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....


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