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?


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