Tuesday, January 21, 2014

# 23 The Beginning of the Big Bands

    By the beginning of 1967, it has been a long, sometimes difficult road reaching the Butterfield band's current level of success. Many of the most skilled people in the music business have worked hard on their behalf, but the key player has always been the boss, Paul Butterfield. Off the stage, he has a reputation as being socially aloof, difficult, demanding, and at times, down right caustic. However, he is also known as a musician who strives to be his best at all times, and in addition to this gift, he also has an ear for talent in other people.

    Similar to all successful leaders, Butterfield surrounds himself with high caliber talent who can help him successfully reach his destination. When Bloomfield leaves the band in early '67, it creates a big void, but it also provides new opportunities for Butterfield explore different musical directions. After the moderate success of East West, his band is in even more demand, headlining concerts, and consequently, everyone is making more money. These financial rewards will provide him with the capability to expand his band in away that he could never accomplish in the past.  

    For Bishop, the departure of Bloomfield is a windfall.  He recognizes that he lacks the combination of  musical finesse, and stage charisma of Bloomfield, but he prepares to work at over coming these liabilities. So, he practices constantly, and then using time off to visit local jazz and blues bars. Many the accomplished musicians he hears and meets are hard bop players like Roscoe Mitchell and Lester Bowie who belong to the non-profit Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). One of the saxophone players he meets during these visits is Louisville, Kentucky native Gene Dinwiddie.

     Dinwiddie is a late bloomer, he doesn't start playing saxophone until he's 19, but like so many great musicians, he develops a spiritual connection with the instrument. By 23 he is duplicating the tone and solos coming out of players like Harold Land and Sonny Stitt. In the mid-60s, the live Jazz audience is shrinking, so he has to drive a public transit bus for the City of Chicago to support playing Free Jazz in the downtown clubs at night. During the period when Bishop is making the rounds in the jazz clubs the two develop a bit of friendship, so, when Butterfield mentions that he would like to add some horns to his band,  Bishop doesn't hesitate to refer Dinwiddie's name.

    As it turns out, Butterfield and Dinwiddie have met before, back the in the days when Butterfield's band is becoming a draw at Big John's. After some jamming, Butterfield is impressed with Dinwiddie's playing, and his scope of musical knowledge, that he hires him as the first member of his new horn section. Butterfield knows that it is difficult to find musicians of Dinwiddie's caliber as many of the Jazz musicians see blues and rock bands as a step down from Jazz. For Butterfield, the hire is a real accomplishment. Now, he only needs to find a trumpet player to complete the horn section.

    Fortunately, Dinwiddie refers Butterfield to 27 year old Keith Johnson who is playing Free Jazz in New York's West Village, and supporting his music by driving a delivery truck. At six foot three and 210 pounds, Johnson is nicknamed"Twiggy", by the time he arrives to the city in 1963. Almost immediately, he begins working in several local jazz, blues and rock bands. He loves Lester Young's playing, and Billie Holiday's singing, as well as, Charlie Parker and Don Cherry. When Johnson meets Butterfield, the two strike up a good relationship based on their mutual love of similar artists.  Butterfield is also impressed with how well rounded Johnson is as a musician; not only does he play jazz, blues, and rock, but he plays the organ too. So, Keith Johnson becomes the Butterfield Blues Band's second member of the horn section. 

    For Butterfield, the increase in the size of his band means more freedom to play a larger variety of music, but it also means that he has more people to motivate toward the new direction. Similar to all great artists, he know that while technique is important, it is subservient to the ability to making creative contributions to the music. He has found this quality in  Dinwiddie and Johnson as both are excellent musicians who can read, write and interpret music, but they can also improvise, and that is an most important quality to Butterfield. This ability to improvise well is not as much a learned skill as it is a gift, and both Dinwiddie and Johnson have it.   

    While the new horn section offers new possibilities for exploring new material for the band, it also demands a new approach to the existing repertoire. So, the new band assembles in New York, launching into an intense schedule of rehearsals as well as gigs up and down the East Coast. Then, more personnel problems confront Butterfield.

    In early spring, Jerome Arnold submits his resignation, sighting musical differences. Butterfield immediately starts the process of looking for a new bass player to fill the position, desperately requesting referrals from other musicians. You would think the task of finding the right musician an easy one, as there are so many young and eager players available in the 60s, but to find someone who is just the right fit, can be a challenge.

    While out on the road, Butterfield mentions his situation to drummer Buddy Miles, who refers him to Bugsy Maugh. He respects Miles' opinion enough that he hires Maugh without hearing, or meeting him. Originally from Missouri, Maugh moves to Omaha for a career playing music in strip bars, country bands, and manages a brief job in Wilson Pickett's band. Like Dinwiddie and Johnson, Maugh is having a tough time, and is driving a truck to make ends meet.
Maugh has never heard of Butterfield, or heard any of his music, but when Butterfield entices him with the promise of lots of work and more money, he quickly packs his bags for the trip to Montreal. 

    In spite of his motivation toward the money and work, he is impressed with the quality of the band's musicianship, in addition, Arnold and the band are willing to stay for "instant after hours rehearsal" in an effort to get him integrated quickly. From Butterfield's point of view, the Maugh's hire is yet another real bandleader accomplishment. He has always wants to share the solo vocal work, but never has anyone who can match his strengths as a solo singer, and Maugh is not only excellent bass player, but he can sing too.

    While the new band works the East-Coast circuit, rehearsing new arrangements, Albert Grossman informs them that they will need at least 30 minutes of music for a large California rock festival in mid-June. The Monterey Pop Festival is expected to draw between 50 and 100 thousand people, so it will be the first major gig for the new band, and it will also be their largest audience ever. Just to add to the pressure, the whole festival will be filmed for international release in theaters the next year. Later they will discover that they will be sandwiched between Al Kooper and The Electric Flag. Fans will be watching for the first of the new Butterfield Blues Band big band lineups, he will have a few,  the biggest rock festival of 1967 could make or break them.

    Throughout the history of popular music, all the great bandleaders will concede that finding talented musicians is one problem, but keeping them employed, and getting them to move in the same direction as the leader has its own special challenges. Unlike the image of many of the young rock bands of the early sixties Butterfield's band is not composed of friends he knew from his neighbourhood.  He builds his bands based on the musician’s contributions to the music. As examples, even though Bishop is a friend, he places him in the position of second guitarist because he hears the value in the contribution Bloomfield will make to the music. (Keep in mind that Butterfield didn't want Bloomfield in the his band, nor did he want to record Born in Chicago or East West for that matter. While these issues may be representative of Butterfield's reluctance toward accepting outside ideas, it does show that he recognizes good ideas and accepts them, even if he does it reluctantly.)


No comments: