Friday, January 10, 2014

# 20 Mayall, Butterfield and Greens

    For the fans, it's about the entertainment, and for most artists, it is about the rush of performing their music live, but for everybody else, it's about the money. Each time an artist takes their music out on tour, it's a potential marketing opportunity. Everyone from bartenders selling drinks to the artist's label have the primary interest of making money from artist's performances.

    So, in an effort to expose Butterfield to a new market, his management and label invests some capital into the November 1966 tour of England. Personally, I think, the band, and especially Butterfield, are really over worked from the unrelenting travel, extra performances, and media interviews. I don't know how any of them can remember the whole experience by the time it's over. In addition to the demanding expectations, Paul is expected to record with the British bluesman John Mayall.

   The October of '65 release of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band caters to the merging of folk, blues, and rock audiences with Chicago Blues standards and a few originals. It is a really well crafted revivalist album by some of the best young musicians of an era. The fact that the album is still in print nearly fifty years after its release is a testament to its credibility as a classic album.

    Credentials are an important factor in promoting all blues artists, and Elektra has the good sense to promote the background of Butterfield and his band members in a way which serves heighten the listening experience for fans. Everything from the album cover photo and liner notes, to the stories about the band's past relationships with the masters of Chicago Blues scene serve to accentuate the authenticity of Butterfield and his album.

    The success of the album inspires other labels to seek out artists to capture the revivalist market. Over in England, Decca Records contracts John Mayall and his band The Blues Breakers to record a revivalist album similar to the Butterfield album. However, it's over a year since the release of The Paul Butterfield Band , and to make matters worse for Mayall, his star guitarist, Eric Clapton leaves his band before the promotion of the album can get started. The situation presents a problem of relevance for Mayall, and his label. The fact is that in 1966, outside of England, Mayall has limited credibly in the blues world, and in blues, that can be a detriment. (Many rappers would describe this as lacking of 'street cred') Maintaining his public persona as a first rate bluesman outside of Britain will require some investments. So, having Mayall record with a white blues artist who comes with some serious credentials, will only serve to enhance his profile.

    As a potential remedy to the problem, producer Mike Vernon, gets the idea to record Butterfield and Mayall together for an album. Then, he pitches the idea to Elektra, arguing that it will be good for the careers of both men. I imagine a summary of the proposal went something like:  The two kings of the new blues rock movement together on one disc.....! 

     However, Elektra has other ideas about the future of their band. They don't want Butterfield to continue recording for the dwindling revivalist market.(Nostalgia is a nice place to visit, but who wants to live there.) They want him to move in the direction of the real money, into the mainstream market. Their position is that a recording with Mayall will only slow down his departure from the revivalist market. In addition, Butterfield has already recorded East West, which is made up of rock, blues, jazz, and R & B, definitely not a revivalist album.

   In spite of  Elektra's rejection, Vernon persists, and manages to negotiate terms for an EP of the two bluesmen. Mayall's label, Decca will distribute the EP , but only in the U.K.. It's not ideal for Mayall, but it can still work in his favour.  The advertising will suggest that this young, white American bluesman with serious street cred's has traveled from America to work for bluesman John Mayall. Elektra probably also insists that he will have to use his own band for the recording, but Mayall doesn't care because he doesn't like Bloomfield's playing much anyway, “I had always liked Paul, and admired his harmonica playing, but I wasn’t fond of his band, particularly Mike Bloomfield, whose playing I never much cared for.”  (Liner notes to John Mayall 1964 -‘69).

   In the end, the sessions produce four songs, three covers and a Mayall original: 1) All My Life, 2) Ridin’ the L. & N., 3) Little By Little, 4) Eagle Eye. Butterfield sings, and plays harmonica in a supporting role on three tracks, and takes the lead on Little By Little. I realize this will sound biased, but the one track that Butterfield does sing lead on is the the strongest track of the whole session.

    Overall, Paul’s first tour of Britain is a financial success for all participants, but I think it comes with an artistic price for the newly named Butterfield Blues Band. While in Britain it must be difficult for Bloomfield and Bishop, as guitarists, to ignore the public adulation that Clapton receives for his playing.  Clapton has broken away from Mayall, and he appears to be the better off for it. The whole experience will give the guitarists a great deal to ponder in the future.

NOTE: The video below includes all four songs from the Mayall sessions.

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