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.

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