The Resurrection of Michael Bloomfield
Michael Bloomfield – From His Head To His Heart To His Hands (Columbia Legacy)
Let’s go back to autumn of 1965. The summer ended with the release of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. From late July on, riding the top of the charts was the single, “Like A Rolling Stone.” Asides from it being the longest single ever released at the time, asides from the raging cry of the lyrics, it was hard to miss the band on that song, the piano by Paul Griffin, Al Kooper’s organ and that guitar that came in at the end of each verse playing a circular pattern that built up to the legendary chorus. It was also hard to miss the guitar that exploded after each verse of “Tombstone Blues” in a barrage of raw assault, and it was hard to miss that this same guitarist could lay back and play sweetly on “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” and gently echo the lyrics of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” making you feel that Easter time rain in Juarez. The lead guitarist on that album as well as the single that would also race up the charts that fall, “Positively 4th Street” was Michael Bloomfield. The name seemed familiar because there was also a Michael Bloomfield who played piano on an album that had been released about six months before, So Many Roads by John Hammond Jr. And for those who dug a little deeper, his name could also be found on albums released the year before on Delmark Records playing guitar with Yank Rachell and Sleepy John Estes.
About six weeks after the release of Highway 61 Revisited, Elektra Records released the eponymous debut of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The combination of Butterfield’s tough vocals, soaring harp and Bloomfield’s guitar was more than magical. It catapulted Mike Bloomfield to the front rank of blues guitar players and it sent guitar players on both sides of the Atlantic scrambling to learn his licks. It wasn’t just that Bloomfield played fast and seemingly endless totally fluid runs, it was that he imbued them with pure power and more importantly soul and passion. Bloomfield had a way of making every note he played mean something that went way deeper than speed and flash. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band not only took the blues world by storm, they conquered it.
Fast forward a year to the second Butterfield album, East-West. The album represented growth of the group and expansion of the music taking the blues to places it hadn’t been before. There were two lengthy instrumentals, Nat Adderly’s “The Work Song,” and the 13 minute title track which was literally a musical trip around the world filtered through the blues and dominated by Bloomfield’s guitar. That November, two days after Thanksgiving, they played New York’s Town Hall in a solo concert with this writer in attendance. The concert was energized magic featuring several songs from both albums, including the two East-West instrumentals and songs not on either record. To say the experience of seeing Mike Bloomfield play live was intense is putting it lightly.