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.



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