Bloomfield c. 1968
|Birth name||Michael Bernard Bloomfield|
|Born||July 28, 1943|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||February 15, 1981 (aged 37)|
San Francisco, U.S.
|Genres||Blues, blues rock, Chicago blues psychedelic rock|
|Associated acts||The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bob Dylan, The Electric Flag, Al Kooper, Nick Gravenites, Dr. John, John P. Hammond|
Michael Bernard Bloomfield (July 28, 1943 – February 15, 1981) was an American guitarist and composer, born in Chicago, Illinois, who became one of the first popular music superstars of the 1960s to earn his reputation almost entirely on his instrumental prowess, since he rarely sang before 1969. Respected for his guitar playing, Bloomfield knew and played with many of Chicago's blues musicians before achieving his own fame and was instrumental in popularizing blues music in the mid-1960s. He was ranked No. 22 on Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" in 2003 and No. 42 by the same magazine in 2011. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2012 and, as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Bloomfield was born into a wealthy Chicago Jewish-American family. Bloomfield's father, Harold Bloomfield, was born in Chicago in 1914. After pursuing business ventures in California during the 1920s, he returned to the city in the early 1930s. Harold Bloomfield began manufacturing restaurant supplies, and by the latter part of the decade his company, Bloomfield Industries, was making pie cases, kitchen utensils, salt and pepper shakers, and sugar pourers. By the early 1940s Bloomfield Industries had acquired more manufacturing and warehouse space. The company expanded during World War II by manufacturing supplies needed for the war effort. Working with his brother, Daniel, and his father, Samuel, Harold Bloomfield built up Bloomfield Industries into a thriving business. Michael Bloomfield's mother was born Dorothy Klein in Chicago in 1918 and married Harold Bloomfield in 1940. She came from an artistic, musical family, and worked as an actor and a model before marrying Bloomfield.
Bloomfield's family lived in various locations around Chicago before settling at 424 West Melrose Street on the North Side. When he was twelve his family moved to suburban Glencoe, Illinois, where he attended New Trier High School for two years. During this time, he began playing in local bands, and Bloomfield put together a group called the Hurricanes, named after Ohio rock band Johnny and the Hurricanes. New Trier High School expelled Bloomfield after his band performed a raucous rock and roll song at a 1959 school gathering. He attended Cornwall Academy in Massachusetts for one year and then returned to Chicago, where he spent his last year of education at a local YMCA school, Central YMCA High School.
Bloomfield had attended a 1957 Chicago performance by blues singer Josh White, and began spending time in Chicago's South Side blues clubs and playing guitar with such black bluesmen as Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell, and Little Brother Montgomery. He first sat in with a black blues band in 1959, when he performed with Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson at a Chicago club called the Place. He performed with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and many other Chicago blues performers during the early 1960s.
Writing in 2001, keyboardist, songwriter and record producer Al Kooper said Bloomfield's talent "was instantly obvious to his mentors. They knew this was not just another white boy; this was someone who truly understood what the blues were all about." Among his early supporters were B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy. "Michael used to say, 'It's a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country. Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering's the mutual fulcrum for the blues.'"
In the early 1960s he met harmonica player and singer Paul Butterfield and guitarist Elvin Bishop, with whom he would later play in The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He also began friendships and professional associations with fellow Chicagoan Nick Gravenites and Bronx-born record producer Norman Dayron, who was attending the University of Chicago. He ran his own small blues club, the Fickle Pickle, and subsequently built up his reputation in two Chicago clubs, Big John's and Magoo's. He also developed a friendship with blues singer Big Joe Williams. With help from his friend Joel Harlib, a Chicago photographer who became Bloomfield's de facto manager, he became a Columbia Records recording artist. In early 1964 Harlib took an audition tape by Bloomfield to Columbia producer and talent scout John Hammond, who signed him to Columbia's Epic Records label.
Bloomfield recorded a few sessions for Columbia in 1964 that remained unreleased until after his death. In early 1965 he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which included Elvin Bishop and keyboardist Mark Naftalin, along with drummer Sam Lay and bassist Jerome Arnold, who had previously worked in Howlin' Wolf's band. Elektra Records producer Paul Rothchild recorded the band in spring 1965, but the majority of the tracks were not released until the 1990s. However, one of the tracks Rothchild recorded during his first pass at producing the group, a Nick Gravenites song titled "Born in Chicago," was included on the Elektra album Folksong '65, which sold two hundred thousand copies when it was released in September 1965. "Born in Chicago" became an underground hit for the Butterfield Band. Their debut album, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was recorded in September and released the following month.
In June 1965, Bloomfield had recorded with Bob Dylan, whom he had met in 1963 at a Chicago club called the Bear. The club was bankrolled by future Dylan and Butterfield manager Albert Grossman, who would play a major part in Bloomfield's career. Bloomfield's Telecaster guitar licks were featured on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", a single produced by Columbia Record's Tom Wilson. Bloomfield would play on most of the tracks on Dylan's 1965 Highway 61 Revisited album, and he appeared onstage with Dylan in July at the Newport Folk Festival, where Dylan used Bloomfield and the Butterfield Band—minus Paul Butterfield—along with keyboardists Al Kooper and Barry Goldberg. The show marked Dylan's first use of an electric band in a live performance, and Bloomfield's playing on the songwriter's "Maggie's Farm" is considered a landmark electric-guitar performance. After the Newport Folk Festival ended, Bloomfield helped Dylan complete the sessions for Highway 61 Revisited, and Dylan asked Bloomfield to join his touring band. Bloomfield demurred, preferring to continue playing with the Butterfield Band.
After Sam Lay fell ill after a series of dates in November 1965, the Butterfield Band brought Chicago-born drummer Billy Davenport into the group. During the first part of 1966, the band played in California, and they recorded their second album, East-West, that summer. The record's title track found the band exploring modal music, and it was based upon a song Gravenites and Bloomfield had been playing since 1965, "It's About Time."
Bloomfield played on recording sessions between 1965 and 1967. His guitar playing had a huge impact on San Francisco Bay Area musicians after playing with the Butterfield band at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West. He became a mentor and teacher for many guitarists in the area. He did a 1965 date with Peter, Paul and Mary that resulted in a song called "The King of Names," and he recorded in 1966 with pop group Chicago Loop, whose "When She Wants Good Lovin' (My Baby Comes to Me)" made Billboard Magazine's chart that year. He also played guitar on recordings by Chuck Berry, Mitch Ryder and James Cotton.
Bloomfield tired of the Butterfield Band's rigorous touring schedule and, relocating to San Francisco, sought to create his own group. He formed the short-lived Electric Flag in 1967, with two longtime Chicago collaborators, Barry Goldberg and vocalist Nick Gravenites. The band featured a horn section. The band's rhythm section was composed of bassist Harvey Brooks and drummer Buddy Miles. Miles had previously played in Wilson Pickett's touring band, while Brooks had performed with Al Kooper in bands in New York City. The group's first effort was the soundtrack for director-producer Roger Corman's 1967 movie, The Trip, which was recorded in the spring of that year.
The Electric Flag debuted at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and issued an album, A Long Time Comin', in April 1968 on Columbia Records. Critics complimented the group's distinctive, intriguing sound but found the record itself somewhat uneven. By that time, however, the band was already disintegrating; rivalries between members, shortsighted management, and heroin abuse all took their toll. Shortly after the release of that album, Bloomfield left his own band, with Gravenites, Goldberg, and bassist Harvey Brooks following.
Bloomfield also made an impact through his work with Al Kooper, who had played with Bloomfield on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". Kooper had become an A&R man for Columbia Records, and Bloomfield and Kooper had played piano on Moby Grape's 1968 Grape Jam, an instrumental album that had been packaged with the group's Wow collection.
"Why not do an entire jam album together?" Kooper remembered in 1998, writing the booklet notes for the Bloomfield anthology Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964–1969. "At the time, most jazz albums were made using this modus operandi: pick a leader or two co-leaders, hire appropriate sidemen, pick some tunes, make some up and record an entire album on the fly in one or two days. Why not try and legitimize rock by adhering to these standards? In addition, as a fan, I was dissatisfied with Bloomfield's recorded studio output up until then. It seemed that his studio work was inhibited and reined in, compared to his incendiary live performances. Could I put him in a studio setting where he could feel free to just burn like he did in live performances?"
The result was Super Session, a jam album that spotlighted Bloomfield's guitar skills on one side. Bloomfield, who suffered from insomnia, left the sessions after the first day. Guitarist Stephen Stills completed the album with Kooper. It received excellent reviews and became the best-selling album of Bloomfield's career. Its success led to a live sequel, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, recorded over three nights at Fillmore West in September 1968.
Bloomfield continued with solo, session and back-up work from 1968 to 1980. He played guitar on Mother Earth's cover of Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth," a track from their 1968 Living with the Animals album, and on two albums by Texas-born soul singer Wayne Talbert. With Mark Naftalin, he produced the 1968 sessions for James Cotton's 1968 album Cotton in Your Ears. He released his first solo album, It's Not Killing Me, in 1969. Bloomfield also helped Janis Joplin assemble her Kozmic Blues Band (for the album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues, Again Mama!) in 1969, co-wrote "Work Me, Lord" for the album, and played the guitar solo on Joplin's blues composition "One Good Man." Columbia released another 1969 album, a live concert jam, Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, including Mark Naftalin, former Electric Flag bandmates Marcus Doubleday and Snooky Flowers, and a guest appearance by Taj Mahal. In the same year he reunited with Paul Butterfield and Sam Lay for the Chess Records album Fathers and Sons, featuring Muddy Waters and pianist Otis Spann. Bloomfield composed and recorded the soundtrack for the film Medium Cool, directed by his second cousin, Haskell Wexler. The film includes footage shot in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. With Nick Gravenites, he produced blues guitarist Otis Rush's 1969 album Mourning in the Morning, recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with a band that included keyboardists Mark Naftalin and Barry Beckett, along with guitarist Duane Allman.
During 1970 Bloomfield gave up playing because of his heroin addiction:
...and I put the guitar down – didn't touch it. Shooting junk made everything else unimportant, null and void, nolo contendre. My playing fell apart. I just didn't want to play.
He recorded his second solo album, Try It Before You Buy It, in 1973. Columbia rejected it; the complete version of the record would not appear until 1990. Also in 1973, he cut Triumvirate with Dr. John and guitarist and singer John Hammond Jr. In 1974, he rejoined the Electric Flag for an album titled The Band Kept Playing. In 1975 he recorded an album with the group KGB. The group's name is an acronym of the initials of singer and songwriter Ray Kennedy, Barry Goldberg and Bloomfield. The band also included Ric Grech and drummer Carmine Appice. Grech and Bloomfield quit shortly after its release. As the record hit stores in 1976, Bloomfield told journalists that the group had been an ill-conceived moneymaking project. The album was not well received by critics, but it did contain the standout track "Sail On, Sailor". Its authorship was credited to "Wilson-Kennedy", and had a bluesy, darker feel, along with Ray Kennedy's original cocaine-related lyrics. In the same year, he performed with John Cale on Cale's soundtrack for the film Caged Heat. In 1976 he recorded an instructional album for guitarists, If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em as You Please, which was financed through Guitar Player magazine.
In the 1970s Bloomfield played in local San Francisco Bay area clubs, including the Keystone Korner, and sat in with other bands. In 1977, Bloomfield was selected by Andy Warhol to do the soundtrack for the pop artist's last film, Andy Warhol's Bad (also known as BAD). An unreleased single, "Andy's Bad", was also produced for the project. During 1979–1981 he performed often with the King Perkoff Band, sometimes introducing them as the "Michael Bloomfield and Friends" outfit. Bloomfield recorded "Hustlin' Queen", written by John Isabeau and Perkoff in 1979. He toured Italy and Sweden with guitarist Woody Harris and cellist Maggie Edmondson in the summer of 1980. He sat in with Bob Dylan at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre on November 15, 1980. Bloomfield played on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar". He continued to play live dates, and his performance at San Francisco State College on February 7, 1981, would be his final appearance.
Although Bloomfield came from a wealthy family, he never inherited a large lump sum. He received annual income from a trust that had been set up by his paternal grandfather, which gave him $50,000 each year.
The exact events and circumstances that led to Bloomfield's death are not clear. What is known is that he was found dead in his car on February 15, 1981. He was seated behind the wheel of his Mercedes, with all four doors locked. The only details (from unnamed sources) relate that Bloomfield died at a San Francisco party and was driven to another location in the city by two men who were present at the party. Bloomfield's last album, Cruisin' for a Bruisin', was released the day his death was announced. His remains are interred in a crypt at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, near Los Angeles.
Bloomfield originally used a Fender Telecaster, though he had also used a Fender Duo-Sonic while recording for Columbia following his 1964 signing to the label. During his tenure with the Butterfield Blues Band he used that Tele on the first Butterfield Album and on their earliest tours in fall of 1965. By November he had swapped that guitar with International Submarine Band guitarist John Nuese for Nuese's 1954 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop model, which he used for some of the East-West sessions and which he acquired in Boston.
In 1967, Bloomfield swapped the Goldtop with his friend repairman/musician Dan Erlewine for Dan's 1959 Les Paul Standard and $100. The Les Paul Standard had proven unpopular in the late 1950s because it was deemed too heavy and too expensive by rock and roll guitarists. Gibson discontinued manufacturing the model in 1960. Bloomfield used the Les Paul Standard in the Electric Flag and on the Super Session album and concerts. He later switched between the Les Paul and the Telecaster, but his use of the Les Paul inspired other guitarists to use the model and spurred Gibson to reintroduce the Les Paul Standard in 1968.
Bloomfield eventually lost the guitar in Canada; Wolkin and Keenom's biography revealed that a club owner kept the guitar as partial compensation after Bloomfield cut short a round of appearances. This turned out to be accurate and the gig in question was at the Cave in Vancouver, booked from Tue. Nov. 12th 1974, for five days, until Sat. the 16th. The band played the first night but the next day, Bloomfield boarded a plane and flew home to San Francisco with virtually no notice to the club, hotel, or band members; his friend Mark Naftalin found a note on a torn piece of paper in the hotel room that read, "bye bye, sorry". Bloomfield's two guitars had been left at the club and were retained by club owner Stan Grozina, who wanted compensation for lost revenues.
Unlike contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, Bloomfield rarely experimented with feedback and distortion, preferring a loud yet clean, almost chiming sound with a healthy amount of reverb and vibrato; this approach would strongly influence Jerry Garcia, who segued from a career in acoustic-based music to electric rock at the height of the Butterfield Band's influence in 1965. One of his amplifiers of choice was a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb. His solos, like those of most blues guitarists, were based in the minor pentatonic scale and the blues scale. However, his liberal use of chromatic notes within the pentatonic framework and his periodic lines based on Indian and Eastern modes allowed a considerable degree of fluidity in his solos.
Gibson has since released a Michael Bloomfield Les Paul—replicating his 1959 Standard—in recognition of his impact on the blues genre, his role in the revived production of the guitar, and his influence on many other guitarists. Because the actual guitar had been unaccounted for so many years, Gibson relied on hundreds of photographs provided by Bloomfield's family to reproduce the guitar. The model comes in two configurations—a clean Vintage Original Specifications (VOS) version, with only Bloomfield's mismatched volume and tone control knobs, missing toggle switch cover, and kidney-shaped tuners replacing the Gibson originals indicating its inspiration and a faithful, process-aged reproduction of the guitar as it was when Bloomfield played it last, complete with the finish smudge below the bridge and various nicks and smudges elsewhere around the body.
His influence among contemporary guitarists continues to be widely felt, primarily in the techniques of vibrato, natural sustain, and economy of notes. Guitarists such as Joe Bonamassa, Arlen Roth, Carlos Santana, Slash, Jimmy Vivino, Chuck Hammer, Eric Johnson, Elliot Easton, Robben Ford, John Scofield, Jimmy Herring, Phil Keaggy, and G.E. Smith remain essentially influenced by Bloomfield's early recorded work.
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