Monday, March 24, 2014

# 41 the Butterfield Blues Band Keep on Movin'

    In the '60's, FM radio is a Godsend for artists like Paul Butterfield. Elektra releases singles from his albums, but none of them earn the title of a hit in the AM market so, FM is the band's best option. They have fewer restrictions on the commercial value of Rock music, making them an ideal promotional medium for many of the underground bands. By the late '60's, a number of FM radio stations are focusing on younger audiences who have an interest in the music which springs out of the the Counter Culture Movement. (It's really the beginning of A.O.R. or Album Oriented Rock)

   The basis of the the Counter Culture philosophy seems to be that most behaviours which oppose the values of the corporate establishment are good, and those that do not, should be labeled a sellout. Unfortunately, by the late '60's the Counter Culture has become mainstream caricature of itself, and its noble philosophy is becoming a shear veil used to market hippie products to middle income kids living in the suburbs. This development benefits record labels, and their artists because in spite of their promoted affiliation with the Counter Culture, they all want AM hit records, and Paul Butterfield is no different. He's is an ambitious artist, employed by a major record label, and managed by one the most important artist managers of his generation. In spite of his public desire to just create and play music, he too wants the fame, and financial rewards that come with owning a hit record

    Back in the '60's, it's common for record labels to hire a producer for their artist. Their position is that they pay the artist an advance for creating the music, in return they agree to manufacture, promote, and distribute that product. This agreement is then complimented with the addition of a good manager, who secures venues for the artist to advertise the product. So, the business end of the music industry has a lot time, and money invested in most artists. Consequently, it is only natural that these investors want to experience as high a return as possible.

    So, for the next Butterfield Blues Band album, Elektra hires the hit maker Jerry Ragovoy as producer. In the 1950's, Ragovoy is an ambitious, A & R man for United Artists who also develops a reputation as talented arranger, producer, and songwriter. He writes Time is On My Side for Irma Thomas, (later a hit for The Rolling Stones), and among many other hits, he also pens Try a Little Harder Erma Franklin and Piece of My Heart for Lorraine Ellison (later hits for Janis Joplin). By the '60's he is successful enough to buy his own recording studio in New York, which he calls The Hit Factory. The premier Rock paper of the day, Rolling Stone describes Ragovoy as: Philadelphia Jerry Ragovoy is one of the top Rhythm and Blues producers, The Staple Singers “Let’s Get Together’ Roy Redmond’s “Good Day Sunshine”.....  He not only produces, also writes arranges, and publishes many of the songs his artists record, and he has just completed building his own 8-track studio (The Hit Factory) I own it all by myself - no partners. He will be the producer of  the latest Butterfield Blues Band album, Keep On Movin'.

   However, there are a couple of problems which Elektra does not anticipate before they hire of Ragovoy. Firstly, Butterfield is a person who feels most comfortable working within a familiar group of people, and he his settled into the Elektra/Grossman family. He views everyone else as a suspicious outsider, and Ragovoy fits that profile. Secondly, Jerry Ragovoy is also a man who needs to control his environment, especially in the studio. So, there is bound to be a confrontation between the two.

    If there will be a compromising figure between Butterfield, and Ragovoy it will be Ted Harris. Initially, Keith Johnson introduces Butterfield to Gil Evans ( a Grossman client) as the band's a musical director, but Evans quits because it interferes with his own work schedule. In his place Ted Harris is recruited by his Detroit colleague Rod Hicks. Harris is a well rounded musician in his own right, and while he is very keen to work with the Butterfield band, he also knows about arranging pop tunes, and has a strong work ethic,  I picked up material in Woodstock, but had to write the charts in Detroit - we’d record all week in New York, and I’d head back to Detroit on the weekends.

    Ragovoy likes Harris' ideas, but he doesn't like Butterfield or his band. Butterfield, and his band see themselves as musical innovators, and frequently engage in free form jam sessions to cull ideas from their music. This apparent lack of structure is simply too unpredictable for Ragovoy. He needs control over his environment, and every aspect of the recording process,  Jac Holtzman at Elektra told me that he wanted a hit from the band, and they came to me because at that time in my life I was suppose to be the ‘king’ of R&B, they wanted that kind of producer..... I had such a dichotomy of emotion about these guys in the studio. I hated them, and I loved them, ....  Personally, they drove me a little nuts I couldn't seem to control them; I’m the kind of producer who wants to have total control in the studio - it’s my game, and my vision. I’m going to sink or swim by my ideas....... At one point I even called Holzman, and told him I’d have to withdraw, but he talked me into staying.  The two to three weeks of recording sessions must have developed into a case of two alpha personalities posturing over a single quarry.

   Then Ragovoy does the worse thing he can do for the project, he doesn't give in, he simply gives up, and that makes the difference in the final product. But at a certain point I gave up on my usual approach, and went through the motions, letting them do what they wanted. I wound up going for a great sound, and I think I got that. But the project was rushed so there wasn't time to select the material or to refine or redo the material we had done...... In the end I wasn't happy with anything we had done - even my things.  (Where Did My Baby Go & Except You)   .....      But I‘m not talking about the charts. Ted Harris did some wonderful arranging, and the horn players played well.  I just wasn't happy with the end product. We did it in two or three weeks, and we should have had eight - the potential was there for a great album.

    In spite of the fact that Butterfield never expresses any regrets over his contribution to the failure of the sessions, years later Ragovoy will feel more philosophical about the project . .......  When I heard Sanborn and Buzz, I recognized they were both monsters.  They were
both natural, great talents; in fact, they were two of the great talents I've heard since I started producing.  And I knew Butterfield wanted to stretch out, I heard a lot of jazz influences from the band. Paul was a great harp player, and I think a good blues singer, but I think he was over-matched by the jazz influence in the band. My feeling was that if he going to move in the jazz format, then the material needed to be  more carefully selected for Paul’s voice so he could get through it naturally. I heard a fight then, and I hear it today when I listen again.

   Ragovoy's insight about Butterfield being over-matched by his own music are very evident in some of the material. For example, on Morning Sunrise his voice sounds strained, as though he either hasn't been able to mount the song properly, or he is out of his element. Butterfield really is an excellent blues singer, but he does not always sound comfortable in the Rhythm and Blues/Jazz format, and next to David Clayton Thomas or Robert Lamn this quality becomes a serious liability.

    In an effort to capitalize on the band's appearance at WoodstockElektra releases Love March as the album's single, but the catchy sing-a-long doesn't earn sustainable traction in the AM market, and is soon forgotten. Love March is such a curious departure from anything the band performs on record or live. In fact, in 1969, there is no blues band that has ever recorded this type of material. (It is probably the only song played by a blues band with the lead singer playing flute to a military march.)  
     When an interviewer asks Butterfield if the song is an attempt at going commercial (selling out)  he says, It wasn't conceived as a pop thing. It was done as a very happy thing. We were just messing around with it, and decided to put some lyrics to it, and Gene Dinwiddie wrote some lyrics. I wasn't really sure myself what the tune was for a long time, but now I really enjoy it. 

    After its release, reviews tend less to be cold to tepid, but the varied reaction seems to be more a result of confusion about the music than its quality. In spite of the rhetoric of the day, people really do like labels, and for the music of the Butterfield Blues Band that chore is a difficult task to undertake. However, there are some bright lights as Rolling Stone reports, This album is with the exception of two out and out early Ray Charles imitations, the farthest thing from the blues that Butterfield has ever done. Which is alright in itself - the problem is that it isn't new-wave jazz, gospel, soul, country or golden oldie material either.  It’s a strident limbo of in-between. As an artist, this is exactly what Butterfield is always grasping for, a strident limbo of in-between. Unfortunately, it is not what most listeners want, and the album only manages a position of # 102 on the album charts. Oddly enough, the band will use many of the songs as part of their regular set list in the coming concerts.

   In the end, nobody gains from the combative atmosphere during the recording of Keep On Movin', Butterfield loses an opportunity to make a solid cross over album with a top pop producer, Ragovoy misses a chance to list yet another commercial success to his resume, and Elektra does not get their hit record from the band. It will be another debit that some Elektra Records accountant will enter under the name Paul Butterfield.

   Sighting artistic differences as his main reason, Feiten leaves the band after the release of  Keep On Movin', as does Freddie Beckmier. Tired of life on the road, Philip Wilson returns to Chicago where he becomes an active member of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Keith Johnson leaves to return to studio work in New York. They all depart with opportunities made available because of their time in the Butterfield Blues Band.

Butterfield Blues Band : Keep on Moving,       October 1969  #102 on Billboard album charts

1) Love March, 2) No Amount Of Lovin’,3) Morning Sunrise, 4) Losin’ Hand, 5) Walkin’ By Myself, 6) Except You, 7) Love Disease, 8) Where Did My Baby Go, 9) All In A Day, 10) So Far So Good, 11) Buddy’s Advice, 12) Keep On Movin’.

Paul Butterfield: Vocal, Harmonica, (Flute on Love March), Gene Dinwiddie: Tenor Saxophone, Flute, (Vocal on Love March, Vocal chorus on All In A Day), Philip Wilson: Drums, Percussion, (Vocal on Love March, Vocal chorus on All In A Day), Dave Sanborn:  Alto Saxophone, Keith Johnson: Trumpet, Buzzy Feiten: Guitar, Organ, Piano, (French Horn on Love March), (Vocal on Buddy’s Advice, and All In A Day), Rod Hicks: Bass, Cello, (Vocal on All In A Day), Steve Madaio:, Trumpet, Ted Harris: Piano, Trevor Lawrence: Baritone Saxophone, Fred Beckmeier

Jerry Ragovoy: Piano on Where Did My Baby Go, Fred Beckmier: Bass on My Buddy’s Advice and Where Did My Baby Go.


No comments: