An interview with David Dann was featured on the Dec. 14 edition of Greasy Tracks where the author discussed Guitar King: Michael Bloomfield’s Life In The Blues (University of Texas Press).
A native of Chicago, Bloomfield began playing guitar at the age of 12 and in his early teens started hanging out at blues clubs on Chicago’s south side. Before he was 20, he’d earned a reputation as a talented player, being adept on electric as well as acoustic guitar and piano.
Before joining the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1964, Bloomfield had shared the stage or recorded with the likes of “Little” Walter Jacobs, Chuck Berry, Big Joe Turner, James “Yank” Rachell and Sleepy John Estes to name but a few.
Bloomfield was Influenced by a wide range of guitarists — the aforementioned Berry and Williams along with Scotty Moore, B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King and Otis Rush — but also Ray Charles.
Along with Elvin Bishop, the Butterfield band became a two-guitar line-up with Bloomfield’s entrance where he would garner rave reviews as he teamed with Bishop for a unique, dual-guitar approach that melded with Mark Naftalin on keys and Butterfield’s masterful harp playing to produce some creative originals and innovative versions of blues standards.
Bloomfield would only appear on three Butterfield studio albums. One of them, East-West in 1966, was regarded as a ground-breaking jazz-blues hybrid, especially the title track and a cover of Nat Adderly’s “Work Song.”
During his spell with Butterfield, Bloomfield would be part of the landmark recording sessions that would produce Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited album in 1965. A month after those sessions, Bloomfield along with members of the Butterfield band and keyboardist Al Kooper would back Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival where Dylan “went electric.”
Burned out from road work with Butterfield, Bloomfield relocated to the San Francisco Bay area in 1967 where he formed The Electric Flag, his “American Music Band,” which augmented a horn section which was a novelty for blues-based bands at this time. Even before they’d settled on a name, the lineup recorded the soundtrack for the The Trip — a Jack Nicholson and Roger Corman collaboration — starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.
The group made its live debut that year at the Monterey Pop Festival.
A lifelong insomniac, the oft-manic Bloomfield also wrestled with drug issues, including being a heroin user for much of his life. No matter how promising The Electric Flag was — the band had gained a reputation as an outstanding, albeit at times inconsistent live act – their one studio album with Bloomfield, A Long Time Coming, drew mixed reviews.
Shortly after the release of their much-anticipated debut studio album, Bloomfield, disillusioned at being a band leader, abruptly quit the group which had been hampered by artistic differences, clashing egos/personalities and no shortage of drug problems among some of its members.
Eager to remove himself from the vicious cycle of recording and touring, Bloomfield literally became a homebody, preferring to distance himself from the music industry in favor of watching television, reading and listening to music in his house.
This would change in May 1968 when Kooper convinced Bloomfield to link up for what would become Super Session, essentially a project planned by Kooper to be a jam session over a two-day period at a Columbia Records studio in Hollywood.
Kooper and Bloomfield — joined by bassist Harvey Brooks and drummer Eddie Hoh — would play a handful of pre-determined tracks along with potentially on-the-spot creations in the studio. Barry Goldberg, who along with Brooks were in The Electric Flag, played piano on two tracks.
After successfully completing the first day’s session, Bloomfield, impacted by his chronic insomnia and a gnawing need for heroin, returned to San Francisco, abandoning the final session. A desperate Kooper would enlist Stephen Stills, then coming to the end of his time with Buffalo Springfield, to complete the recordings.
The album came out less than two months later and would eventually go to No. 12 on the Billboard 200 and gain gold status in sales.
The Dec. 21 edition of Greasy Tracks will feature an interview with Kooper who breaks down Super Session track by track.
Later that year, Kooper and Bloomfield joined up for a three-night run at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The recordings culled from these shows were released as The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, and included a rare vocal by Bloomfield on a version of Albert King’s “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong” and Ray Charles’ “Mary Ann.”
Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bloomfield would split time between doing session work and his own projects, including a number of film soundtracks, often working with vocalist Nick Gravenities.
Bloomfield died in 1981 at the age of 37.