Friday, June 19, 2009

Mike Bloomfield

Mike and Al: "The Blues Singers", by Norman Rockwell.
I kinda hate to blog about my favorite people, because I just can't do them justice in this cramped format.

Anyhow, lately there's been a rash of Mike Bloomfield news, sort of. Sundazed reissued two of his most popular albums on audiophile-quality vinyl and that's amazing. I think this is the first 21st century vinyl re-release for Mike, outside of a minor disc that Sundazed already released. Next, I'm hearing that a two-fer disk, of "Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West" and "My Labors"(released under Nick Gravenites name) is being released. I have "My Labors", but I don't think "Fillmore West" (which I have on vinyl) ever got a release on CD up till now. The Sundazed releases are "Supersession" and "Live Adventures", both recorded with Al Kooper (they guy on the right above - (btw, read his book "Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards", its really great.) Check these two discs out at

So, who is Mike Bloomfield? Probably you have seen him playing with Dylan on "No Direction Home"when Dylan went electric at that folk festival and on "Highway 61 Revisited". He's the guitarist on both those deals. Dylan talks about him in the recent Rolling Stone interview he did, how he wished Mike had stayed with him and hadn't died, how he could play anything on the guitar and all of that. Mike was a rich Jewish kid from New Jersey who was a blues guitarist on a par with BB King (or maybe better). He was like just ridiculously good and played stuff that was so good, so high up that the only (rock) contemporaries heeven recognized as worthy were Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. He didn't think much of Clapton and mostly said of everyone else, "Man, those cats are lame!" Mike really made that Les Paul talk the blues.

My favorite album by him is really hard to get - you have to scrounge the vinyl bins for or get a Japanese import and its called "Its Not Killing Me". (It was killing him, btw) Its not held in high regard by most of the folks "in the know" because it favors his singing over his guitar playing. But, to me, this is his finest album. Its just so funky and beat and blues-worthy. Its like a great old Bill Broonzy album or something. I rank it up there with "Oar" by Skip Spence and "Hot Tuna" as great lo-fi, beatdown records) You would think it was recorded during the depression, not the seventies. Its all blues stories about weird characters and stuff, like R Crumb set to music. I think I wrote a bit about it here:

So, you know, the good they die young and I think Mike kicked it around 1980 or something. Bad. By then, he was scraping bottom, but releasing demonstrably great slabs of vinyl to a very small audience on Rounder records and other small connoiseur labels. I was listening to one of these the other day, "Cruising For a Bruising" and its just flat out awesome and one nobody ever heard but a few of us creaky old fans of his who went all the way back to his work with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

I dunno, I'm not doing the guy justice. He was a complete Giant, you know. A great spirit and somebody who really communicated when he played. He had Soul, like they say. Check him out in that Dylan film -when he played he was all of the way into the music, not holding back anything, hitting ridiculous high notes with ridiculously vocal-sounding tones.

Oh, before I forget, "Supersession: Albert's Shuffle" you've probably heard this track and is just Mike Bloomfield in a capsule. The guitar playing on this is Beyond the Pale. It made all the guitarists want to quit when they heard it.


My first encounter with the playing of Mike Bloomfield was on Paul Butterfield's first album (which is still a good one to listen to, good rocking Chicago blues). Bloomfield was the scruffy looking guy on the cover and the over-emoting guitarist on the back. Inside, he was just absolutely blazing away, apparently at that point on a Telecaster. The playing was tight, dynamic and virtuosic and didn't really strike me as being like much else I'd heard up till then - he was already in full-on Mike Bloomfield mode and was fresh from playing on Highway 61 Revisited, where Dylan hadkept him on a short leash.

In the Butterfield band, nobody was restraining him any more and now he was in a band with four soloists just ripping away. Those first two Butterfield albums are worth looking up: "Paul Butterfield Blues Band" and "East/West". Sure, I wore out a couple of copies of both of them. I can re-play the lead guitar on many of those songs in my head still. I was just aurally visualizing "Blues With a Feeling" right now and yes, that is a ridiculously righteous guitar line.

The next two things Bloomfield did were amazing. First, he formed a gigantic horn band called "The Electric Flag" with Buddy Miles on drums. This band was unprecedented, audacious and amazing. They played the Monterrey Pop Festival and as David Crosby said, "If you didn't hear Mike Bloomfield's new band, you're out of it." Hendrix got all of the buzz after the festival, but the talk during the festival was Bloomfield and the Electric Flag. They did the soundtrack for the movie, "The Trip" (you gotta see that, its nuts) and one really great album called "A Long Time Comin'" that was one of the standout, major big hippie dippie albums of1968, along with a bunch of great trippy hippie dippy albums of that year.

Then, he got thrown out of his own band (for being an intolerable a-hole, Ithink) and he recorded Super Session with Kooper - which just blew everyone out of the water. So, 1967-68 were crazed years for Bloomfield - he over-achieved, took the music world by storm and after that, he sort of imploded.

Just when things were getting really big he started becoming really erratic and had only one big success after this with "Live Adventures" (the cover is above) the next year. He still played great, but he released "It's Not Killing Me" which bombed, I guess and then sort of screwed around for years until he died, intermittently releasing great stuff to an indifferent world. One problem was junk, I think. That will make you erratic, I guess up until it kills you.

So Mike Bloomfield - a few people are still trying to represent for him -Dylan, Kooper, Sundazed records, but its already a long time ago in the dim and receding past. I'll tell you what though, I've got a lot of his vinyland CDs and I listen to him maybe more than any musician including Jimi and Bob - the guy just brings a smile to my face with those outrageous high-note solos and crazy singing. In a perfect world, he and Jimi would still be alive, maybe making music together once in awhile and showing the Claptons of the world how its supposed to be done.


  1. Amen!! Nice write up!!


    for LOTS more info on Michael.

  2. Thanks Peg, I think I'll do just that.

  3. Sounds like an episode of Lost Classics, a radio show I used to listen to by my friend Mark Arouh, who had an enormous vinyl collection and was a weekly guest on Beaker Street with Clyde Clifford.

  4. Yeah, I'm like an episode of Lost Classics.

  5. I love Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. I used to have the Bloomfield, Kooper and Stills album.