The Paul Butterfield Blues Band- Self-Titled (1965)
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band- Self-Titled (1965)
Recorded September 1965
Released October 1965
In this series, we have already talked about white British bands who reinterpreted the music of the great African-American blues artists. Bands like the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kicks, The Animals, and The Beatles cut their teeth on presenting their interpretations of African American blues and R&B, but the best white practitioners of blues from the mid1960s may very well be Paul Butterfield and his multiracial Paul Butterfield Blues Band from Chicago, a city known for producing blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and so many others.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band began in 1963 and was headed by harmonic master and vocalist Paul Butterfield. The initial group included Butterfield, guitarist Elvin Bishop, bassist Jerome Arnold, and drummer Sam Lay. The lineup gained local attention while working a residency at Big John’s Club in Chicago’s Northside. During the engagement, the group met Mike Bloomfield, one of the most underrated guitarists. In 1964, Bloomfield was invited to join the band, and with the support of record producer and then manager Paul Rothchild, the group prepared to record an album. Their first attempts were live recordings that were rejected.
In July 1965, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band performed at the Newport Folk Festival and attracted more attention, especially from Bob Dylan, who invited the group to share the stage with him for his controversial electric performance with little rehearsal. If the band never did anything else, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band would have been historically relevant for being a part of that event. In 1965, the group added keyboardist Mark Naftalin into the band to make their first album, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The album was and is critically praised, but it only reached number 123 on the Billboard 200 album charts.
In 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was one of the first rock-based bands to incorporate Indian music on their record East-West. In 1967, Bloomfield left the group and moved to the vibrant San Francisco scene to form a new band called the Electric Flag. Sadly Bloomfield died in 1981 in his car with the doors locked after ingesting Valium. No suicide note was left; he was 37. After Bloomfield’s tenure, the group performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and bassist Jerome Arnold was replaced by Charley “Bugsy” Maugh, and the band added saxophonist David Sanborn, Gene Dinwiddie, and trumpeter Keith Johnson. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band continued to record and perform, with the lineup changing frequently. The group performed at the Woodstock Festival, which further raised their profile, but frequent lineup changes and a shift in the popular musical culture led to the group's breakup in 1971. Following the breakup, Butterfield began a new group called Paul Butterfield Better Days and appeared as a sideman, playing with artists like Muddy Waters and The Band. In the 1980s, Butterfield developed a heroin addiction, and he died of an overdose in 1987 at age 44. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 despite never having an album that charted higher than #52.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- “Born In Chicago” was written by singer and guitarist Nick Gravenites, who eventually joined Mike Bloomfield in Electric Flag. Before joining the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bloomfield played the song in clubs as a duo with Gravenites. With this opening track, it becomes evident that Paul Butterfield is a masterful harmonica player and a solid singer and that Mike Bloomfield is a gifted blues guitarist. It’s a great opening track. (*)
Track 2- “Shake Your Money-Maker” comes from Chicago blues legend Elmore James. He first recorded the tune in 1961, and the song has since become a standard. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band version is a fast shuffle and holds up well. Check out the slide guitar work.
Track 3- “Blues with a Feeling” comes from blues harmonica legend Little Walter. Walter was considered the first to amplify his harmonica with an overdriven sound. Butterfield does the same thing. This is a great track, and it truly is a blues with a feeling. (*)
Track 4- “Thank You Mr. Poobah” is an original track credited to Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, and Mark Naftalin. “Poobah” is a slang term for someone of high power and significant influence. It's an instrumental cut showcasing the stellar talents of the “field boys” Butterfield and Bloomfield and a keyboard solo by Naftalin.
Track 5- “I Got My Mojo Working” is a song that is most associated with Muddy Waters. Singing lead on this fast-paced version is drummer Sam Lay, a true blues man who had worked with Chicago blues legends like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howlin’ Wolf. Lay’s voice sounds a lot like Muddy Waters. He definitely has his Mojo working on this album highlight. (*)
Track 6- “Mellow Down Easy” comes from Chicago blues bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon. Dixon is one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago blues. The groove is repetitive and infectious, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band handles this one at a faster tempo, and they don’t seem at all mellow. (+)
Track 1- “Screamin’”is an instrumental showcase credited to Bloomfield, again showing off his soloing skills and Mike Bloomfield. It's a blues filler that is worth the space it occupies.
Track 2- “Our Love Is Drifting” was written by Paul Butterfield and rhythm guitarist Elvin Bishop. This is a downhome blues with just the right amount of stank. One of the best cuts on the record and a fantastic display as to why Bloomfield has to be considered one of the finest blues guitarists of the 1960s. (*)
Track 3- “Mystery Train” grooves. The song dates back to 1953 and is connected to singer Junior Parker. Elvis Presley did a version of the song in 1955. In addition to praising Butterfield and Bloomfield, special mention has to be given to the groove created by the rhythm section of Elvin Bishop (rhythm guitar), Junior Arnold (bass), Sam Lay (drums), and Mark Naftalin (keys). Butterfield famously played this song with The Band in 1976 for their farewell concert and film The Last Waltz. (*)
Track 4- “Last Night” is a swampy blues that Little Walter wrote. Paul Butterfield was heavily influenced by the harmonica player and singer who died tragically in 1968 after suffering injuries in a ballroom brawl at 37. The song is about losing someone you love. Losing Little Walter at such a young age was a significant loss for the blues community.
Track 5- “Look Over Yonder’s Wall” is a fast and aggressive blues, a characteristic style of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The track is a solid statement to close the album.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band album is a fantastic introduction to an influential band that exemplifies blues authenticity and tradition. Additionally, they were one of the first racially mixed bands connected to blues and rock and roll. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was arguably the stroxngest blues band of the mid-1960s. Leader, singer, and harmonica player Paul Butterfield and lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield must be considered among the pantheon of rock royalty.