Tuesday, February 4, 2014

# 27 Elvin Bishop and the Butterfield Blues Band Pt. 1

    It's early fall of '67, Butterfield is in a L.A. studio recording tracks for his third album, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, but he doesn't want to be there. In recent months, he is developing a hunger for the unpredictable excitement of performing his music live. You can't really blame him, he does have several Jazz musicians in his band now, so, the thrill of improvising on a groove is consuming most of his artistic ambitions these days.

    When he is frequenting the South Side blues clubs in the late fifties, and early sixties, he isn't enamored with the music quality he hears, or the musicianship for that matter. His negative impression is understandable  though. During this period he experiences the raw, unedited world of Chicago Blues on the South Side, and the less than romantic profile of so many of the real Bluesman. Those experiences must create an image of Blues, and The Bluesman which is contrary to the profiles the media like to promote.

    Keep in mind, into the early 60's, post war electric blues is still considered 'race' music by many in middle America. By the late fifties, even young Afro-Americans are rejecting Blues because of  its socio-political implications, and choosing the more progressive sounds of Rhythm & Blues. There is a strong probably that most members of the so called Chicago Crowd don't actually venture into many of real South Side blues clubs, preferring the social security of Big John's on the Near North Side. For most of them, Blues is a brief exercise in cultural tourism rather than a compulsion to hear an art form at its source. However, Butterfield, Bishop, Bloomfield, Musselwhite, Gravenites, and a small number of others are the exceptions.

    In broad strokes, it is the Folk Revival which introduces Blues to middle America, and ignites a renewed interest in the music. More specifically, the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band is the interracial band which introduces authentic Post War Chicago Blues to young Americans who are already engaging in the heavily amplified sounds of Rock'n'Roll.  The band's interpretation of modern Chicago Blues is very important in the rejuvenation of the art form for at least one generation. However, the introduction of Blues into the mainstream is not a new phenomenon, it seems to happen once every generation.  The possible reason might be that Blues doesn't seem to carry enough resonance with the mainstream masses to get beyond the status of novelty.

    After this education in the real world of Blues, the young Paul Butterfield knows he doesn't want to be a bluesman; it's just too limiting both professionally and artistically. He is talented musician, with a broad musical background, and wants to apply his knowledge in the more demanding, and prestigious world of the Jazz. It may be the experience of audience approval when his old band improvises on songs like East West and Work Song, but at some point, Butterfield adopts the Hard-Bop vision of music as an opportunity to spontaneously express musical ideas.
    Elektra understands the transient nature of the Blues trend , and like Butterfield, they don't like the Bluesman persona either. In an effort to sell more records, they want him to play down his affiliation with Blues, and adopt a more mainstream Rhythm & Blues profile.  So, Elektra appoints John Court, (Albert Grossman's business partner) as the producer of The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, with the intention of culling a hit single from the Butterfield band. They have built a healthy fan base, are considered headliners now, and FM radio airplay is strong. As a result, record sales are rising, and so Elektra wants to exploit their popularity as soon and as much as possible.

    Consequently, you will notice that the set list on The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw is made up of cover songs which have proven themselves as audience favourites for their live concerts. They are also Rhythm & Blues songs which have experienced some success in the largely Afro-American market, but under exposed with the mainstream audience.

    In 1966, One More Heartache is a regional hit, (#29),  for Motown's Marvin Gaye. The Butterfield band has been playing the song live for over a year, and know it is an audience favourite.

   In the 40's Driftn' Blues (Driftin' and Driftin')  is a hit on the West Coast for Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, and later for band member Charles Brown, as well as Ray Charles. It's a new addition to the Butterfield band's repertoire, sporting an updated the title, and some tasty horn arrangements courteous of Naftalin.

    I Pity the Fool, Bobby Blue Bland's Rhythm & Blues song makes it to #48 back in 1961.

   In 1958, Otis Rush writes, records, and has a regional hit with Double Trouble. The Butterfield band are the first of several blues and rock artists to cover it.

   They also cover  Willie Dixon's Tollin' Bells, complete with a Ray Charles funeral march.
 (A Butterfield fan told me of an experience he while seeing the Butterfield Band perform this song at The Town Hall in NYC in 1968.  He said that Butterfield would disappear from the stage during the song, and then reemerge at the back of the auditorium chanting the Tollin' Bells in falsetto.)

   The strongest track on the whole album is Roosevelt Sykes' 1936 hit (there were no charts back then), Drivin Wheel.  The Butterfield version is pretty close cover of Little Junior Parker's 1961 hit. I love both Parker's version as well as the Butterfield's. However, the Buttefield version is so greezy you'd think it came out of Muscle Shoals instead of L.A.. It is also Bugsy Maugh's debut as singer whose skillful use of falsetto establishes him in the rock community as note worthy vocalist.

    Bob Dylan is the artist who establishes the songwriter as an important figure in the popular music of the 60's. After Dylan, not only does the public expect singers to also be songwriters, but artists want to publish, if only for the potentially lucrative royalties. Butterfield is no different, and frankly, I am surprised he doesn't do more over his career; he isn't bad songwriter.

    So, in collaboration with New York singer/songwriter Tucker Zimmerman he writes Droppin' Out. (Zimmerman also has the distinction of introducing Butterfield to his second wife Kathy Peterson while she is working as a dancer in New York. By '67 they are living in Woodstock.)

    Droppin' Out  seems to be an attempt at tapping into the counter culture movement trend which has gone international by '67.  However, his band has been performing it live for over a year, it's the song they perform on the British television show Ready, Steady Go during the '66 tour.

    The second original is Run Out of Time which is written in Woodstock by Butterfield, his wife Kathy and Dinwiddie.  Elektra likes it enough that they release it as a single with One More Heartache as the B side. Both songs feature really exceptional acoustic harmonica solos from Butterfield. It is doubtful there any other recordings on the mainstream radio stations which can boast such a fluid, visceral use of the wha-wha sound Butterfield draws from of his instrument.

     In the end, Butterfield doesn't like The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, (see post #28). To him, and his band, the songs are just vehicles which allow everyone to improvise. When you hear his live shows, (listen to the track I include in post #26), you will hear how they can turn a three minute pop song into an 18 minute tapestry of Hard Bop soloing. Stay tuned for #28.




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