Michael Bloomfield has perhaps the most gifted American guitarist within the 1960s blues revival movement. Although his later solo recordings remain relatively unknown to rank-and-file pop music enthusiasts, he can also be heard on a wide range of classic albums that helped define the emergence of progressive rock.
Although the Chicago-born Bloomfield grew up in the relatively prosperous North Shore area, he spent much time downtown observing the guitar playing techniques of the leading exponents of the Chicago blues style. While still in his teens, he graduated to performing in the local clubs. Impressed by his talent, mouth harpist Paul Butterfield invited him to be a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963. Bloomfield, as lead guitarist, helped distill the groundbreaking sound of the band’s first two LP releases, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Elektra 7294; 1965) and East-West (Elektra 7315; 1966). Whereas the debut primarily updated the Chess Sound as defined by Muddy Waters, Albert King, and others, the second album stretched electric blues conventions to their limit, incorporating lengthy, jazz-influenced jamming and Indian raga flourishes.
The band’s backup role for Bob Dylan’s famed electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival has been released on various bootleg recordings, including Live in Newport 1965 (Document 004; 1988). Earlier that year, Bloomfield had also played lead guitar on Dylan’s critically acclaimed, Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia 9189; 1965), which featured the hit single, "Like a Rolling Stone" (Columbia 43346; 1965; #2).
Tired of constant touring and wanting to have more creative control, Bloomfield departed the Butterfield band to form the Electric Flag with longtime associate, singer Nick Gravenites. Put off by the massive hype surrounding his new band, he moved on again after playing on one album, A Long Time Comin’ (Columbia 9597; 1968). For a time he seemed content to merely tread water, collaborating with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills on a couple of slapdash studio jam LPs, Super Session (Columbia 9701; 1968) and The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (Columbia 6; 1969).
With the exception of a couple a stabs at the commercial bigtime—Triumvirate (Columbia 32172; 1973), with Dr. John and John Paul Hammond, and KGB (MCA 2166; 1976), featuring keyboardist Barry Goldberg, bassist Rick Grech, drummer Carmine Appice, and vocalist Ray Kennedy—Bloomfield focused on solo work for the rest of his career. The results received mixed critical response; many pointed out that the creative fire of his best 1960s work was no longer in evidence. However, one release, If You Love These Blues, Play ‘Em As You Please (Guitar Player 3002; 1976), a compendium of blues guitar licks intended as an educational tool for magazine subscribers, received a Grammy Award nomination. With his studio works failing to provide adequate financial support, he resorted for a time to scoring pornographic films, primarily for the San Francisco-based Mitchell Brothers. He died of an apparently accidental drug overdose in his parked 1971 Mercury on a San Francisco’s Dewey Street.
|Back to Blues Revival||Back to Table of Contents|