CLASSIC ALBUM: THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND
The year 1965 proved to be one of change, revelation and experimentation. The popular music world had been exposed to the first round of English musicians thanks to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Now the general public was being awakened to rock ’n’ roll’s true roots: the blues. That year, one young, integrated band from Chicago brought the blues to its youthful followers, exposing it for all its purity and power.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band consisted of Paul Butterfield on vocals/harmonica, Mark Naftalin on organ, Jerome Arnold on bass, Sam Lay on drums/vocals, and Elvin Bishop and Michael Bloomfield on guitar. Everyone in the band spent countless hours in Chicago’s South and West side blues clubs studying the masters at work. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam- they were all playing the blues, and the young members of The Butterfield Band soaked it up. Adding to their mastery, the rhythm section (Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold) spent time in Howlin’ Wolf’s band just before joining Butterfield’s band. These guys could play the blues and they were ready to show the world.
The album kicks off with a song penned by Nick Gravenite, “Born In Chicago.” No time wasted here – this tune rolls out of the speakers and off the rails like a blues train on a mission. Butterfield and Bloomfield throw licks back and forth throughout the tune. The song has a timeless quality, and to this day, at any given time, you can bet somewhere there is a band playing “Born In Chicago.”
The Elmore James classic “Shake Your Money Maker” is up next. The band gives it a rock’n’roll feel, with Bloomfield showing his prowess on slide guitar. Paul Butterfield turns next to Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling.” Paul really stretches out vocally on this tune, while the great Michael Bloomfield shows us what masterful phrasing sounds like with one of his most soulful solos. Then Butterfield follows Bloomfield with his own dose of soul. This is blues playing at its finest.
Just when you start to think these guys can really play, the band turns it up a notch with their original instrumental, “Thank You Mr. Poobah.” Solos all around! Paul, Michael and Mark all take turns turning heads. These guys learned from the Chicago masters themselves and it shows.
“I Got My Mojo Working” shows the world that Sam Lay is not only one of the best drummers to ever pick up the sticks, but he can also sing like nobody’s business. Sam sounds similar to the song’s author, Muddy Waters, yet his voice has enough character to make this version all his own. Willie Dixon’s “Mellow Down Easy” keeps the pace going, with more great vocal work from Paul. The band shows us that they can cover blues classics, but they also move easily into doing their own thing with original tunes. “Screamin’,” for example, comes in doing just that. It’s another monster instrumental workout showing that no one on the scene could touch these guys in the playing department.
[pullquote]”Our Love Is Drifting” may be THE track for Michael Bloomfield fans on this album. [/pullquote]
“Our Love Is Drifting” may be THE track for Michael Bloomfield fans on this album. It combines everything the band had to offer into one great 3 and a half minute tune, with Bloomfield’s dynamic guitar runs going throughout the entire song. It’s a textbook example of how to “fill,” but not over-play.
Then it’s back to the blues, with “Mystery Train,” originally written by Junior Parker. Elvis Presley had a hit with it during his Sun Records years. Early rock ‘n’ roll was a big influence on everyone in The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and they play this tune with reverence. That’s followed by Little Walter’s “Last Night,” leading into the album’s closer “Look Over Yonders Wall.”
Surprisingly, this was the second attempt to make the band’s debut album. Producer Paul Rothchild didn’t think the first effort sounded how the band did during its energetic live shows. But on the second time around, they nailed it. Interestingly, the first recordings were eventually released as “The Original Lost Elektra Sessions,” also an album worth grabbing.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band has stood the test of time. Countless musicians still list it as one of the records that turned them on to blues. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it #468 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time, and Downbeat Magazine gave it #11 out of The 50 Greatest Blues Albums of all time. Classic albums remain timeless. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band sounds as fresh today as it did in 1965. If you don’t own a copy, get one now.