of success Elektra had anticipated, but the album did get a lot of air time, and made some money for the label. In addition, the Butterfield tracks were important enough to inspire quite a few of the growing breed of Blues/Rock musicians of the day, which included a very young Gregg and Duane Allman.

   There are five songs by the Butterfield band on the album: Good morning Little School Girl, Lovin' Cup. Off the Wall, One More Mile and Spoonful. I think all of them are from the same sessions a The Original Lost Elektra Sessions. However, I am not sure why One More Mile and Off the Wall didn't make it to that release.

   If I had to sum up What's Shakin' , with exception of the Butterfield band, its not representative of what any of the artists were doing at the time. By the time of its release even Butterfield was starting to move in different musical directions. Personally, the album has given me one of my all time favourite blues/rock tunes in One More Mile.  Bloomfield's guitar solo and Butterfield's vocals still move me!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

# 7 The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

    I have been was watching the documentary The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation. It's about the social and political struggles the United States experiences the 1960s. In the film there is a brief segment on Columbia University in New York becoming a flash point for student unrest. Within the segment there is a clip of students dancing, and relaxing in an effort to offset the stress associated with their civil unrest. As I'm watching the segment, I notice that off in the background, music is playing. It isn't part of the orchestrated soundtrack, but rather, the actual music these young people are listening to at the time of filming. The song is Screaming from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

   It's a minor part of the documentary, but it says a lot about the soundtrack to the lives of these young people in the sixties. They are Butterfield's audience: white, middle class, educated, and passionate about the future of their world. Much of the music they choose to represent their mood is a departure from the mainstream, and Butterfield's music fits into that era so well.

   In the context of the intellectual atmosphere of the sixties his music is a subtle act of rebellion. He has the nerve to front a racially integrated group of musicians, call themselves a Blues Band, and then play blues with the aggressive, and passionate authority of originators. After Elvis, no group of young white men in the United States has ever had the audacity to snub their noses at the racial connotations in this manner. Not only is Butterfield a gifted blues singer, and harmonica player, but he also employs a white, Jewish, heir to an industrial empire to play bottle neck guitar, and an academically gifted kid from Oklahoma farming country to play rhythm guitar. In addition, he enhances the band's credibility with a seasoned rhythm section from the South Side of Chicago's ailing blues scene. It seems like a tame act now, but in the mid-sixties, this is a radical statement.

   Producer Paul Rothschild believes so strongly in the Butterfield Band that he makes three attempts at producing an album of them for release on the established folk label Elektra. None of the participants can possibly realize that they are not only creating history, but they are also recording an album which will transcend generations of music lovers.

    In post # 6, I write about The Original Lost Elektra Sessions, and how that group of tracks is suppose to be the band's first album. They even have the album, and promotional posters printed for the public, but something doesn't resonate with the Rothschild. So, at his insistence, the album is rejected in favour of recording the band live at Cafe Wha? This attempt proves to be a technical disaster, forcing the band back into the studios for the set of tracks we hear on the second version of  The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

   Keep in mind that recording electric music in the '60's is relatively new to the recording industry, everyone is in a constant state of learning. In addition, Elektra's problems are compounded by the fact that they a folk label who focus on the recording of acoustic music, not electric Blues Rock, so the Butterfield band is their very first electric act.

    In the end, confronting all the challenges pays off for everyone participating in the project and in October of 1965, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is greeted with much critical acclaim. Their are no serious mainstream "hits" from the album, (it made it peaks at 123), but that this is a bonus from their audience's perspective. By 1965 the counterculture movement is becoming established, and one of the qualities expected from artists is a rejection of mainstream corporate goals. This is one of the reasons the album becomes a staple in the emerging album oriented FM radio market.

   While the album does not produce any mainstream hits, it does generate a profound influence on popular music for the several decades. As well, it will provide Butterfield with set list staples for his entire career. The Latin back beat of Born in Chicago, his version of Little Walter's Mellow Down Easy, and Screamin' are still being covered by many blues bands. There is the shuffle with a jazz sensibility Thank You Mr. Poobah (Poobah stands for Paul Butterfield). This song alone inspires more than one young Blues Rock musician to at attempt the art of improvisation. These three songs alone establish Butterfield as an artist who is open to experimentation, and defiant of social expectations in music, qualities he practices for his whole career.

    Another feature of the album is its volume and speed. Many rock bands are playing their music with more volume, but no one is playing Chicago Blues with the tempo and volume of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  Elektra even instructs the listener to "Play it Loud".  It is one of those rare albums that never seems to sound dated, and it still sells well.

Paul Butterfield   There are some other long term influences that the Butterfield band generates after the release of the this album. It anoints Mike Bloomfield as the first American guitar hero of a generation, and establishes him as an elite member of the very large group of emerging guitar slingers from the sixties and seventies.

   Another subtle influence the Butterfield band has on popular music of the sixties is the rejuvenation of interest in original blues artists. By the early sixties, the appeal of traditional Chicago Blues is waning in the Afro-American market, and it is Butterfield, Bloomfield, and Bishop who recommend artists like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Howlin' Wolf to rock promoters.

    For Butterfield, his first album establishes him as the next great blues singer, and harmonica player. John Lee Williamson (Sonny Boy Williamson 1) holds that title in the late 30's and 40's, then in the 50's Little Walter becomes the second singer/harmonica player with broad appeal, in the 60's Butterfield earns the role. Every white singer/harmonica player we hear today owes so much to what Paul Butterfield accomplishes with the release of his first album.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

# 6 The Original Lost Elektra Sessions

   The early sixties gave birth to several new labels for Rock and Roll. All of them produced by an interest in musical influences alive in the United States. So, country rock, jazz rock, folk rock and a variety of other configurations became available to the record buying public. But, the biggest audience seemed to gravitate toward the huge resurgence in an interest in blues, primarily Chicago Blues. I realize this is a loaded statement, but there seemed to be a social dynamic in the States which caused the mainstream listener to take Blues for granted before then.

   However, that was not the situation in Europe, particularly Britain. Members of British bands like The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, The Animals and several others had been listening to American blues records for years.  Many of them were so enamored with the music they would learn the songs, note for note. This was the case for a young Eric Clapton, who confessed that he learned all of Little Walter's solos on his guitar note for note. In spite of their dedication to learning how to play blues, these young musicians really had no physical contact with the artists, and consequently didn't understand most of the nuances of the culture that produced the Blues.

   One of the premises of learning blues has always been the idea of "apprenticeship". A young artist seeks out the master, and then learns the craft at the feet of the journeyman bluesman. As an example of this process, James Cotton learned directly from Sonny Boy Williamson the 2nd, or at least that was the story promoted by his publicist. There are too many artists who followed this plan to mention here, I only mention it because it was considered an important process for any young bluesman. My point is that while the British blues players were learning their craft at the foot of a record player, Butterfield, Bloomfield, Bishop and most of the other kids (notice I used the word kids) learned their craft at the feet of the local masters, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, to name a few important figures. While these Chicago kids were a little out of their depth culturally as they were white, middle class and didn't actually live in the Southside, they did enthusiastically accept face to face lessons from some masters of Chicago Blues.

   Butterfield was not only a intelligent young boy when he started his lessons, but he had some formal musical training in classical flute to add to his natural skills. In addition, he was surrounded by a variety of music at home and so knew the basics of learning how to play. He only needed good teachers, and he found them just outside his middle class neighbourhood of Hyde Park.

   Which brings us to topic of this blog. Technically, this is the first album by the The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I realize, the other one, with Born in Chicago, claims that title, but that's only because it was the first official release. The Original Lost Elektra Sessions was recorded in the winter of 1964, but its producer Paul Rothschild, rejected it. He felt it didn't actually capture the excitement the band generated in live performances. Rothschild begged Jac Holzman, the president of Elektra, to let him shelve the album in favour of a live recording. Holzman reluctantly agreed, and the masters were put into a company storage locker. Then, Rothschild tried to record the band live in a New York bar, but it turned into a technical disaster. So, the next studio attempt produced the album with Born in Chicago. TPBBB was a success, and consequently, the Original Lost Elektra Sessions was forgotten, then lost, until the mid 90s when Rothschild did a labour intensive search for them in a variety of storage lockers in New York and New Jersey.

   For many years, I had read references to these sessions, and always hoped they would be released to the public. I live in Canada, and when I heard about the release of  The Original Lost Elektra Sessions; I searched all the CD stores in my city, but couldn't buy it without a large customs fee. So, in 1995 I was traveling by train from New York to California, and when we stopped in Chicago to switch to the California Zephyr, I used my lay over to rush out to the streets looking for CD stores. Nobody had a copy. Fortunately, I found a store only a few minutes from the station, and in a last ditch effort, went in to ask for the album. I was elated when, the clerk, said "I think I have one copy." After some searching he came back with it, I bought it, and rushed back to the station. I realized later that is was a promotional copy only. I still have that CD, and it has found a new home in my car CD player.

    When you look at the sixty year old track list, it's easy to
Similar to the BBB tour bus
misinterpret the album's significance. Now, the track titles seem tired, nothing fresh in the selections. Well, that's because so many of the songs have been over used by every blues band who has played and recorded since the 60s. However, in 1964. the fact is that Paul's band was drawing on material they heard in Chicago, which was, if not current, only a decade old. It was after these tracks were recorded that most blues/rock bands started to draw on this mostly 1950s repertoire. I am speculating here, but had the album been released in 1965 as originally planned, it would sounded pretty fresh. It would have also set a benchmark for all the rock/blues bands to come and go over the next several decades. In spite of that compliment, I don't think The Original Lost Elektra Sessions holds up well against other early Butterfield albums.

   Since its release in 1995, I have read many reviews of the album, some good, and some fairly uninformed. Many seem to forget about placing the album in the context of the times, and compare it with more contemporary albums. By the mid-sixties, most of the big players in the blues scene had stopped writing new songs in the genre. Butterfield and his band were composing new blues material which in itself is unique. Also, the British bands were not composing much in the way of blues songs, they seemed more content to replicate the songs they heard on records.

    So, The Original Lost Elektra Sessions should go down in history as one of the first Rock/Blues albums ever recorded. As well, songs like Lovin' Cup, Nut Popper #1 and Our Love is Driftin' should be regarded as three of the first blues songs to be written by a whole new generation of bluesmen in the newly minted genre of blues/rock.