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The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

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Published by Michael Erlewine
A brief biography of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and an album guide by Michael Erlewine, founder of the All-Music Guide and author of the book “Blues in Black & White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals.”
A brief biography of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and an album guide by Michael Erlewine, founder of the All-Music Guide and author of the book “Blues in Black & White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals.”

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Published by: Michael Erlewine on Jan 07, 2011
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09/02/2011

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The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
 
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
 By Michael ErlewineButterfield grew up in Chicago's HydePark, and according to his brother Peter:"There was a lot of music around. HydePark, a place unique in Chicagobecause it was an island in theSouthside ghetto, and a bastion ofliberal politics. When we grew up therewas a crime problem -- mostly due toscattered groups of Puerto Ricans andpoor white trash -- but no one made aconnection to the black community as asource of crime. We grew up about halfa block from something called theInternational Houses and you would seepeople from all over the world in theimmediate area. "Butterfield was culturally sophisticated.His father was a well-known attorney inthe Hyde Park area, and his mother wasan artist -- a painter. Butterfield tookmusic lessons (flute) from an early ageand by the time he reached high school,was studying with the first-chair flautistof the Chicago Symphony. He wasexposed to both classical music and jazz from an early age. Butterfield rantrack in high school and was offered arunning scholarship to Brown University,which he had to refuse after a seriousknee injury. From that point onward, heturned toward the music scene aroundhim. He began learning the guitar andharmonica.He met the singer {Nick Gravanites} andstarted hanging around outside of theChicago blues clubs, listening. He andGravanites began to play together atvarious campuses -- Ann Arbor,University of Wisconsin, and theUniversity of Chicago. His parents senthim off to the University of Illinois, but hewould put in a short academic week,return home early (but not check in) andinstead play and hang out at the bluesclubs. Soon, he was doing this six orseven days a week with no school at all.When this was discovered by hisparents, he then dropped out of collegeand turned to music full-time.Butterfield practiced long hours byhimself -- just playing all the time. Hisbrother Peter writes "He listened torecords, and he went places, but he alsospent an awful lot of time, by himself,playing. He'd play outdoors. There's aplace called The Point in Hyde Park, apromontory of land that sticks out intoLake Michigan, and I can remember himout there for hours playing. He was justplaying all the time ... It was a verysolitary effort. It was all internal, like hehad a particular sound he wanted to getand he just worked to get it. "In the meantime, {Elvin Bishop} hadcome from Oklahoma to the Universityof Illinois on a scholarship and haddiscovered the various blues venues forhimself. Elvin remembers "One day Iwas walking around the neighborhoodand I saw a guy sitting on a porchdrinking a quart of beer -- white peoplethat were interested in blues were veryfew and far between at that time. Butthis guy was singing some blues andsinging it good. It was Butterfield. Wegravitated together real quick andstarted playing parties around theneighborhood, you know, just acoustic.He was playing more guitar than harpwhen I first met him. But in about sixmonths, he became serious about theharp. And he seemed to get about asgood as he ever got in that six months.He was just a natural genius. And thiswas in 1960 or 1961."Butterfield and Bishop began goingdown to the clubs, sitting in, and playing
 
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
 
with all the great black blues players --then in their prime. Players like {OtisRush}, {Magic Sam}, {Howlin' Wolf},{Junior Wells}, {Little Walter}, andespecially, {Muddy Waters}. They oftenwere the only whites there, but weresoon accepted because of theirsincerity, their sheer ability, and theprotection of players like Muddy Waters,who befriended them.An important event in the history ofintroducing blues to white America camein 1963 when Big John's, a club locatedon Chicago's White North Side invitedButterfield to bring his band there andplay on a regular basis. He said "sure,"and Butterfield and Bishop set aboutputting such a band together. Theypulled {Jerome Arnold} (bass) and {SamLay} (drums) from {Howlin' Wolf}'s band(with whom they had worked for the pastsix years!), by offering them moremoney. Butterfield and Bishop (the coreteam), Arnold, and Lay were all aboutthe same age, and these four becamethe Butterfield Blues Band. They hadbeen around for a long time and knewthe Chicago blues scene and itsrepertoire cold. This new racially-mixedband opened at Big John's, was verysuccessful, and made a first great stepto opening up the blues scene to whiteAmerica.When the new group thought aboutmaking an album, they looked aroundfor a lead guitarist. {Michael Bloomfield},who was known to Butterfield from hisappearances at {Big Johns}, joined theband early in 1965. Bloomfield,somewhat cool at first to Butterfield'scommanding manner, warmed to thegroup as Butterfield warmed to his guitarplaying. It took a while for Bloomfield tofit in, but by the Summer of that year,the band was cookin'. {Mark Naftalin},another music student, joined the bandas the first album was being recorded, infact while they were actually in thestudio creating that first album onElectra. He sat in (playing the HammondOrgan for the first time!) and noodledaround with one of his own tunes,"Thank You Mr. Poobah." Butterfieldliked the sound. They recorded that tunewith Naftalin that very day along witheight of the 11 other tracks on the firstalbum. After the recording session, Paulinvited Naftalin to join the band and goon the road with them. These six, then,became the {Paul Butterfield BluesBand}.The first two Butterfield Blues albumsare essential from an historicalperspective. While East-West, thesecond album, with its Eastern influenceand extended solos (See MichaelBloomfield) set the tone for psychedelicrockers, it was that incredible first albumthat put the music scene on alert to whatwas coming.Although it has been perhaps over-emphasized in recent years, it isimportant to point out that the release ofThe Paul Butterfield Blues Band onElectra in 1965, had a huge effect onthe white music culture of the time.Used to hearing blues covered bygroups like the Rolling Stones, that firstalbum had an enormous impact onyoung (and primarily white) rock players.Here is no deferential imitation of blackmusic by whites, but a racially-mixedhard-driving blues album that, in a word,rocked. It was a signal to white playersto stop making respectful tributes toblack music, and just play it. In a flashthe image of blues as old-time musicwas gone. Modern Chicago style urbanblues was out of the closet andintroduced to mainstream whiteaudiences, who loved it.
 
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
 
Perhaps the next major event in theButterfield band came when drummer{Sam Lay} became ill, late in 1965. Jazzdrummer {Billy Davenport} was called inand soon became a permanent memberof the group. Davenport was to becomea key element in the development of thesecond Butterfield Blues Band album,East/West. In particular the extendedsolo of the same name.Fueled by Bloomfield's infatuation withEastern music and Indian ragas at thetime and aided by Davenport's jazz-driven sophistication on drums, theirarose in the group a new music formthat was to greatly effect rock music --the extended solo. There is littlequestion that here is the root ofpsychedlic (acid) rock -- a genuinefusion between East and West.Those first two albums served as awakeup call to an entire generation ofwhite would-be blues musicians.Speaking as one who was on the scene,that first Butterfield album stopped us inour tracks and we were never the sameafterward. It changed our lives.The third album (released in 1967), "TheButterfield Blues Band; TheResurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw" is thelast album that preserves any of thepure blues direction of the originalgroup. By this time, Bloomfield has leftto create his own group, The {ElectricFlag} and, with the addition of a hornsection, the band is drifting more towardan R&B. sound. Mark Naftalin left thegroup soon after this album and theButterfield band took on other forms.Aside from these first three albums, laterButterfield material somehow misses themark. He never lost his ferocity orintegrity, but the synergy of that firstgroup was special. There has beensome discussion in the literature aboutthe personal transformation ofButterfield as his various bandsdeveloped. It is said that he went frombeing a self-centered band leader(shouting orders to his crew a' la{Howlin' Wolf}) to a more democraticstyle of leadership, provided his groupwith musical freedom (like {MuddyWaters}). For what it's worth, it is clearthat the best music is in those first two(maybe three) albums. Subsequentalbums, although also interesting, havenot gotten as much attention then ornow from reviewers.When I knew Butterfield (during the firstthree albums), he was always intense,somewhat remote, and even, onoccasion, downright unfriendly. Althoughnot much interested in other people, hewas a compelling musician and a greatharp player. {Michael Bloomfield} and{Mark Naftalin}, also great players, were just the opposite -- always interested inthe other guy. They went out of theirway to inquire about you, even if youwere a nobody. Naftalin continues tothis day to support blues projects andfestivals in the San Francisco Bay area.After Bloomfield and Naftalin left thegroup, Butterfield more and more spunoff on his own. The next two albums, InMy Own Dream (1968) and Keep onMoving (1969) moved still farther awayfrom the blues roots until in 1972,Butterfield dissolved the group, formingthe group {Better Days}. This new grouprecorded two albums, Paul Butterfield'sBetter Days and It All Comes Back.After that, Butterfield faded into thegeneral rock scene, with an occasionalappearance here and there, as in thedocumentary "The Last Waltz" (1976) --a farewell concert from The {Band}. Thealbums Put It in Your Ear (1976) andNorth/South (1981) were attempts to

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