Sunday, July 13, 2014

# 52 The Muldaurs and Paul Butterfield

   There are many short biographies of Paul Butterfield that profess he is a product of the 1960's South Side of Chicago Blues Scene, but this not true. He never actually lives in the neighbourhood that houses the poor and working poor of the city. Actually, Butterfield grows up in the cosmopolitan, middle to upper middle income neighborhood of Hyde Park. It sits like an oasis in the middle of the South Side of Chicago, but has none of its visible socio-economic sores. In spite of his hillbilly hair cut, and reputation as a South Side bluesmanButterfield is actually product of the very white, middle class, socially liberal Folk Revival of the late fifties, and early sixties.

   The original motivation of the Folk Revival is for young people to demonstrate their discontent with the mainstream corporate values which govern popular music of the 1950's by reviving traditional acoustic American folk music. The revival resonates within thousands of young people in several Western countries, as millions rediscover traditional folk music. Unfortunately, the success of the Folk Revival will become a victim of corporate values it is designed to reject, and Traditional Folk Music will be a mainstream moneymaker.
    While the original intentions of the revival are sincere, the movement does harbour its own zealots. They create unrealistic rules to maintain quality control, but instead, only serve to threaten the natural development of the art form. Their main rule seems to be: duplicate the music of previous generations, but be sure not add to it. It is a rigid social engineering project that elite folk purists like Pete Seeger, and several others preach, but can not enforce.

    However, as with all social movements, there are are rebels within the group. Artists such as: Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Geoff Muldaur and Maria D'Amato refuse to run with the pack and instead, infuse traditional folk music with original lyrics, electric instrumentation, and a much deserved new life for the music. This relatively small group of artists are the stylists of the genre, and will help to change the direction of Traditional folk, and mainstream popular music for several decades.

   Maria D'Amato grows up in New York City's Greenwich Village, and by the early sixties she is heavily involved in neighborhood folk scene. She regularly sings with up and coming artists like: John Sebastian, David Grisman, Stefan Grossman, and the Even Dozen Jug Band. Eventually she lands a job singing, and playing fiddle with the very successful Jim Kweskin Jug Band. While in the band she becomes romantically involved with one of the founding members, Geoff Muldaur, and two marry.

   Muldaur is from the New York City suburb of Pelham, New York, and similar to many artists in the Folk Revival, he not only sings, and plays guitar, but he also possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of musical styles. These skills place him in the position of a important creative force within the band.

   However, by the late 60's Geoff and Maria Muldaur leave the Kweskin band to begin their own solo career, and by 1969 they release their first album Pottery Pie. The album is all covers of Folk, Rock 'n' Roll, best described as an album of Roots Music. (It also contains the original version of Geoff Muldaur's interpretation of  Aquarela do Brasil which is used by Terry Gilliam's for his critically acclaimed 1985 film, Brazil.)

  Like so many artists of the mid to late sixties, the Muldaurs move to Woodstock, New York, and quickly integrate into the vibrant arts community. While living their new life they become close friends of Paul and Kathy Butterfield.

  During their time in Woodstock
they record their second album, Sweet Potatoes. It is on this album that they use Butterfield's harmonica on their interpretation of Chuck Berry's Havana Moon.

    Unfortunately, shortly after the release of their Sweet Potatoes, the Muldaur marriage breaks down, and they both look toward solo careers. It will be Butterfield who will reunite the pair, if only on a professional level.