Friday, January 31, 2014

#26 Hot Butter and the Jazz Cats from St. Louis

     Paul Butterfield is an artist with a vision of a new music, one which rejects boundaries set out by generations of a recording industry that thrives on labeling its products. It's fortunate that he's creating his music in an era of artistic experimentation, because this is a factor that allows him the opportunity to realize his vision. In addition, he has the unique ability to recognize gifted musicians who are will to help him realize his goals.

    By 1967, Butterfield has already developed his voice, and harmonica style into a unified voice which surpasses the mere mimicking of the nuances found in Rural and Urban Blues, Folk, & Rhythm and Blues. Then he crafts these subtleties into the new sub-genre of Rock'n'Roll called Blues-Rock.

    Now his intention is to include Hard Bop Jazz into his music. As I mention in previous blogs, the labeling of his band's name the Butterfield Blues Band by Elektra is ironic because he doesn't really lead a blues band anymore, and neither should Paul Butterfield be considered a bluesman.

    Many of the post war Chicago Blues players make an attempt at playing Bop Jazz, it isn't a new idea. A few of the bluesmen who Butterfield emulated during his apprenticeship, including the two Walters, demonstrate this urge often. In retrospect, Little Walter is the one harmonica player who actually comes closest to integrating Bop Jazz into Chicago Blues. (It is a topic which should consume more space than I have here.)

    As for Butterfield's attempt, he has a variety of elements which are different than Little Walter. Like Walter, he has the talent, skills, and ambition, but he also has a broader understanding of several genres of music. He also commands a large receptive audience, and the financial support that goes with that popularity. Another attribute that Butterield possess' is the unique ability to recognize complementary talent, and then use it for his own artistic benefit.

    The secret to all cohesive bands is a gifted drummer. He is the member who does more than just keep time; he propels the group toward the resolution of song. When we hear a good song, our voice may be humming the melody, but our body is following the drummer. If you consider the quality of the drummers he hires over his career at Elektra, you know that Butterfield understands this principle very well. This knowledge also helps to clearly understand what Geoff Muldaur  means when he describes Butterfield as having and "obsession with the foot".

   After Davenport's sudden resignation in the summer of '67, Butterfield is forced into contemplating a problem he hasn't anticipated. After the success of the Monterey performance, his band is inundated with a steady supply of lucrative performance contracts to honor. In addition, there is also the preparation and recording of his third album. Davenport's resignation must cost Butterfield some sleep.

     However, when the news of the vacancy becomes known to band members, both Dinwiddie and Bishop are quick to refer St. Louis native Philip Wilson. They both know him from Chicago, where he is a very visible member of the A.A.C.M. (The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), and a regular on the club circuit. In addition, he can play FunkFree JazzBlues, Rock, and is in possession of fierce work ethic. Everyone in the Butterfield Band, including the boss himself, believes Wilson is the drummer to hire.

    However, like so many exceptional artists, Wilson does come with some baggage. He is very outspoken about Civil Rights issues, and is intensely engaged in the philosophy of both the Black Power and Counter Culture movements. In fact, he is so passionate about the current social, and political philosophies that he is quick to become confrontational with anyone who questions his beliefs. Now, if any readers have ever worked with someone who harbors intense philosophical beliefs, you know there is potential for friction in the work environment. However, Butterfield is quite a strong leader, and in fact, he can become confrontational too, so I am sure he is not intimidated by Wilson's social quirks.

    After Butterfield hires Wilson he realizes that he now has a band of musicians who can confidently improvise on any groove, regardless of whether it's blues, funk, rock, jazz or anything in between.  As an added bonus, the majority of the band members can also read, write, and arrange their own material. These aren't important skills for most of the musicians working in Blues-Rock of the 60's, but to employ people who can, and do is not only a less complicated working arrangement, but also badge of honor. So, now the combination of artist talent, and technical skills in the band, definitely sets the Butterfield band apart from the huge influx of blues based bands. Keep in mind that most of these blues based bands just adapt Blues standards to the Rock idiom by blasting disjointed, often tedious instrumentals through banks of amplifiers, so there isn't much competition for Butterfield anyway.

    During the summer, Butterfield takes his band through the West Coast circuit, and continues rehearsing for the studios sessions in September. It would be reasonable to think that the fans, and concert reviewers will sense gaps in the quality of his music as a result of the personnel changes, but the press reports, as well as personal testimonials do not support this suggestion. The changes would be demanding in a five piece, but I assume it would be more work in a seven piece. It's actually quite a testament to Butterfield's skill as a bandleader, hiring five new musicians in only three or four months, transitioning old material into the new format, and all the time maintaining the quality of performance it a testament to his skill as a bandleader.

    However, as the quality of the band's personnel changes, so does the requirements of the leader. Consider Butterfield is only 23 when he takes his Blues Band into the studio in '65. Back then his bandleader role models are Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Litter Walter, and a few others who work the South Side clubs. These leaders tend to maintain a separation from their band members, barking orders as they try to stay relevant in the limelight. It is a leadership style which will not work well with his current members if he intends on realizing his vision of a new music. So, Butterfield adapts an egalitarian style in an effort to manage egos and draw out the best in everyone.

    In spite of all the artistic benefits that come with having a seven piece band there are management issues to consider too. The operating costs alone must seem astronomical compared with the old days. Even though Monterey affords Butterfield him luxuries such as: higher performance fees, roadies, newer transportation, and a road manager, money is still an issue. So, when Wilson suggests the addition of his childhood friend, alto saxophonist David Sanborn, the management must get edgy.

    Like Wilson, Sanborn is a native of St. Louis, and at twenty has already studied at the University of Iowa, become a husband, a father, and worked as a professional musician. By the spring of 1967, the news of the San Francisco psychedelic era happenings reaches St. Louis, and like millions of other young people, he is hungry to experience the adventure too. So, when his friend Teddy Stewart invites the Sanborn family to live in San Francisco, they enthusiastically accept the opportunity.

   Once in San Francisco, he and his family move into the living-room of Stewart's Haight-Ashbury apartment, Sanborn gets a job playing sax in a local band. The living quarters are cramped, but his friend's generosity is appreciated,  “Remember those Indian print sheets, the stuff that people used to drape over lamps? I bought one of those and draped it over the thing. Had a lava lamp -- this was when lava lamps were new. [laughs] Incense -- the whole bit.”
    However, in spite of his expressed levity, he knows that the current living arrangement is not suitable for his growing family, so he really is interested in better paying work.

    Fortunately, Stewart isn't the only friend Sanborn has living in San Francisco. In has a chance meeting, he runs into Philip Wilson while walking down the street. As he recalls,
“... I ran into Philip Wilson, who was one of my best friends in St. Louis. He had just joined the Butterfield Blues Band. He said, "We're playing the Fillmore tonight. Why don't you come down and see us?" I went down and saw them. I had been to the Fillmore a few times since I'd been in San Francisco. I'd heard Jimi HendrixThe WhoJefferson Airplane -- a lot of great people.”  It is a serendipitous meeting which will change the direction David Sanborn's professional life forever.

    After he hears the Butterfield band, Butterfield invites him to sit in and his performance impresses Butterfield enough that he extends an invitation for him to play with a few gigs with the band. Then, in the fall, the band moves down to L.A. to record The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, and Wilson invites Sanborn to hang out with the band in the studio.

   So, he takes a Greyhound bus from San Francisco to L.A., sleeping on the floor of  Wilson's hotel room, and attending all the recording sessions. At some point Butterfield takes "pity" on him, offering him a chance to play, Sanborn remembers, "I just had my horn. I think it was because I looked so pathetic, standing there with my horn, Paul Butterfield said, "Why don't you just come and play on a tune?" I sat in and I did okay.” As it turns out, those jam sessions become part of an extended audition for Sanborn. Not only is he excellent saxophonist, but he is also accepted by everyone, even Butterfield is thinking he belongs in the band.

However, as is a pattern with Butterfield, new proposals come with dramatic resistance before he accepts the idea.  As Sanborn tells one interviewer, “I played a few gigs with the band, and Paul asked me if I wanted to join,” he remembers. “But when I asked him about money, he told me I‘d have to get my money from the other guys in the band !  I was broke at time, so this really threw me.  But it all worked out.” I suspect Butterfield is someone who can recognize a good idea, and even though he wants to accept it, it is not in his nature to appear too flexible for fear it will be interpreted as a weakness.

   In the end, the addition of Sanborn transforms the Butterfield Blues Band into a monster eight piece horn band. In the world of 60s Rock, this is very unique, and apparently inspirational, as Al Kooper decides to form Blood Sweat and Tears. Up in Butterfield's home town, another band is also inspired by the Butterfield Blues Band. The horn based rock band, Chicago form to begin a very long and prosperous career.

    Below, I have added one song from a recording of the eight piece Butterfield Blues Band, playing a concert at the Back Bay Theatre in BostonOct. 21st 1967.  It is a 75 minute bootleg which circulates under the title of  Back Bay or Hot Butter. The sound quality is adequate, but I urge you to get past this imperfection so you can hear why the Butterfield Blues Band is such an important feature in the history of rock.

The Butterfield Blues Band, Live at Back Bay Theatre, Boston  October 21st, 1967.

1) Work Song2) Tollin’ Bells3) Double Trouble,4) One More Heartache5) Driftin’and Driftin’,
6) Drivin’ Wheel (vocal by Bugsy Maugh) , 7) In the Wee Wee Hours (vocal by Bugsy Maugh),
8) I Believe9) Look Over Yonders Wall10) Born Under a Bad Sign, 11) Mystery Train 12) instrumental (has a slight drop-out)13) I Pity the Fool14) All My Lovin’ (vocal by Elvin Bishop),
15) I Ain’t Got Nobody (vocal by Elvin Bishop), 16) Strawberry Jam (ends within a minute)

No comments: