Friday, September 30, 2016

# 60 Paul Butterfield's Darker Days Part 3

When Better Days returns from their successful tour they are tired, but energized. Their leader is an exception though, he is a noticeably changed man.  His mental health is faltering, he is complaining more, and even more cynical about the music industry than when he left Woodstock.  He is now questioning his career choices, and even his profile as an accomplished harmonica player. Butterfield just wants to sit, commiserate, get high, and write songs on the piano. He is also now practicing a daily regime of self-medication with tequila, cocaine, pot, beer and by some accounts, heroin.

There is an ongoing debate about what we as a society choose to blame for our addictions. One camp prefers to think of addiction as a genetically motivated disease. This seems to be the most popular explanation in 2016. Then there are those who believe that addictions are the result of external environmental triggers brought on by poor coping skills. Neither theory is supported with conclusive evidence, but to this writer, the later seem most probable. Consequently, it seems more likely that Butterfield's worsening addiction is a result of his inability to cope with career and lifestyle stress.

The social environment in Woodstock of the mid-seventies is changing too. While it isn't the primary cause of Butterfield's worsening addictions, it does seem to exasperate his condition. One contributing factor is the social dynamic of Grossman's stable of musicians which is becoming more openly dysfunctional with substance abuse as a growing issue. Another important contributor is the recent international media attention that the 1969 festival attracts. The success of the festival turns the little town, and its small colony of artists into a tourist destination, akin to a back to country Disneyland. People are no longer just pass through; they are now making picture taking pilgrimages to observe the hippies in their natural habitat. This new reality is so disruptive that it is quite possibly a cause for high profile artists like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison to pack up, and relocate to quieter surroundings.  

Paul Butterfield's Woodstock is now an incestuous community of pop artists with varying degrees of success who hang out in the local bars, consume copious quantities of drugs which are supplied by a growing tribe of hangers on, and drug peddlers. Chris Parker remembers, By that time it (Bearsville Records)had too many kinds of artists, and not enough budget. There was also a lot of peer pressure among the artists, like who got the Mercedes, and was treated based on record sales, or was it based on who could manipulate Albert to their advantage. It is in the midst of this environment that the now emotionally vulnerable Butterfield is expected to maintain his band, compose new material, and then prepare to go back out on the road.  

Then there is the boredom. In spite of the rock star fantasy promoted by the industry advertising machine, musicians adhere to a fairly standard business model. They are basically traveling salespeople who spend most of their time out on the road in search of marketing opportunities. There are exceptions to the rules of the game i.e. The Beatles, but they are a rare exception, most slog it out on the circuit to earn their pay cheques. (This dynamic is even more common in the modern world of free downloading)  So, for many of the musicians coming back to the quiet town of 2500 in Catskills it is a nice retreat from the road, but can become like a secluded mining town where there is lots of money available, but the only way to dull the boredom is to spend all your cash on gambling, women, drugs.

Like so many other people in the sixties, Butterfield  experiments with psychedelics, but he is
primarily a beer, pot, and tobacco user. Remember, the bandleaders who Butterfield looks to for guidance in the early sixties are tough Southside bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. These leaders barked orders, and would often fine musicians for appearing on stage under the influence. Butterfield isn't that strict, but definitely discourages his members, and particularly young musicians like Chris Parker from getting involved with drugs. However, that was then, this is now. After the first Better Days tour, Butterfield doesn't seem to care anymore. Back in Woodstock, he teams up with other heavy substance abusers like Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Bobby Charles and  continues his self destruction. In the early 90s, that writer Bill Flanagan dubbs Danko, Manuel and Butterfield as the Chemical Roulette Trio with hyperactive, fidgety Danko as the leader.

It isn't all bad news for the Woodstock music scene though. Keep in mind, during the late sixties, and into the early seventies the best of Americana music, lead by both the Band and Paul Butterfield's Better Days is being created in Woodstock. (Ironically the Band is actually four fifths Canadian.) While Woodstock is still a cauldron of creative energy, it isn't nirvana. There are bloated egos, lots of money, power struggles, and their by-product, petty cliquishness. Many insiders consider the worst culprit to be substance abuse, which is escalating. Geoff Muldaur remembers, There were so many personal melodramas going in Woodstock. Here was this idyllic country setting and then evil naughty drugs got hold of it. Everyone used to smoke pot, but here was this nice white powder that supposedly helped you stay up longer so you could rehearse longer and do longer session. And pretty soon these happy, healthy people, who've composting and growing organic produce in their back yards and all, are offsetting that with large mixtures of blow and tequila every night. Woodstock devolved from a place where everyone was happy in the country living with their wives and having dinner parties, to a bad boys club. All the guys would say, "I'm off to rehearsal," and there was all this blow and hanging out at Deanies's and the Joyous Lake. But "I'm sure it wasn't any different  than what was going on everywhere else in America, just a microcosm of America's drug use. It is interesting to consider that only a couple of years earlier, Butterfield probably would be capable of participating in this environment, but still be able to maintain his composure. However, now, he is so vulnerable, it will almost consume him.  

It takes an fortified sense of self to stand up in front of crowds of thousands of people and expose
your deepest emotions, even if when you hide behind your instrument. So, to lose this important attribute is to become hollow and weak. During the first Better Days tour it becomes apparent to his band that he is even questioning his identity as a musician. Amos Garrett tells Butterfield chronicler Tom Ellis,  We talked about this many times, especially in the studio. Paul was getting away from the harmonica then something that didn't necessarily please any of us. He told me that he had just sort of hit a dead end with the harmonica. At the live gigs you'd never know it - he would still do his solo on Too Many Drivers and could always work a crowd into a frenzy with 15 minutes of playing, first unamplified then at the vocal mic., then through the twin reverb. But Paul was trying to get into more songwriting and playing the piano, into composition more than anything else. He told me once, 'I've got nowhere to go on the harmonica now - this is just as much as you can play on it,' Like a lot of harmonica players, he had an ego the size of a truck, but you know, he deserved it. At the times he was the best, bar none. But the harmonica didn't seem to excite him much.
  He loved Better Days because it was getting him away from the 12 bar thing. He especially loved the New Orleans stuff. He was very influenced by everyone in the band, especially because it was such an odd combination of musicians and brought so many new influences to him. But he wasn't picky about playing a solo on any particular song, and sometimes we had to urge him to play. This may be the tipping point for him. It is an important development because among his many skills on and off the stage, the excitement he can generates with his diatonic harmonica pivotal to his success. It is also his belief in the music that propels his reputation as the greatest blues harmonica player alive. Removing this sense of belief is as disastrous as pulling a cotter pin from a wheel axle.   

Many followers of Jungian psychology believe that the root of neurosis is an attempt to conceal a lie deep within yourself: avoidance of the truth generates all the negative behaviors that are bubbling on the surface. It is possible that many of the fundamental questions Butterfield is asking himself are bubbling up to the surface which are manifesting themselves in his public behavior. There are plenty of stories about him becoming both verbally and physically aggressive with people who dare approach him when he is intoxicated, but by the mid-seventies, these episodes are becoming more frequent and random. Paul Butterfield is now developing a reputation as angry drunk

His drinkin' buddies tend to be Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Bobby Charles. The four live in a adolescent fantasy world where the roles of their movie heroes are taken as reality, and no one is more devoted than Butterfield. They see themselves as tough guys in the tradition of  former Woodstock resident, and Hollywood tough guy legend Lee Marvin. As singer songwriter Robbie Dupree tells author Barney Hoskyns....... we were in the Espresso one night, and my bass player Greg Jackson, was awestruck. He told Butterfield  he's seen him play in Central Park but said the sound man hadn't done a good job. And for that he got a smack .... right in the face.... They were drunk and liked to think of themselves as tough guys, so I said, 'Go to Kingston- there's a whole town to fight down there. It is a typical behavior that alcoholics demonstrate in public. They are calm, likable people when sober, but when drunk they unleash an inner visceral anger. As his alcoholism becomes more obvious, similar outbursts are more frequent, and no its no solace for his family to know that he is also storing guns in the attic of his Wittenberg home.

As Better Days begins recording the karmic titled, It All Comes Back, Butterfield's quest for self destruction with drugs is worsening. He is feeling lost, isolated and frustrated. His long time friend and protégé Maria Muldaur remembers visiting him on a cold winter nights to find him sitting in his Wittenberg Road home alone, banging away on an out of tune piano. And Graham Blackburn remembers that The only thing that kept him together was his wife Kathy,; I don't know why he was out of control, other than that he was a basic inner-city Chicago kid. In modern parlance we might interpret Butterfield's behavior as a nervous breakdown, or at very least, behavior which demands professional attention, but most people seem to just turn their heads.

The recording of It All Comes Back is fraught with problems too. There are the drug issues, personnel problems, but the biggest problem is the mental health of the leader. He doesn't want to tour, he is using coke more often, and is regularly intoxicated, but his most severe handicap is his unwillingness to learn new material. As Ronnie Barron remembers, Paul had been spending more and more time with Bobby Charles,.... Paul learned these songs early, and without a lot of distractions; he didn't learn new songs real quickly ...., Paul had a lot of personal conflicts, and he didn't seem to want to sit down and work hard on new things. It was like he wanted to play around, and only do that he wanted to do.
Considering, it is only three years since he composes and performs quite innovative jazz/rock instrumentals harmonica, these are significant changes in a very brief period of time.

By the time It All Comes Back is being placed on store shelves in December of '73, a second tour is underway, but it isn't as successful as previous
one. Butterfield now has a full blown substance abuse problem, and it is showing in the performance reviews. He is showing up on stage drunk, audiences are yelling their disapproval at him, but he doesn't seem to care. He is also developing a suspicious streak as he shows in this interview with Laurel Dann of Circular magazine, Just what kind of information did you want? he'll ask politely, displaying almost imperceptible discomfort. He'll explain, You've  got to be careful with people, there are people that I look at, and know that I don't want anything to do with them. I can almost always tell when someone wants to take something from me but won't give anything back. No," he answers a question he's asking himself, "I don't feel that everyone who talks to me is looking for something, Some of the love you, but I never look for or expect that.   

Another example of the band's loss of direction is shown as they tour Canada. In early January of 1974, they are playing in the opera of Canada's National Arts Centre with the band personnel still intact, but Rod Hicks substituting for Billy Rich. They open up with an extended version of Too Many Drivers, Hicks performs one of his manic bass solos with Butterfield interjecting good natured jeering, and harmonica fills. The band is in good form, but their leader seems out of sync. He drinks beer, smokes incessantly throughout the performance, while constantly removing, and putting on his leather jacket, as he wobbles around the stage. Highlights of the show are the unexpected Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and then the master standing at the edge of the stage singing If You Live with no accompaniment. But the critics are not impressed with the once great Paul Butterfield. The review the headline in the entertainment section is Butterfield has had Better Days.

As his mental state continues to deteriorate, the band dynamics are becoming strained as well. As Muldaur remembers that Butterfield could be a handful even before the concert, I finally had to stay away from him before a gig because he would complain about so many things that by the time I played, I'd be first of all half drunk and exhausted because of I was worrying about everything with him...... There was a musical; evolution, but also a character devolution, says Muldaur. That's the sadness of some of this era. The album had too much cocaine on it. There were people who seemed to be able to handle coke, but maybe they didn't do it the way we did it. Muldaur will be one of the first to leave the band while they are on tour, sighting band issues, but he is also preparing to leave Woodstock for Martha's Vineyard with Jim Rooney's wife in tow.

One of Butterfield's most powerful skills is his competitive cut throat spirit, but even that is taking on nasty overtones. Rather than attempting to outwit a stronger opponent he begins seeking out opportunities to dominate people who are less able to defend themselves. As Geoff Muldaur remembers, We went into a bar one time in Chicago when we were playing Chicago. I think when we were there to do this show B.B. King and, Paul and I went to this bar where uh, Sammy was playing with uh, Jimmy Rogers and uh. Cotton. So they asked Paul to sit in. So the first thing that Paul calls is a minor tune in a minor key. Well that means he plays third position on the harmonica to get all those great notes. And Cotton, can't do that very well. So right off the bat it's just like this.... Butterfield's mentor, Muddy Waters would probably not have been this uncharitable to a colleague. These are the events that sober people remember as, Well he was a great guy when he was sober, but with a few drinks into him,he becomes an asshole

However, not everything is a failure out on the road. Maria Muldaur is an a original member of the band, and does background vocals on the first album, but she leaves, partly to because her marriage to Geoff ends. As she contemplates a solo career, it is Butterfield who encourages her to develop her own blues voice, and seek the center stage. She will never forget his kind words of encouragement, and still displays a photo of him in her office. Her gamble on solo career proves to be a wise decision as by 1974, she is reaping the benefits of her success with the hit Midnight at Oasis.  (Amos Garrett composes and performs the now famous guitar solo.)  She will hire Butterfield to add his magic harmonica on two tracks for her 1974 release Waitress in a Donut Shop (If You Haven't Any Hay and the top ten hit I'm A Woman #12), and then while out on the California leg of his second tour, he and Garrett appear with her at the Hollywood Bowl on July 21st 1974. (This recording is available)

There are other accolades for the dying band too. The industry standard Rolling Stone endorses
Better Days as crack rock band. Then on January 18th '74 they play the Midnight Special again performing Take Your Pleasure Where Find It (hosted by Smokey Robinson); later in the year they appear again performing Meet Me Down at the Bottom with host is B.B. King watching them from side of the stage. There are California gigs like the KSAN, San Francisco simulcast, but when you listen to many of these performances, you can sense there is a flagging enthusiasm within the band. As Amos Garrett remembers, Near the tail end of the Better Days band Paul was beginning to develop a bad drug habit. It wasn't obvious the first year or so that we were together; he was real happy then, in good financial and physical shape....  Years later Graham Blackburn will remember, ... Butterfield himself was in the grips of a cocaine habit, and the rest of the band were hardly immune.... Things were getting pretty difficult for Paul. says Graham Blackburn. But as long as you could still stand up and play, everything was justified.

In the end, Paul Butterfield's Better Days unofficially breaks up during the making of It All Comes Back, but the band actually staggers well into 1974. Muldaur is leaving while on tour, then Billy Rich departs for a gig with Taj Mahal, and the final collapse comes when Chris Parker leaves. Recognizing the end, Ronnie Barron returns to his solo career in California, and finally Garrett embarks a critically acclaimed career as both a session player, and solo artist. 

It should be noted that the main reason for the end of Better Days isn't just because of Butterfield's substance addictions, but rather his unwillingness to tour.  As Geoff Muldaur points out, there is a reality for all musicians, Every time we went into the studio, Paul made money, especially  for the delivering a record. But the band members would only get session fees.... When we were on the road everyone got a reasonable portion of the take. - a per diem , salary and such, and we made good money. So I was always ready to hit the road. But I think Paul wanted to stay in Woodstock and basically make records and drink. And so, after only a couple of tumultuous years, and only two critically acclaimed albums, one of the most underrated roots bands of the 1970s ends. 

Years later Muldaur, a master musician in his own right, will reflect on those days, actually my appreciation for Paul grew over the years after Better Days. You know? Uh, the mastery of his hooks,
he just, he put hooks on everything man. 

(A sad footnote to this piece is that while I found plenty of comments about Butterfield's addictions, there is little on attempted interventions by friends.)

Over the past several decades many critics, biographers, and fans alike try to make sense of Paul Butterfield's decline. The tone of their discussion seems to resonate a disbelief about the trajectory of his career. It's almost as if they are shaking their heads and saying, Sad, very sad!, and then blurting out the question, Why did an artist with so much time left, so many supporters, and so much more music to give, choose to jump from the precipice rather than at least attempting drag out the plateau of his career? Many still hopelessly point to his relationship with Albert Grossman, the social environment of Woodstock or his victimization by drugs because of his disease, but all these answers seem almost too simple. 

Shortly after Butterfield's his death 1987, the co-owner of the Lone Star Cafe in New York where Butterfield so often played in the early 1980s, Mort Cooperman said,  Butterfield was a man with a hole in his soulSomehow despite all the recognition, I think he went to bed every night thinking he wasn't good enough. And so a possible simple answer to the complex question, Paul Butterfield let it all slip away because he simply didn't feel he didn't deserved success he earned.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

# 59 Paul Butterfield's Darker Days Part 2

The catastrophic developments in Butterfield's career come with some perks though. While he loses his innovative big band, he gains a new healthier lifestyle. He is now off the grueling road tours for the first time since early '65, and living with his wife and young son in a very quiet rural environment. The Butterfields and their young son , Lee, have a comfortable home on eleven acres of land just outside Woodstock on Wittenberg Road. It is a eleven acre property, replete with a barn, two horses, dogs, cats, a new Jeep, and an active social life. Most people within his inner circle notice that he it is happiest he has been in his 30 plus years. If he chooses to take stock of his situation, he will realize that all of it is the product of his years of hard work on the road as a successful recording artist. Life in Woodstock is good for Paul Butterfield, - almost too good.

In addition, to the rich domestic life he is enjoying in Woodstock, he is also reaping the other benefits
of his success. There are still royalty checks for album sales, as well as a growing demand him as session musician. His name alone is capable of selling albums for any artist willing to pay for his time, and with the possible exception of Nashville's Charlie McCoy, the Paul Butterfield sound is the most recognizable harmonica in the world. Looking at the names of the artists he is recording with during the seventies, you can see he is contributing to projects by some of the Young Turks of the roots movement: Jesse Winchester, Stella Parton (yes Dolly's sister), Hungry Chuck, the Fabulous Rhinestones, Nick Jameson, Hoyt Axton, Happy and Artie Traum,  Peter Yarrow, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Eric Von Schmidt, Tim Hardin, Bobby Charles, Bonnie Raitt, Shel Silverstein to name a few. However, session work alone will not pay for his new lifestyle, and Grossman's business is dependent on his artists generating revenue. So, in spite of his resentment toward Grossman, he knows that building a new band, and getting back on the road will be essential to his survival.

Grossman knows this too. One night when Butterfield is hanging around the local diner Deanie's, with the Muldaurs, and Amos Garrett, he walks in, and according to Garrett, He took one look at us, and he said, Well, there's a band. At this point Butterfield is still reeling from the confrontation, and he does not like authority figures telling him what to do, so, while he is reluctant to take the comment seriously, it does spark an idea.

Grossman may be feeling guilty at the debacle over the loss of Butterfield's big band or he may just be looking to reassert his prowess in the business area, but he negotiates a contract with Warner on behalf of Butterfield for a whopping $250k (1.5m in 2016 funds), the highest advance of any blues singer before Butterfield. The offer helps to sooth the friction between the two, but this time there will be new demands from both the sides, leading to deeper conflicts.  

Butterfield wants a more egalitarian band this time, one which does not place the spotlight on him, so
he demands that his name is not given mention in the name of his new band. Geoff Muldaur comes up the band name Successand with Butterfield's approval they even have his Kathy Butterfield do the promotional stills, but Grossman scuttles the idea. He and his assistant manager Paul Fishkin insist the name must change. They see the Butterfield name as marketing tool, and naturally want to capitalize on this fact. Grossman then asserts his authority, by informing Butterfield that in addition to the band name change, there is a stipulation of his own regarding the quarter million advance from Warner. He tells him that under no circumstances can he divide the money between his band members. Grossman's position is that he does not represent the band, he represents Paul Butterfield. It is yet another confrontation with his manager that Butterfield loses. He doesn't take instruction easily, and is now being told, not asked, by his boss to buckle under, and adapt to company policy. So, in the end, the new band will include the Butterfield name, he will not share his advance, and he will do as requested. It is another possible trigger that sets Butterfield in different more self destructive direction.

Adding to the seething tensions growing within Butterfield are more cold realities of the music business. Ideally, an artist wants to release their album a month or two before Christmas to capitalize on seasonal sales, but deadlines missed, and the album Better Days is not on store shelves until January of '73. This means the band will need to work harder to catch up with the missed promotional opportunity. They will need to get out on the road in the dead of winter, and crisscross the country for a busy tour.

As the friction between Butterfield and his manager continues to escalate, Grossman seems to
become strategically withdrawn from the front lines. He assigns the Butterfield account to his young business associate, Paul Fishkin which irks Butterfield even more. What happens next can be interpreted as an act of inexperience on Fishkin's part, or an indirect assertion of authority from the boss, either way, what happens next will serve as yet another possible trigger for Butterfield to choose a more self-destructive path,  With the album finished, the group embarked on a punishing sixty-date tour of the states that confused many promoters: Was this the Paul Butterfield they knew or a totally new entity? Or What? That whole thing was the worst of Albert, says Paul Fishkin. He managed them, but he wanted to show Butter that he could be Albert. So he did his classic thing of forcing the promoters to pay high guarantees. He pissed off everybody, and he did it because was Albert. Regardless who is at fault back at head office, the decision to put Better Days out on a grueling tour not respectful treatment of an artist with Butterfield's age and profile. However, he will reluctantly rise to the occasion, proving to his boss that he can still be an earner.

In spite of the power struggles, explicit or implied, Paul Butterfield's Better Days turns in an excellent first tour. Concert reviews are generally excellent, and the single New Walkin' Blues/Please Send Me Someone to Love is continuing to receive air time on the FM stations, so the tour has expanding purpose. They play most of the new album plus a few of the Butterfield standards that audiences have come to expect. As Garrett remembers,  The show was a little more aggressive than the album, .... and we didn't do a few of the ballads.

All of Butterfield's music sits comfortably on the cusp of a few genres of American music, so it
naturally appeals to listeners with big ears. Geoff Muldaur recalls the first tour , it was a real different crowd for me, we had a bit of the Dylan problem in that I'd always played for the folkies, and Paul's group was the wine and reds set. And we played  for a lot more of Paul's crowd, and sometimes the music was little confusing to them. It was the only time in my life a chick in the audience would get up and take her clothes off! Butterfield loves to perform on stage, so the tour is an opportunity for him to temporarily forget about his pent up resentments toward Grossman, and the industry in general, but he is growing tired of the expectations on him.

Even bands that claim they are democratic organizations usually defer the role of leader to one member, (the Band does this with Robertson). Butterfield tells everyone, including Grossman that Better Days to be a more egalitarian group, but he is the obvious leader. As Chris Parker tells Butterfield chronicler Tom Ellis in '95 We would talk about the feel of songs endlessly. On a lot the trips the band would fly, but Paul and I would drive, sometimes with Geoff, and 'the feel' of a song was always the topic of conversation or the backdrop to our conversations. Getting to the real feel, the heart of the song, the groove of the song. Paul used to say, 'You've got to take it to the bottom with it.' He was always playing things for me, at his house or mine, too. He was looking the emotional essence of a song, the point it really went to your heart, picked you up by the throat and grabbed you. Geoff was like this too.
'But what Paul wanted to do was get to the bottom of a new tune, find out what was going to unlock the tune emotionally for him, what was going to give him a way in  - the temp, feel key - so he could open up his heart and communicate the song with his singing and his harp the way he wanted to. Paul was as soulful as Ray Charles in the way he looked for the heart of a tune. That was a huge asset in my opinion. And if he didn't think he could get to that spot, he wasn't interested in doing the tune, no matter what it was. Paul didn't have problems with tempo or changes - Paul could play over 'Giant Steps' it he wanted to. It was never a question of the arrangement or the structure. But a song had to mean something to him. This was part of the man, a musician at his best. Paul was after something elusive and it was hard to find. He'd played with all those great blues guys and he knew when the feel was right as opposed to when someone was just 'doing a show'  This is very a kind endorsement from a former colleague, and an excellent example of what a leader must do, lead with words, follow by actions. It is one of the qualities which makes Paul Butterfield one of the most important band leaders of the twentieth century.

By 1973, Butterfield is a very seasoned bandleader, not just because of his experience in the studio,
but also because of his stage experience.  Remember, at the Woodstock festival, he performs in front of half million people, no one in Better Days has this kind of experience. The larger audiences and more focused media attention requires a public calm which Butterfield has earned, but for everyone else in the band each show is a learning experience.

In spite of the intentional or unintentional promotional missteps Grossman's management makes at the beginning of the tour, the popularity of Better Days is exceeding expectations. As they tour the U.S. and Canada, audiences are growing, but nowhere is this more evident than in California. Butterfield has always been a headliner on the college circuit, but on this tour, he is playing larger venues too. Better Days is popular enough that even their opening acts are mainstream pop bands with coveted hit records. Acts like: The Doobie Brothers,(Long Train Runnin') Weather Report, (Boogie Woogie Waltz) Bonnie Raitt,(Takin' My Time) Carly Simon,(You're So Vain) Linda Ronstadt, (Love Has No Pride) and  Dr. John (Right Place Wrong Time) are working as opening acts for Better Days concerts, and lesser known bands are trying to secure a place on the bill.

An excellent example of the kind of energy Better Days generates on this tour is when they headline at Winterland in San Francisco. On February 23rd 1973, Bill Graham puts on a concert billed as The Three B's, featuring individual sets with bands fronted by Bloomfield and Friends, the Bishop Group, then Better Days, and finally a jam session with all three. The live album Paul Butterfield's Better Days Live at Winterland is from this concert.  The album opens up with Bill Graham announcing: If it weren't for Paul a lot of us wouldn't be here,.... he is making reference to Bloomfield, and Bishop. (As of 2016, no recording of the final set has surfaced.)

It is also noteworthy to mention here that by 1973, New York City is no longer the centre of the
American entertainment industry, that position is rapidly shifting to California, and more specifically, Los Angeles. So, the fact that the industry is embracing Better Days is quite an endorsement. Also, judging by the local reviews of the day, California audiences really do love Paul Butterfield's Better Days! The band is popular enough that they appear on the new internationally syndicated musical variety television show Burt Sugarman's: the Midnight Special. The September 28th 1973 episode is hosted by pop artists Seals and Crofts (Summer Breeze), and Better Days performs New Walkin' Blues/ Broke My Baby's Heart. Then they appear on multiple Emmy Award winning Merv Griffin Show. Finally, the crowning achievement for any artist, and in particular a blues band, is to have your own television special. In the spring of '73 the PBS affiliate in L.A. hires, young producer/director Taylor Hackford to present The Paul Butterfield / Bonnie Raitt Show on KCET. These gigs can be interpreted as Paul Butterfield's unofficial arrival in mainstream pop music.

The increasing popularity of Better Days means, bigger pay cheques for everyone, but it comes with great pressure to measure up to demands. Remember, Butterfield tends to be comparatively humble within rock star standards, and shies away from he perceives as too much focus on himself. So, in this respect his new wider popularity in the mainstream arena quite possibly acts as yet another trigger contributing to his downfall.

Back at the Bearsville head office in Woodstock, the success of Paul Butterfield's Better Days screams MONEY at Grossman, and he wants to quickly capitalize on the opportunity that this presents. So, before the band returns from the tour, there are demands for a new album, studio time is booked, and there are already negotiations for a second tour in the works. However, as the band is enjoying the fruits of their labors, they are also working harder, and partying with more intensity. All these pressures demand more energy from the body, so the medication of choice becomes cocaine. It provides the illusion of being able to stay up longer, but it really is just that, an illusion. Butterfield is known primarily as a beer and pot user, but he is falling under the spell of cocaine, tequila, and many other party favors. By the end of the first tour his use of drugs and alcohol is quickly transitioning from use to abuse, and many in the band start to notice his change in personality. It is here, after the first album, and its tour that Butterfield begins his nasty descent. 

Stay tuned for part three....


# 58 Paul Butterfield's Darker Days Part 1

All careers, even the really important ones, have a similar trajectory. If we look closely, careers are actually made up of distinct stages, each one beginning and ending with an event that triggers a transition to the next stage.

These stages begin with: the big break from obscurity, often a tough climb to the peak (unless you win a televised talent show), then the plateau, with its almost nirvana like feelings of fulfillment, and finally an inevitable decline back into obscurity. When you see the steady caravans of former pop stars touring the summer festival circuit, it seems the trick is to stave off the decline by dragging out the plateau.

Paul Butterfield's career easily fits into this model with an unfortunate exception. When he arrives

at his career plateau, he seems determined to accelerate his time there, and instead, make an abrupt exit back into obscurity. If it were possible to create a silhouette of Paul Butterfield during the mid seventies, it is of a man standing at the precipice, and blindly searching for the quickest way down. The obvious viewer reaction would be,  How sad!, followed by the question, Why!?

We can attempt to trace his self-destructive behavior back to the beginning of his life, but that is too ambitious a goal for a piece of this length, so let's start at his career peak, at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival, 1969.  Shortly after this event he begins his career plateau, when he forms Better Days. So, what are the events that act as triggers propelling  him downward? Many people seem point their finger at a number of different events from his relationship with his manager Albert Grossman, or the harsh business realities of the times, to the incestuous social environment in Woodstock, or possibly his sudden loss of identity as a musician, but as with so many complex problems, the answers are never simple. It is probably best to assume a all of these dynamics contribute to his choice of personal and career destruction.

By 1971, Butterfield knows only one manager, Albert Grossman. His relationship with the
businessman is both professional and personal, so it is complex. As Geoff Muldaur remembers, Paul and Albert were close in a very measured and secretive way. So, outside the fact they are let's have a closer look at this relationship dynamic. There are some obvious similarities such as they are both natives of Chicago, very ambitious, talented, and by 1970, both at the peak of their respective vocations, so let's look at the less blatant dynamics of their relationship.

A brief summary of Grossman's career by the 70s is probably useful here. He rises from a small folk
club owner to the most successful artist managers in history American pop music. Many of the biggest names in popular music of the sixties and seventies owe something to Albert Grossman's talents as a business negotiator. During his early career, he successfully helps to develop, and market a new genre of American music; one which is an amalgam of blues and folk, a hip, rural, anti-pop star thing that would succeed on its own terms. He finds these qualities within many artists i.e.: Bob Dylan, the Band, Peter, Paul and Mary, Janis Joplin, and Paul Butterfield. There is a long period where his influence can create, maintain, and/or destroy careers, but it's an often unnoticed authority that seems most interesting here. He is powerful enough that he changes our vocabulary when communicating about music and artists. Albert Grossman is the first manager who through his own promotion, elevates the profile of folksingers to the status of  artists, and their performances from shows to concerts, words we still use today.

In about 1961, he begins to move his business interests in New York City to the little upstate town of Woodstock. Shortly after, he persuades his biggest earner, Bob Dylan, to follow him. Convincing
Dylan is quite a coup as the star's willingness to follow his manager signals a rallying call to all the other artists in the Grossman stable. Once in Woodstock, Grossman very shrewdly, purchases and builds housing which will act as installations for his expanding collection of artists.  He (Grossman) wanted to bring  it all to Woodstock and create that whole musical community that he was god of.  He wanted his management success to translate into record success, and he wanted it to be an extension of the world he was in of Dylan and Butterfield Interestingly Butterfield is one of the last of Grossman's sixties artists to make the move to Woodstock. He and his wife Kathy are finishing three years of living on the road, with only cheap hotels, and an Econoline van to call home, so the pastoral atmosphere of the little town must seem like an oasis.

However, what the Butterfield's don't foresee is the move to Woodstock is also a willingness to put down roots in the emperor's empire.  It will prove to be both a personal, and professional mistake. Once in Woodstock, he is at the mercy of every selfish whim of empire builder. Grossman is first and foremost a calculating businessman, but he is also a foodie, a connoisseur of art, and a collector of unique and talented musicians. As former Butterfield drummer Philip Wilson's girlfriend Lynne Nasco remembers. Grossman was the Mr. Big of Woodstock, an enigmatic  chieftain pulling the strings that matter. He ran the show and we got a ticket to go.

However, by the late sixties his business plan is showing some significant flaws. His commission from his artists is 20%, which is 10% more than the industry standard, and he also expects a piece of publishing income.  After some legal consultation, his star earner, Bob Dylan, becomes unhappy with the arrangement, and initiates legal action against Grossman for lost royalties. Then in 1970, Dylan's potential replacement, Janis Joplin, dies suddenly of an unintended drug overdose. These two events trigger a loss of interest in his artist management business, and everyone suffers.

As Grossman grieves the loss of Dylan and Joplin, he withdraws his attention from his business in New York City, and Butterfield is one of the first to feel the brunt of this neglect. Frustrated, he also becomes more emotionally detached from his artists, and choosing instead to devote his energies to building his empire in Bearsville. There he becomes  preoccupied with designing his restaurant (The Bear), recording studio (Bearsville), his organic garden, and a variety of local projects. As Jonathan Taplin remembers, Grossman was really pulling back from the music business at this point. Bennett Glotzer did most of the booking and all the management stuff Taplin says. I don't think Albert was paying that much attention. Besides, carpenters and chefs were easier to manage than musicians. It is during this period that Butterfield learns the ugly fate of his iconic band the Butterfield Blues Band is being laid off from Elektra records. The cold reality is that the band's bills are not being paid, so the accountants consider them a business liability, and end their contract is not renewed. As you can imagine, the news is devastating for Butterfield. Everything he achieves professionally and personally in the sixties is a result of his band, and now it is all gone because of Grossman's neglect.

What makes the devastating news even more difficult to comprehend is that in spite of the fact the
Butterfield Blues Band
is the most successful blues band in history, they are being discontinued. It is true that they have no significant hit singles, but they do have a devoted fan base, plenty of work, and moderately successful album sales.  Butterfield isn't the only who is confused by the news. As Jim Rooney remembers,  ...they were making good money....., Bills weren't getting paid,... Bennett was down in New York running the office, and Albert was just not paying attention. The band went away in a flash, and Paul never recovered. A more experienced artist with a developed business acumen might be more adaptable to such a cold reality, but Butterfield is not a businessman, he is an artist. This event acts as a pin that perforates the bubble he lives in from 1965 onward, leaving him confused, angry, and emotionally drained. It is quite possible that this will be a the first in a series of events that push Butterfield toward feeling trapped with no chance of escape.

Butterfield is similar to most successful people though, he can be resilient in the face of adversity, he
does make an attempt to confront his business manager. The two argue on the second floor of the Bear restaurant, part of which Nick Gravenites witness',  but in the end, Grossman to forces him into retreat. Butterfield is feeling betrayed, angry, and unfortunately he represses those feelings, finding his solace in alcohol. His faith in Grossman, and the music industry is bruised, but like so many of us who are betrayed by a boss, he needs to lick his wounds and return to work.

Jim Rooney remembers some of these events
Paul never called Albert on that whole debacle of the band going down....And they had been making good money. Grossman seems to feel guilty, but he is too calculating an opponent to acknowledge his missteps. He knows, as do so many other people like Lynne Nasco that somebody like him (Butterfield) might not have made it without Albert. He also knows that in Butterfield's case he will not be losing another artist in his stable. Michael Friedman noteshe knew that Butterfield was his ward for the rest of his life.... Grossman's solution to the problem is simple, he will keep Butterfield busy by putting him back to work. This will keep the revenue flowing for both of them, but their relationship will never be the same.  
Stay tuned for part two...... #59