Sunday, June 29, 2014

# 51 Eric Von Schmidt and Paul Butterfield

    During the early sixties Butterfield has a small group of followers on who hang out at Chicago's Near North Side's bohemian club Big John's, but he isn't much more than a passing fancy in the South Side clubs. Even after he becomes a national artist, very few talk about him in the South Side blues clubs.

   This lack of recognition on the South Side is fine with Butterfield though; he doesn't feel any real attachment to the scene anyway. To be honest, I didn't think that much of the whole Chicago scene back then. I was just interested in learning how to play. (Muretich)

    However, he does have a loyal following on the East Coast, mostly among the Cambridge Folk Scene. A couple of years later he will develop a following among the counter culture Rock movement growing out of San Francisco, and then during the '70's become a fixture in the Woodstock artist community, but it is Cambridge that serves his artistic development best. He will record with a few artists from the area, one of whom is Eric Von Schmidt.

    Von Schmidt has two careers, one as a singer/songwriter and another as an acclaimed artist. During the sixties he collects, writes, and performs traditional folk songs. During his artistic journey he influences several other young artists, Tom Rush, and Bob Dylan are only a couple.

    He is also credited, although erroneously, with writing the Dylan staple Baby, Let Me Follow Down, but according to Von Schmidt, he only adapted the song from a Blind Boy Fuller composition, and he credits three quarters of that song to Reverend Gary Davis. However, in partnership with author, and influential music producer, Jim Rooney, he is credited as the co-author of the really excellent history of the Cambridge Folk Scene, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.

   He will go on to create paintings for the album covers of Joan Baez, Cisco Huston, Reverend Gary Davis, and Geoff and Maria Muldaur. He will also earn a Grammy for his Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 1-3. In addition, Butterfield will record his brooding blues Rule the Road on his first Better Days album.

   Eric Von Schmidt's sixth album release is 2nd Right 3rd Row, it features great stylists such as Amos Garrett on a number of string instruments, including bird calls, Garth Hudson on organ, liner notes by Bob Dylan, and some very soulful harmonica by Paul Butterfield.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

# 50 Fenway Theater Boston December, 1971

   In retrospect, the success of most really influential bands seems to be accidental rather than premeditated. For example, in the 60's, the music of groups such as the Beatles, the Band, and of course, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band actually change the direction of popular music, but this contribution is mostly product of circumstance rather than planning.

    The impressive feat of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band is that their music captures the imagination of a generation of listener without any mainstream hits, and a relatively small advertising budget. This is an notable accomplishment for any band, but for a blues band, it is especially significant.

    However, similar to all important bands, the creative energy of the Butterfield band is profound, but brief.  After East West, it seems they are just approaching their peak, but nobody considers that two albums is all the music they have to contribute. This timely departure from the music scene could explain why both albums are still in print, and selling fifty years after their release date.

    One of the perks of groups disbanding is that they leave their audience hungry for more music.  After the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band ends, there are a number of press rumours about reformation of the band, probably fueled by industry money eager to make cash from the resurrection of the original band. There are even stories about band manager Albert Grossman trying to entice Butterfield and Bloomfield to reunite the famous partnership, but these stories prove to be baseless, and probably a product of wishful speculation on the part of concert promoters.

    So, what happens when the principal members of the The Paul Butterfield Blues Band do reunite? In December of '71, it happens in Boston, and the results are anticlimactic, proving that sometimes a yearning for past experiences is best left to the imagination.

    Back then, film maker Bob Lewis takes the initiative to film a semi-reunion of the band in an effort to capture some of its past glory, but his efforts fall flat. Not because of his technical expertise, he does manage to cull 40 solid minutes of the concert, but the film captures none of the band's original energy.

   There are some brief glimpses of the band principals in their heyday, but the changes are obvious. Everything from the body language of the musicians on stage, to the music they play lacks much of the fervour of the original band. They are obviously unrehearsed, and for the most part, all performances are tentative, even lethargic.

   If you are a fan of the original band, the anticipation of viewing this film will spark excitement, but it doesn't take long for that enthusiasm to spiral into disappointment. The whole project is probably an attempt by the artists, and the promoters at making some quick cash.

   Over the past few decades many successful bands reunite well past their due date, it is a lucrative industry for promoters, and the artists. However, the wise (or wealthy) bands like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin shy away from this activity, and the decision is probably is best for them, and their fans. It's too bad The Paul Butterfield Blues Band isn't wealthy or wise enough to recognize this reality in December of '71.

The Reunion of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band Fenway Theater, Boston, Mass., December 10 - 11 1971.

Paul Butterfield: Harmonica & vocals.
Mike Bloomfield: Guitar, piano & vocals.
Mark Naftalin:  Keyboards
John Kahn: Bass
Billy Mundi: Drums

Video Recording © 1971, 2013 Robert C Lewis - incidentally my first ever 2-camera live-switch direction - and without camera monitors or a clue ... recorded on an IVC 1" - and transferred to 3/4" that wouldn't play because of tape breakdown - careful pre-baking and dozens of head cleaning sessions, most of the set finally played well enough to post. I've omitted really unwatchable parts but left it if the distortion was short. thanks for watching ...    

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

# 49 Shel Silverstein & Paul Butterfield

    Every generation has at least one artist whose talent is unique, diverse, and whose production is enormous enough that it influences several areas of artistic expression. Shel Silverstein is one of these artists. His work is still a major contributor to American arts and culture.

    During his life, he is prolific poet, screenwriter, cartoonist, and author of children's books, much of which is translated into 30 languages, and sells over 20 million copies.

    While fans of Silverstein's work tend to remember him best as children's storyteller; he also makes significant contributions to popular music as songwriter during the sixties and seventies.

    Similar to Tim Hardin, many readers may not have heard any of Silverstein's albums, but they have probably heard many of his songs. A few examples are: A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash), The Cover of the Rolling Stone, and Sylvia's Mother (Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show), The Unicorn Song (Irish Rovers), and the soundtrack to the 1970 film Ned Kelly which stars Mick Jagger, and features Silverstein's songs as interpreted by Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. These are only a few of songs in  Silverstein's catalogue. The extensive list is easily accessed online.

    His first album Hairy Jazz is released in 1959, and by 1967, he releases his fourth album Drain My Brain. This is where fans of Paul Butterfield will take interest. It is a folk album, but he employs Butterfield as sidemen on the album.

    Butterfield's distinctive tone is heard on The Changing Seasons. Have a listen below.