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Prolific Electric Guitarist

(Unfairly Underheralded)


It's a Toddler's Town


The Chicago, Illinois Jewish couple that gave birth to their baby boy on July 28, 1943 would have never guessed the path he would take -- from the prominant North Chicago home --to preeminence on the stage as a blues guitarist -- to tragic premature death. Musicians the family understood, Leonard Bernstein, Ishtak Perlman, but playing down on the South side? Indeed, like Bernstein, he took music lessons early, but, unlike Leonard's piano, his studies as a 13 year old started on his Bar Mitvah present: a guitar; and, conversely, his music discipline was an distracion to his schooling. He was getting hooked on the same roots music other pioneers were listening to on late-night radio stations bouncing off the Stratosphere.


Sneakin' Down the Alley


The gawky adolescent had few friends, but the one, Roy Ruby had the same love of the dynamite blues scene down on the South side, and they would slip away, to the Bloomfield seniors' chagrin, down to the clubs, fourteen year old Michael not just content to witness the awesome sounds of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and Magic Sam, but would jump on stage plugging in while asking permission. Needless to say, although Mike was accepted by the veteran bluesmen, his parents were extremely distressed at their son's truancy at New Trier High School, and consequential dismissal, to the point they had to send him to a private school out East in 1958. Though Michael was embracing the beatnik scene, eventually he came back to Chicago to graduate from the same downtown institute of learning as sometime blues buddy and competitor, Barry Goldberg: Central YMCA High School. This latter friend, who will be mentioned later in correlation with one of Mike's bands, remembered a story how Mike would answer the phone when the truant officers called, and the "pet rabbit" would respond with:

"...Michael told me to tell you that he really misses you and loves school but he just couldn't come today."

Goldberg also recalls how much of a perfectionist Bloomfield could be, a condition along with his often frenetic nervous energy would sometimes loom to be a quilt of ugliness as much as it could weave inspiration for Mike's genius.



Capricious Cucumber

While Barry was playing the fancy lounges on Rush Street with the cocktail waitresses and pop R & B, (and who used to secretly hide his apprehension at the rough crowds and Water's tough demeanor when invited on stage with Mike), Bloomfield was managing and MC'ing one of the Old Town club's, The Fickle Pickle. This is where the beat College kids used to Chad Mitchell were now getting treated to his bookings of Big Joe Turner. Barry was finally convinced to leave the 'connected' music scene and join these new Bohemians in Old Town. And, later on Mike also shared his and his wife Susan's apartment and shared his blues 45's, (like those on Cobra with Otis Rush), with his coterie, that included guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummer Levon Helm, (after being at Albert Grossman's Bear club) blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite, guitarist Harvey Mandel, singer Nick Gravenites, and organist Barry Goldberg. They all got drunk on their discussion of these old records more than anything else, and their desire would not to be copycats, but coolcats creating in that spirit. While they learned "Killing Floor" at the club with Muddy, they grooved to Elmore James' "Shake Your Moneymaker" -- two songs that Mike would use on two different projects that will be investigated later. His rep was growing steadily, and would be on a collision course with others sharing the spotlight in this town, an incubator of electric blues.

All Dressed Up, But Nowhere to Go

Mike started getting the attention of some movers in the business end starting with John Hammond, Sr. who got him a contract with CBS, but whose execs scratched their heads on marketing the genre. (Those are scheduled to be released as Essential Blues 1964-69.) So, he went back to gigs around town, and while playing at his, co-sponsored with Charles Musselwhite and Big Joe Williams', Big John's, Paul Rothchild, Elektra producer for Paul Butterfield's Blues Band heard about him; and with the help of Elvin Bishop's insistence, Michael Bloomfield, full of awe, was invited to join the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. His reaction to joining "Butter" in 1964 as recalled in 1968 for the Rolling Stone magazine--

"Well, he didn't really accept me at all, he just sort of thought of me as a folkie Jew boy, because Paul was there, and I was just sort of a white kid hanging around and not really playing the shit right, but Paul was there, man. ...He was just too hard a cat for me. But I went to make the record, and the record was groovy, and we made a bunch more records. One thing led to another, and he said, 'Do you want to join the band?' And it was the best band I'd ever been in. Sammy Lay was the best drummer I ever played with. Whatever I didn't like about Paul as a person, his musicianship was more than enough to make up for it. He was just so heavy, he was so much. Everything I dug in and about the blues, Paul was."

Blues With No Ceiling

Michael Bloomfield's contribution to Paul Butterfield and his pioneering integrated blues band (Sam Lay the drummer, and Jerome Arnold came from the traditionally all black Muddy Water's ensemble.) is now almost legendary, and he just about steals the show on their first album recorded in New York, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. His guitar blending, bending and battling with Paul's harmonica. Of course Elektra had to credit Mike's appearance compliments of CBS. The liner notes do not give Elmore James credit for "Shake Your Money Maker" -- just adapted by Butterfield. Now bigger venues were in the future, and the Newport Folk Festival was next. It was Mike's guitar work there in front of enthusiastic extraordinarily large crowds that impressed Bob Dylan, who had heard him, and was outplayed by him, about four years earlier in Chicago, to use him and others in his controversial "plugged in" set later the same day. (See Paul Butterfield for more.) Though Mike turned down the opportunity to tour with Dylan, he appeared on his Highway 61 Revisted.

Raga Mama Rag

In 1965, Mike had asked Billy Davenport to join them to sit in, and after a while one man's misfortune, Sam Lay's health decline, led to Billy's opportunity. His jazz interpretations, and Mike's new love of Ravi Shankar led to the title cut of the Butterfield group's next album Mike shown on, East-West. This album, as good as the first, was proto-psychedelic in its approach in that raga based "East-West." The liner notes are sort of non-notes as Paul Nelson captures scattered quotes like "We're gonna all get together and hate the notes..." While touring, Mike was known to eat fire, his own antics rivaling Peter Townshend or Jimi Hendrix. Musselwhite recalls that Bloomfield had a problem with rehearsals, where even those attended were full of ever-changing parts.

That Banner Yet Wave

By 1966 Paul's hard driving manner, had led Bloomfield to allow Elvin all the guitar duties, and to follow his own dream, and form his own group, the Electric Flag. Gathering old mates, keyboardest Barry Goldberg, singer and songwriter Nick Gravenites, bassist Harvey Brooks, and following Paul's example he took Buddy Miles on drums and Herbie Rich helped on sax. (Buddy Miles once was with the Jaynettes of "Sally Go Round the Roses.") They did the sound track for Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson's psychedelic movie,  The Trip.  Also featuring Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper and Susan Strasberg, one could see an R and B funk band doing a good job.

1.Peter's Trip
2.Psyche Soap
7.Green and Gold
8.Flash, Bam, Pow
9.Home Room
10.Practice Music
11.Fine Jung Thing

They along with so many groups that went on to fame played successfully at the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, but like Buddy Miles would sing in his own group, "My mind's been goin' through those changes" the band after its John Court produced recording of their

Long Time Comin'.


  1. Killing Floor

    This cut starts out with excerpts from a then President Lyndon B. Johnson Vietnam war update speech, then whining slide guitar followed by staccato drums leading into Gravenites smooth singing "I wouldn't be here people, down on this Killin' Floor" And self-loathing un-heeded advice: "I should have gone with my friends when they said go to Mexico."

  2. Groovin' Is Easy

    This is almost a lounge lizard song, but Nick convinces the girl to chill out, late 60's style.

  3. Over-Lovin' You
  4. She Should Have Just
  5. Wine

    Manic version of drinkin' wine spoodyoody.

  6. Texas
  7. Sittin' In Circles
  8. You Don't Realize
    (Dedicated with great respect to Steve Cropper and Otis Redding)
  9. Another Country
  10. Easy Rider
  11. {end of the original vinyl release)
  12. Sunny
  13. Mystery
  14. Look Into My Eyes {labeled 14}
  15. Goin' Down Slow {labeled 13

The album is assisted by Herbie Rich, sportin' one 'fro, on tenor sax, baritone sax and keyboard. Mike Fontara and Paul Beaver helps on keyboard, with tenor saxist Peter Strazza, Marcus Doubleday, trumpet, and Sitar by Richie Havens. The string section was Bob Notkoff, (solo), Julius Held, Loe Daruczek, George Brown, and Charles McCracken. This album was one that was prophetic in hard rock show bands that came later like BS&T and Chicago. Bummer time as Ego-trips and H --as in heavy drugs (heroin)-- took their toll. Buddy Miles, before going on his own, released an Electric Flag too late, and they worked in vain on a work with Mama Cass. Buddy finally went on to the Buddy Miles Express, and then Band of Gypsies with Hendrix.

If You're Goin' To San Freakin' Isco

He was back in the Bay Area in 1967 trying to avoid the limelight of big stardom by constantly working around. The Electric flag recorded three songs for the typically 60s 1968 avant-garde movie, You Are What You Eat, with "Freakout" surviving the cutting room floor. One might hear the three, "Movie Music Improvisation" in a 1995 compilation album, Old Glory: The Best of Electric Flag. During one of the several studio sit-ins Bloomfield had the most commercial success of his career: Super Session. He happened to be in the same music lab with Al Kooper, which he had met in their Dylan album not too long before. The flip side of the album featured guitarist and vocalist Stephen Stills. Harvey Brooks filled the bass end, and the improvisational jams recorded featured wonderful work that Michael actually considered hack. The same year that album was issued he was recording live shows at the Fillmore West and in 1969 the world got to hear Bloomfield's singing debut on The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. After a second collaboration with Al Kooper, he stepped down a bit but continued with buddies Mark Naftalin and Nick Gravenites and toured Frisco and environs as Bloomfield and Friends. Bloomfield related in an interview for Guitar Player Magazine that he had wished he was Albert King when terrified on stage with Jimi Hendrix.

Just Surviving in the Seventies

1973 saw the ho-hum received release of Triumvirate an endeavor that linked John Hammond's kid, John Paul, and Dr. John together. Bloomfield was in and out of studios, his name going here and there, but depressingly his Electric Flag reunion in 1974, a year he could be heard at the Bottom Line with Al Kooper, George Rains, Barry Goldberg, and Roger Troy, kind of unfurled just as the continuing drug and drinking related health problems were getting closer to half-mast. He was captured with some of these collaborations on a release entitled Two Jews Blues where a tribute to Hendix, "Jimi the Fox" very much impressed and honored it's subject. However his increasingly getting turned on, and turning up late, turned off his few old musician friends, but he managed to gig with Dave Shorey and Jonathan Cramer. He was on a project with many of his pals, but CBS refused allowing his name on them. In 1976 he had an album released with KGB, a combination of ex Traffic Rik Grech, Barry Goldberg and Carmine Appice, but were not the successes that were expected. He captured some smaller roots blues whole also doing a teaching video for Guitar Player Magazine, If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em as You Please.

Turn, Turn, Turn

1980 seemed like a good place to get a new start, a summer tour in Italy with classical guitarist Woody Harris and cellist Maggie Edmonston. And, even more eventful was his reunion with Bob Dylan at San Francisco's Warfield Theater where the fifteenth anniverary of "Like A Rolling Stone" was celebrated with them playing it together.

Dead Flowers

Not able to purge the same demons that killed Janis Joplin, Bear Hite, Jimi Hendrix and which almost got Eric Clapton, stories abound of paramedics having to be called to his place for OD's, they finally did their deadly deed to Michael Bloomfield during another "retirement" in San Francisco on February 15, 1981. One account reports his thirty seven year old body being moved out of someone's house to another location in his car where eventually he was found.

Gone, Not Forgotten

Michael Bloomfield's constant presence in the studio, or captured in live performances leaves us plenty of samples of his prolificity:

Michael Bloomfield Solo Albums:


American Hero; (Thunderbolt, 1984, ,(bootleg)
Analine; Takoma, 1977
Between The Hard Place And The Ground; Takoma, 1979
Bloomfield-A Retrospective; Columbia , 1983, {Two Record Set}
Count Talent And the Originals; Clouds, 1978
Cruisin' For A Bruisin'; Takoma, 1981
If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em As You Please; Guitar Player, 1976
I'm With You Always; Demon2, 1987, Recorded live in 1977 at McCabes, LA
Initial Shock; Cobra, 1989, (Italian bootleg, Reissue of Red, Hot & Blue bootleg)
It's Not Killing Me; Columbia, 1970
Live Adventures; Masters, (bootleg, Dutch release of American Hero)
Live In Italy; Mama Barley, 1980, (Italian bootleg)
Living In The Fast Lane; Waterhouse 11, 1980
Michael Bloomfield Takoma, 1978
Red, Hot & Blue United Distributors Lyrics, Ltd. , 1981, (bootleg)
The Gospel of Blues CD Laserlight -(This is an interesting work of slide guitar doing hymns in an unreal manner.)
The Best of Mike Bloomfield CD Laserlight


Collaboration Across the Nation

Besides what's mentioned in the above text, he is on albums with:

Chuck Berry
Maria Muldaur
Muddy Waters
Brewer and Shipley
Dick Campbell
James Cotton
Michael D'Abo
Tim Davis
Sleepy John Estes
Millie Foster
Janis Joplin
Sam Lay
Melton, Levy and the Dey Brothers
Mill Valley Bunch
Moby Grape
Mother Earth
Charlie Musselwhite
Peter, Paul and Mary
Yank Rachell
Otis Rush (Who later complained about Mike's efforts.)
Mitch Ryder
Southern Comfort
Little Brother Montgomery
Eddie Cleanhead Vinson
The Zeet Band


He is on soundtracks of Medium Cool, Sneakers, Steelyard Blues, The Trip, and You Are What You Eat. He has appeared on Bongo Wolf's Revenge, Blues Summit in Chicago, Festival, Ready Steady, Go (BBC), Speakeasy, and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.

As this is written plans are in the works for more material to get in the hands of the blues enthusiast. Bloomfield, the accomplished blues guitarist, for some reason has not gotten the recognition that Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and others have received, hopefully that can change with time and an increased audience hearing this pioneer and legend.

Nick Gravenites site
Interview with Barry Goldberg
" "    Charlie Musselwhite
" "    Mark Naftlin
Guitar Player excerpts online
Articles by Jan Mark Wolkin

A note from-- sighmoan-- on "The Live Adventures...": Bloomfield crapped out on some of the shows (reportedly, because of insomnia brought on by anxiety...but who knows?) and his place had to be filled by Kooper's friends (Elvin Bishop, etc.). Thus it happened that the recording of this series of concerts featured the record debut of a little-known San Francisco guitar player named Carlos Santana.

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