Butterfield's downward spiral seems to begin during the collapse of his second band Better Days. It is here that the young blues man begins to fall prey to his own demons. The solace he seeks through self medication with alcohol and street narcotics strips away most of his self confidence, and then slowly chips away at both his personal and professional life. His first solo project, Put It In Your Ear, shows fans what happens when one of the century's greatest bandleaders abandons his role to outsiders. After that failure, the only two projects that seem to keep his career floating are his impassioned performance at The Last Waltz, and then his brief, yet high profile position in Levon Helm's RCO All stars.
Then there is the failed attempt to resurrect his solo career with an appearance in September of '78, on
It is this pattern of self-destruction that Butterfield tries to address when he confesses to Rolling Stone, I
It is during this period of decline that Grossman negotiates a deal with Willie Mitchell, and his label Hi Records. The agreement comes with the option to employ the talents of the famed singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, and businessman, and in the process help the Bearsville artists. Mitchell has an impressive production resume that includes luminaries such as Ann Peeples, and of course his star achievement, Al Green, so the transaction is a coup for Grossman. While the deal to expand into Memphis does serve several Bearsville's artists well, for Butterfield it spells disaster.
One of Mitchell's first Bearsville projects is with Butterfield's girlfriend Elizabeth Barraclough, who in 1979, records her second album Hi with Mitchell in Memphis. She is happy enough with the results of the project that she returns to Woodstock, and suggests to Butterfield that he and Mitchell might be a good fit. It has been five years since he has released any product, so he goes to Memphis with Barraclough, and according to Joe Perry, ...the Hodges brothers and Memphis horns would come around, and Paul knew of them. He fit right in with these guys. The Butterfield/Mitchell team should be a winning combination, but in spite of Mitchell's pedigree, the project will become yet another Butterfield disappointment.
Butterfield's relentless abuse with alcohol, various narcotics, combined with poor dietary habits take a toll on his body. In 1979 he develops an inflammation in his lower intestine called diverticulitis, which he does not address properly, and it develops into a more serious infection. The untreated inflammation causes a perforation of his intestine, which then allows puss and waste to enter the abdominal cavity. This damages the membrane which protects the internal organs known as the peritoneum, creating the condition known as peritonitis.
In spite of the health tragedy, the album is completed, and Bearville releases in January of 1981. It will prove to be a tough sell to fans of the once great blues man though. This writer can't help but wonder if at some point, the marketing department at Bearsville is at a loss for what to do with the album. Then in a desperate attempt to put a positive spin on it, conjure up the idea of masking its obvious weakness by comparing it to his ground breaking album East West by calling it North South. It is a nice try, but no one is fooled by the marketing shell game.