Monday, March 31, 2014

# 43 Live at the Troubadour


    By 1970, the Butterfield Blues Band's album sales have stagnated, and the income from live shows is stalling too. Butterfield doesn't seem to care though, he just wants to play music. However, the situation is causing Elektra, and Albert Grossman some frustration. At this point, they can't seem to figure why their client Paul Butterfield isn't more successful.

    He's good songwriter, but none of his songs seem to capture the imagination of the mainstream market, and in the golden age of singer/songwriters his catalog is comparatively small. As a vocalist, he is a convincing interpreter of Blues, but this skill doesn't seem to transfer over when he performs crossover material.

    Butterfield has what musicians often refer to as  big ears, and he also demonstrates a sharp ear for talent. Similar to all great leaders, he has the ability to surround himself with people more skilled than himself, and can lead them in a direction of his choosing. It is this skill that should earn him the title of one of the great bandleaders of the twentieth century. A combination of his talent, skill, and a moderate yet devoted fan base (mostly male) have already entrenched Butterfield in the history books.  However, in spite of all the things Paul Butterfield has going in his favor; by 1970, the end of his critically acclaimed big band the Butterfield Blues Band is closer than he realizes. It is an unfortunate reality for all performers, you can have all the talent in the world, but if it doesn't transmit into money, your career is at risk.

    There is one talent that Paul Butterfield owns which is unique and sets him apart from most other artists. It's a talent which places him in the company of all of the musicians throughout history, regardless of genre, who are labeled genius. His gift is the emotional energy he generates with a little two dollar, diatonic harmonica. The inexpensive little instrument played by millions of people around the world is heard in almost every genre of music. For example, you will find harmonica solos featured in Classical music, but you will not discover many oboe solos in Rock. This kind of profile should give the instrument a lot respect, but for some reason it doesn't. Throughout the decades most people still seem to think of the harmonica as a just a toy, and consequently not worthy of serious consideration. However, those same people will marvel at the sounds it produces, and often openly lament I wish I could play like that.

    Even if you are not a fan of the harmonica, or know nothing about Butterfield's prowess as a master of the instrument, there is a simple test you can perform. Scan photos or films of Butterfield playing in front of a live audience, and then pay attention to the expressions on the faces of his audience. Most times his audience members seem transfixed by the sounds he is producing.

    It not just his technique (he is a lip purser), or that he plays the harmonica upside down (he is left handed); it's the way he approaches the instrument. He produces a very full, round tone, most often using a heavy vibrato which he then uses to weave in and out of melodies as no other harmonica player does. Anyone can learn his physical technique, but to use it as he does, is a unique gift. The sound Butterfield chisels from his instrument is what causes people to feel , ...we hear Paul Butterfield saying all that one man, could ever say to another man, his only voice the voice of his harmonica. His label Elektra Records, understands this reality, and that is why when you look at the cover photo of his new album Live, the image is of Paul Butterfield, on a stage, drenched in sweat, a man who is expressing his most inner emotions through a little two dollar harmonica - better than any man alive.

    The set list for the 1970 double album, as well as the expanded 2004 Compact Disc of Live is typical of the band's concerts. Most of the performances are excellent, although they do seem tighter next to several bootleg recordings. However, most fans of the Butter Band often point to exceptional highlights on this album. It might be Rod Hick's bass groove on Love Disease or George Davidson's lyrical drum solo on The Boxer, (Detroit's Davidson is recruited by Hick's from the Four Tops), or the blistering speed of Butterfield's solo on Number Nine. (The only other Butterfield contemporary who can play at this speed is Nashville studio musician Charlie McCoy).  However, almost everyone is hypnotized by his harmonica in Everything's Gonna Be Alright. It's just a straight 12 bar blues in G, played over a downtown shuffle, but every note, every phrase he speaks through his harmonica is confident, tasteful, and feels spontaneous.

    Similar to all great musicians, Butterfield's style impresses technicians, and listeners alike. He only uses the five notes of the minor pentatonic scale (six if you include the flat five), and he rarely ventures past the six hole blow, but he plays triplet phrases which deceive the listener to believing he somehow has more notes than are actually available.

    So, why is Butterfield's audience leaving him then? It can't be the addition of 19 year old guitarist from San FranciscoRalph Wash. He isn't as dynamic as Buzzy Feiten or Mike Bloomfield, but he is a favorite of B.B. King, and plays a meaty rhythmic style similar to Elvin Bishop's, only with more finesse.


    It could be the speculation that some critics express after the release of In My Own Dream.  They conclude that Butterfield is playing too much Jazz which young people consider suspect because of its affiliation with the over thirty generation. However, New York's Blood Sweat and Tears, Toronto's Lighthouse, Chicago's Chicago Transit Authority, and New York's Dreams are all doing well in the Jazz Rock idiom, and nobody questions their use of Jazz. Then there is the argument that Butterfield's voice doesn't seem to resonate with mainstream audiences because he is over-matched by his horn section, but on Live, his voice is never over shadowed by any instrument in his band. As producer Todd Rundgren says, This is probably the time when Paul is most challenged by the musicians he's gathered around him, proving his ability to throw down with the best there is, anytime, anyplace. 

    In the Rock press there are even more complementary observations about the album, Rolling Stone reports, This album is perhaps Butterfield’s most rewarding since Born in Chicago. The horns don't  get in the way at all, and Paul’s voice and harp never sounded better. However, none the accolades help to explain shrinking audience.


   The answer to the question might be simple. It could be that Butterfield is no longer in charge of his band, or the music for that matter. After the scathing press he receives for his inexperienced leadership skills while leading the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he consistently is shying away from the role as the leader. Since In My Own Dream, he is trying to run a more egalitarian workplace, but by the time of Live, he has pretty much handed over the reins of power to Dinwiddie. As David Sanborn says, Gene was the father figure to us all, ten years older, who had been around in Chicago, and knew the bebop vocabulary. He was the most evolved player, harmonically, until Ted came on the scene. But he was the person everyone deferred to. He pulled the charts together and directed the harmonics of the band - Paul didn't read music that well. and by 1970, the band was playing some very involved charts and wonderful arrangements. It could be that Paul Butterfield the egalitarian bandleader doesn't project himself through the music the way he does when he lead his earlier bands, and audiences intuitively understand this reality.

    Regardless of speculation about why or how how Butterfield's audience is continuing to turn away from his music, this new album Live never sounds dated. Compared with all the other horn bands mentioned above, this is a unique collection of tunes still sounds fresh. You can probably put Live on a turntable in any decade, and most people will not identify it as music from the '60's.

   In terms of the harmonica work on the album; even a generation of young innovative players will point to this album as a benchmark to strive toward.  There is no other album that better captures the technical mastery, or visceral energy that lead people to think Paul Butterfield is saying all that one man, could ever say to another man, his only voice the voice of his harmonica.


Butterfield Blues Band: Live,  Recorded at The Troubadour in Los Angeles over March  21st and 22nd 1970 and released December 1970  #72 on the album charts.

1) Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, 2) Love Disease , 3) The Boxer, 4) No Amount Of Lovin’, 5) Driftin’ and Driftin’, 6) Introductions on musicians, 7) Number Nine, 8) I Just Want To Be With You, 9) Born Under a Bad Sign , 10) Get Together Again, 11) So Far, So Good.

In 2004 a second disc of performances on those nights is released:

1) Gene's Tune, 2) Nobody's Fault But Mine, 4) Losing Hand, 5) All In A Day, 6) Feel So Bad, 7) Except You, 8) You've Got to Love Her With a Feelin', 9) Love March.

Paul Butterfield: Vocals, Harmonica, (Piano on Get Together Again), Rod Hicks: Bass, (Vocal on
The Boxer),  Ted Harris: Piano, Ralph Wash: Guitar, Gene Dinwiddie: Tenor and Baritone
Saxophone, Steve Madaio: Trumpet, George Davidson: Drums, Trevor Lawrence: Baritone Saxophone. David Sanborn is still in the band, but does do this tour or this recording.
Produced by Todd Rundgren and Ray Thompson.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

#42 Jammin' with Janis Joplin

    Every generation has its talented artists who seem to grow into the role of the tragic hero. Usually, the public watches as these stars descend from their coveted position in the limelight into an off-stage life filled with entertaining melodrama, and too often, ending in an early death.

   The final insult to these stars is when the beneficiaries of their estate promote them as artists deserving of iconic status. This is how many short-lived artists spend the remaining portion of their careers - as a manufactured memory. During the late '60's this tragic hero role is played by Blues Rock legend Janis Joplin. She has a very brief career, but is best remembered for her tragic personal life, and unromantic death rather than her music.

    During childhood Joplin feels disenfranchised from her world, and craves copious quantities of attention. As her mother confides, her daughter's childhood was unhappy and unsatisfied with (receiving a lot of attention). The normal rapport wasn't adequate. This may be what motivates Joplin to gravitate toward the performing arts in her teens, and encourages her to develop her moderate talent into a magnate for public adulation.

     Ironically, when she does attain her attention, the sensation proves too overwhelming, and she seeks refuge in a variety of drugs. Unfortunately, her substance abuse develops into an addiction, and only serves to accelerate her eventual implosion. In fact, during the last couple of years of her career, right up until today, Janis Joplin is not a real person, but rather a one dimensional character created by the entertainment industry.

    The part of her story which involves Paul Butterfield begins when she leaves her native Texas in '63 to live in San Francisco. While there, she attaches herself to the local music scene, and records some rudimentary Blues with the help of Jorma Kaukonen (the future guitarist Jefferson Airplane). However, by '65 her reputation as an out of control abuser of amphetamines (speed), some heroin, alcohol (Southern Comfort), and psychoactive drugs becomes a serious concern within her social circle. Friends can see that her addictions are taking over as her emaciated body is growing weaker each day, so they institute a final act of kindness. They organize a party in an effort to raise money for the young Joplin to buy a one way bus ticket back home.

   For a year she tries, and almost succeeds at reintegrating into mainstream life in Port Arthur, but gives up, and returns to San Francisco in '66. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, has ignited a national Blues Rock craze a year earlier, and it is especially vibrant in San Francisco. So, this time Joplin's intention is to avoid substance abuse, and concentrate on her singing. She has a raspy (almost abrasive) voice  which she skillfully uses to project the raw sex appeal of world weary, throw your caution to the wind, female Blues Rocker. Local band, Big Brother and the Holding Company recognizes her talent, and ask her to act as their lead singer.     


   Joplin's addition to the band proves to be a wise combination as they gain national attention with her at the front of the group. As their fame expands, they travel to Chicago for a recording session, and manage to secure their first record contract. Then, music industry titan Albert Grossman sees the potential income in Janis Joplin the blues singer, and he signs the band up as his clients. However, Grossman is aware of Joplin's past substance abuse problems, and so, stipulates in the contract that she can not use any intravenous drugs. The agreement is signed, and a long prosperous career should be in front of her.

    However, her break through performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in '67 proves too overwhelming for the young star, and she starts using again. When Grossman finds out, he takes out a $200,000 insurance policy on her life. It sounds cold, but he is a businessman.

    By the spring of '68, the band is now billed as Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, she is a national star, nurturing the public persona of the hard livin', hard drinkin', get while ya can, female blues singer, Rock's answer to Billie Holiday. The relatively new genre of Blues Rock has never had an artist of Joplin's caliber, so she it seems that everything she does is considered ground breaking, especially for women. At the height of her career she is promoted as Janis Joplin: The Queen of Psychedelic Soul.

    As she plays the growing Rock circuit with other rising stars like Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Richie Havens, Elvin Bishop, and of course Paul Butterfield; she develops her powerful stage charisma, and abilities at working an audience. The first time she shares the stage with Butterfield is at the Wake for Martin Luther Jr. concert in the spring of '68.

    During her very brief career (four years) she shares the stage with Butterfield a number of times. Unfortunately, most of the performances are never recorded, and the ones that are, tend to be have very poor sound quality. For example, she works The Pavilion in New York, Madison Square Garden, Ravina Park in Chicago, the Civic Centre in Baltimore, and the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, and Butterfield jams with her each night, but none seem to be recorded. 

    The performance routine seems to be that the Butterfield band is Joplin's opening act, and Butterfield jams on a couple of songs during her set. (she never seems to reciprocate.) One of these performances is captured on tape though. Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company appear at Ringe Arena in Braintree, MA, in Oct. of 1968 with Butterfield as the opening act. Some audience member manages to capture a couple of songs with the two. (both are terrible quality). However, one of the songs, Raise Your Hand, does feature a dynamic harmonica solo by Butterfield. You can hear the taper yell Yeah!! when he starts, and then the audience's energetic applause at the end of his solo is stunning. There is also Live or Die Blues, and Bo Diddley, both are terrible recordings.

    By far, the best recording of the two is from a March '70, Columbia Studio session in  in L.A. with Grossman's new staff producer,Todd Rundgren. During these sessions, Joplin records three versions of the song One Night Stand with the compete Butterfield Blues Band as a back up band. Apparently, Columbia's intention is to release the song as a single, but the idea is abandoned.

   Of all the times that Joplin and Butterfield performed together live, this studio track is definitely the most complimentary. It is one of those occasions where you realize that, if her personal path had changed, an album of her with the Butterfield Blues Band would become a classic.

    However, several months after those sessions, Joplin is found dead in her motel room on Oct. 4th 1970 of a drug over dose. A generation of 60's Rock fans lose another hero on that day, and Albert Grossman collects $200,000. Decades after her death Janis Joplin has become an icon, especially to female singers who harbor desires to break free.

Rolling Stone ranks her as #28 on its list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.



                                                                 








Monday, March 24, 2014

# 41 the Butterfield Blues Band Keep on Movin'

    In the '60's, FM radio is a Godsend for artists like Paul Butterfield. Elektra releases singles from his albums, but none of them earn the title of a hit in the AM market so, FM is the band's best option. They have fewer restrictions on the commercial value of Rock music, making them an ideal promotional medium for many of the underground bands. By the late '60's, a number of FM radio stations are focusing on younger audiences who have an interest in the music which springs out of the the Counter Culture Movement. (It's really the beginning of A.O.R. or Album Oriented Rock)

   The basis of the the Counter Culture philosophy seems to be that most behaviours which oppose the values of the corporate establishment are good, and those that do not, should be labeled a sellout. Unfortunately, by the late '60's the Counter Culture has become mainstream caricature of itself, and its noble philosophy is becoming a shear veil used to market hippie products to middle income kids living in the suburbs. This development benefits record labels, and their artists because in spite of their promoted affiliation with the Counter Culture, they all want AM hit records, and Paul Butterfield is no different. He's is an ambitious artist, employed by a major record label, and managed by one the most important artist managers of his generation. In spite of his public desire to just create and play music, he too wants the fame, and financial rewards that come with owning a hit record

    Back in the '60's, it's common for record labels to hire a producer for their artist. Their position is that they pay the artist an advance for creating the music, in return they agree to manufacture, promote, and distribute that product. This agreement is then complimented with the addition of a good manager, who secures venues for the artist to advertise the product. So, the business end of the music industry has a lot time, and money invested in most artists. Consequently, it is only natural that these investors want to experience as high a return as possible.

    So, for the next Butterfield Blues Band album, Elektra hires the hit maker Jerry Ragovoy as producer. In the 1950's, Ragovoy is an ambitious, A & R man for United Artists who also develops a reputation as talented arranger, producer, and songwriter. He writes Time is On My Side for Irma Thomas, (later a hit for The Rolling Stones), and among many other hits, he also pens Try a Little Harder Erma Franklin and Piece of My Heart for Lorraine Ellison (later hits for Janis Joplin). By the '60's he is successful enough to buy his own recording studio in New York, which he calls The Hit Factory. The premier Rock paper of the day, Rolling Stone describes Ragovoy as: Philadelphia Jerry Ragovoy is one of the top Rhythm and Blues producers, The Staple Singers “Let’s Get Together’ Roy Redmond’s “Good Day Sunshine”.....  He not only produces, also writes arranges, and publishes many of the songs his artists record, and he has just completed building his own 8-track studio (The Hit Factory) I own it all by myself - no partners. He will be the producer of  the latest Butterfield Blues Band album, Keep On Movin'.

   However, there are a couple of problems which Elektra does not anticipate before they hire of Ragovoy. Firstly, Butterfield is a person who feels most comfortable working within a familiar group of people, and he his settled into the Elektra/Grossman family. He views everyone else as a suspicious outsider, and Ragovoy fits that profile. Secondly, Jerry Ragovoy is also a man who needs to control his environment, especially in the studio. So, there is bound to be a confrontation between the two.

    If there will be a compromising figure between Butterfield, and Ragovoy it will be Ted Harris. Initially, Keith Johnson introduces Butterfield to Gil Evans ( a Grossman client) as the band's a musical director, but Evans quits because it interferes with his own work schedule. In his place Ted Harris is recruited by his Detroit colleague Rod Hicks. Harris is a well rounded musician in his own right, and while he is very keen to work with the Butterfield band, he also knows about arranging pop tunes, and has a strong work ethic,  I picked up material in Woodstock, but had to write the charts in Detroit - we’d record all week in New York, and I’d head back to Detroit on the weekends.

    Ragovoy likes Harris' ideas, but he doesn't like Butterfield or his band. Butterfield, and his band see themselves as musical innovators, and frequently engage in free form jam sessions to cull ideas from their music. This apparent lack of structure is simply too unpredictable for Ragovoy. He needs control over his environment, and every aspect of the recording process,  Jac Holtzman at Elektra told me that he wanted a hit from the band, and they came to me because at that time in my life I was suppose to be the ‘king’ of R&B, they wanted that kind of producer..... I had such a dichotomy of emotion about these guys in the studio. I hated them, and I loved them, ....  Personally, they drove me a little nuts I couldn't seem to control them; I’m the kind of producer who wants to have total control in the studio - it’s my game, and my vision. I’m going to sink or swim by my ideas....... At one point I even called Holzman, and told him I’d have to withdraw, but he talked me into staying.  The two to three weeks of recording sessions must have developed into a case of two alpha personalities posturing over a single quarry.


   Then Ragovoy does the worse thing he can do for the project, he doesn't give in, he simply gives up, and that makes the difference in the final product. But at a certain point I gave up on my usual approach, and went through the motions, letting them do what they wanted. I wound up going for a great sound, and I think I got that. But the project was rushed so there wasn't time to select the material or to refine or redo the material we had done...... In the end I wasn't happy with anything we had done - even my things.  (Where Did My Baby Go & Except You)   .....      But I‘m not talking about the charts. Ted Harris did some wonderful arranging, and the horn players played well.  I just wasn't happy with the end product. We did it in two or three weeks, and we should have had eight - the potential was there for a great album.

    In spite of the fact that Butterfield never expresses any regrets over his contribution to the failure of the sessions, years later Ragovoy will feel more philosophical about the project . .......  When I heard Sanborn and Buzz, I recognized they were both monsters.  They were
both natural, great talents; in fact, they were two of the great talents I've heard since I started producing.  And I knew Butterfield wanted to stretch out, I heard a lot of jazz influences from the band. Paul was a great harp player, and I think a good blues singer, but I think he was over-matched by the jazz influence in the band. My feeling was that if he going to move in the jazz format, then the material needed to be  more carefully selected for Paul’s voice so he could get through it naturally. I heard a fight then, and I hear it today when I listen again.

   Ragovoy's insight about Butterfield being over-matched by his own music are very evident in some of the material. For example, on Morning Sunrise his voice sounds strained, as though he either hasn't been able to mount the song properly, or he is out of his element. Butterfield really is an excellent blues singer, but he does not always sound comfortable in the Rhythm and Blues/Jazz format, and next to David Clayton Thomas or Robert Lamn this quality becomes a serious liability.

    In an effort to capitalize on the band's appearance at WoodstockElektra releases Love March as the album's single, but the catchy sing-a-long doesn't earn sustainable traction in the AM market, and is soon forgotten. Love March is such a curious departure from anything the band performs on record or live. In fact, in 1969, there is no blues band that has ever recorded this type of material. (It is probably the only song played by a blues band with the lead singer playing flute to a military march.)  
     When an interviewer asks Butterfield if the song is an attempt at going commercial (selling out)  he says, It wasn't conceived as a pop thing. It was done as a very happy thing. We were just messing around with it, and decided to put some lyrics to it, and Gene Dinwiddie wrote some lyrics. I wasn't really sure myself what the tune was for a long time, but now I really enjoy it. 

    After its release, reviews tend less to be cold to tepid, but the varied reaction seems to be more a result of confusion about the music than its quality. In spite of the rhetoric of the day, people really do like labels, and for the music of the Butterfield Blues Band that chore is a difficult task to undertake. However, there are some bright lights as Rolling Stone reports, This album is with the exception of two out and out early Ray Charles imitations, the farthest thing from the blues that Butterfield has ever done. Which is alright in itself - the problem is that it isn't new-wave jazz, gospel, soul, country or golden oldie material either.  It’s a strident limbo of in-between. As an artist, this is exactly what Butterfield is always grasping for, a strident limbo of in-between. Unfortunately, it is not what most listeners want, and the album only manages a position of # 102 on the album charts. Oddly enough, the band will use many of the songs as part of their regular set list in the coming concerts.

   In the end, nobody gains from the combative atmosphere during the recording of Keep On Movin', Butterfield loses an opportunity to make a solid cross over album with a top pop producer, Ragovoy misses a chance to list yet another commercial success to his resume, and Elektra does not get their hit record from the band. It will be another debit that some Elektra Records accountant will enter under the name Paul Butterfield.

   Sighting artistic differences as his main reason, Feiten leaves the band after the release of  Keep On Movin', as does Freddie Beckmier. Tired of life on the road, Philip Wilson returns to Chicago where he becomes an active member of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Keith Johnson leaves to return to studio work in New York. They all depart with opportunities made available because of their time in the Butterfield Blues Band.

Butterfield Blues Band : Keep on Moving,       October 1969  #102 on Billboard album charts

1) Love March, 2) No Amount Of Lovin’,3) Morning Sunrise, 4) Losin’ Hand, 5) Walkin’ By Myself, 6) Except You, 7) Love Disease, 8) Where Did My Baby Go, 9) All In A Day, 10) So Far So Good, 11) Buddy’s Advice, 12) Keep On Movin’.


Paul Butterfield: Vocal, Harmonica, (Flute on Love March), Gene Dinwiddie: Tenor Saxophone, Flute, (Vocal on Love March, Vocal chorus on All In A Day), Philip Wilson: Drums, Percussion, (Vocal on Love March, Vocal chorus on All In A Day), Dave Sanborn:  Alto Saxophone, Keith Johnson: Trumpet, Buzzy Feiten: Guitar, Organ, Piano, (French Horn on Love March), (Vocal on Buddy’s Advice, and All In A Day), Rod Hicks: Bass, Cello, (Vocal on All In A Day), Steve Madaio:, Trumpet, Ted Harris: Piano, Trevor Lawrence: Baritone Saxophone, Fred Beckmeier

Jerry Ragovoy: Piano on Where Did My Baby Go, Fred Beckmier: Bass on My Buddy’s Advice and Where Did My Baby Go.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

# 40 Butterfield Blues Band at Woodstock '69

    Large music festivals have been around for hundreds of years, but for baby boomers, the beginning is in the late fifties with George Wein's Newport Jazz, and Newport Folk festivals. Wein's festivals prove to be very popular with thousands of music fans, but they are tiny in comparison to coming next generation of festivals.

    Consider, seventy-six million Americans are born between '46 and '64, so by '65, there is the largest mass of young people the country has ever experienced. By the mid-sixties, the first wave of these baby boomers are coming of age, and they select Rock Music as the soundtrack of their generation. It is only natural that savvy promoters look for ways to capitalize on the spending power of this massive market.

    After Newport Folk '65, the next big festival is the Monterey Pop Festival attracts over fifty thousand, (Miami Pop Festival in '68 attracts about one hundred thousand patrons, but the festival isn't documented on film, and consequently doesn't receive much attention), and then there is the Woodstock Music and Art Fair,'69, catering to more than four hundred thousand. Back then, music critic Griel Marcus wrote for Rolling Stone that Woodstock has become the third largest city in New York state...

    The history of  the Woodstock Music and Art Festival, its impact on the future of Rock music, and its influence on all future music festivals is well documented. After Woodstock, sociologist Philip Ennis noted, It’s not a ‘youth thing’ now, but a generational event; chronological age is only the current phase..... In addition, many historians consider Woodstock '69 as the beginning of the lucrative industry of staging massive Rock Festivals all over the world.  For many new artists these festivals, especially if they are as well documented as Monterey or Woodstock, usually serve as a big break in their career, and for more established artists, the festival generally solidifies their popularity.

     So, the key music festivals for the sixties generation start with Newport, '65, Monterey, '67Woodstock, '69, and end with The Last Waltz, '76. They are significant because they change the direction of both popular culture, and the music of that culture. Of all the artists to appear at these significant events, Paul Butterfield is the only one to perform at all four.

    However, by the time Butterfield performs at Woodstock '69, the cultural door he helps to open with his music is right off its hinges, and literally thousands of artists are passing under the threshold. Consider that most of the artists who appear at Woodstock '69 are white people who are playing music which is rooted in African-American blues. It is a trend for which Butterfield should be recognized, but too often this acknowledgement is ignored. For example, if it hadn't been for Butterfield's performances at Newport '65, Woodstock performers such as Canned HeatJohnny Winter, Janis Joplin, and several others probably would not be accepted as credible interpreters of blues, 

    Even the new horn band Blood Sweat and Tears, fronted by Canadian singer David Clayton Thomas owes a great deal to the contributions of Paul Butterfield. Another band who receives inspiration from Butterfield's horn bands is Chicago Transit Authority. They try to get a time slot at Woodstock '69, but lose out to Bill Graham's band Santana. Apparently, Graham plays a shell game with the scheduling to push Chicago out, which offers the San Francisco band an opportunity to promote themselves. The other horn based band Butterfield inspires is the Canadian group Lighthouse. They are invited to play Woodstock, but like so many bands of the era, make the regretful decision to decline the invitation.

   The truth is that by '69, few people view Butterfield's past contributions to Rock as marketable, and with no major mainstream hits to shore up his name, he is tucked in between newcomers Crosby, Still, Nash and Young (they just released their first album in August), and the novelty act Sha-Na-Na for the 6 a.m. to 6:45 a.m. time slot. Unfortunately, it is too close to the end of the festival, most of the audience is sleeping, hung over, coming down, passed out, or packing up to leave the grounds. Years later, when organizers are asked why Butterfield was placed in the 6 a.m. slot, and their response is that they were looking for a band who can jam for long periods. 


    In spite of  scheduling politics, and the Butterfield Blues Band's impressive performance, none of it is in the Academy Award winning release of the Woodstock documentary. The reason is quite simple, Albert Grossman stipulates in his contracts that he does not want his acts to appear on film. His reasoning is people will not bother to pay to see his artists if they can see them on film. It isn't just Grossman who feels this way as artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival also share the same philosophy.

    In retrospect, it seems like such an archaic attitude toward artist promotion, but there could be an element of truth to this attitude. The mass appeal of the internet has taught the entertainment industry that free music is not as exciting as live music, but it is cheaper. It won't be until 2009 that fans can see the Butterfield Blues Band, and all the other artists omitted from the documentary perform at the festival in the director's cut of the festival.

     All of the artists who perform at Woodstock '69, including Paul Butterfield, will reap long term economic and social benefits from their performances at Woodstock. For example, performances by artists Santana, and Crosby Stills, Nash and Young at Woodstock mark the beginning of their long, and prosperous careers. However, for music pioneers the Butterfield Blues Band, it is the beginning of the end. .

Paul Butterfield: Vocal, & Harmonica, Rod Hicks: - Bass, & Vocals, Ted Harris: Piano, Buzzy Feiten: Guitar, Gene Dinwiddie: Tenor Saxophone, Percussion & Vocals, Steve Madaio: Trumpet & Percussion, David Sanborn: Alto Saxophone & Percussion, Phil Wilson: Drums, Keith Johnson: Trumpet & Percussion, Trevor Lawrence: Baritone Saxophone & Percussion.

1) Born Under a Bad Sign
2) No Amount of Lovin'
3) Driftin' and Driftin'
4) Morning Sunrise
5) Love March
6) Everything's Gonna Be Alright




                                                                


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

# 39 Building a Bigger Butterfield Blues Band

   Paul Butterfield travels a long way from his days fronting a three piece band on the tiny stage at Big John's in '64 to his current role as the leader of a seven piece band. His ambitions to be a better musician, and bandleader are reaping benefits too. He is now the most famous harmonica player in the world, and his band is a major concert attraction on the growing Rock Concert circuit. He can easily stop expanding, and let his successful career coast for a while, but he is too enterprising for that route. If Butterfield were a businessman, he would probably subscribe to the philosophy, if you aren't growing, you're dying. In 1969, he is about to build, and command biggest, heaviest sounding band of his generation.

   Achieving any prestigious position usually comes with many social and financial perks, but it often presents some demanding expectations in the form of a continuous stream of problems to solve too. For Butterfield, it's the constant loss of band members. It must seem like he just gets them trained, and they leave. Regardless of whether the departures are a result of road fatigue, artistic differences, or personal disagreements, it is an issue that might cause the resolve of a weaker leader to fray. The problem doesn't seem to cause him much anxiety though, he seems to greet the hurdles an opportunity to build a stronger band.

   Over four albums, and near incessant touring, he loses six band members. Each time, his response to the set back is to add to the size, and flexibility of his band. He still has David Sanborn, Gene Dinwiddie, Philip Wilson, Keith Johnson, and Buzzy Feiten, but will lose his new bass player Freddie Beckmier by mid-'69. (Beckmier only records some of the tracks on Keep On Movin')

    However, in the coming months he will hire Ted Harris keyboards, Steve Madaio,trumpet, Trevor Lawrence, saxophone, and replace Beckmier with Rod Hicks. His new band will be a massive nine piece outfit, the biggest band to tour the '60's Rock circuit. (Even bigger than the Blood Sweat and Tears.) In addition, he will buy a used armored truck for his roadies to transport all the equipment from gig to gig. (It takes three bullets while en route to a gig in Toronto. Not everyone loves young men with long hair in the '60's)

   In the studio, his band is sticking fairly close to the commercially viable Rhythm and Blues format, but live performances are more eclectic, using Free Jazz, Hard-Bop, Blues, and Rock. They play a head, and then improvise on that theme, sometimes for 30 minutes. (listen to Work Song on the East West album for an example of this format) As Butterfield explains to an interviewer, We play the things we've been working with, so we have them down pretty much, we don’t write charts, or make plans or anything. It is a Hard-Bop approach, an excellent vehicle for any musician with talent to test their chops, and stretch their creative abilities, but it does require a lot of mental dexterity. It's a philosophy which might appear on page one of an imaginary Charlie Parker instructional manual: Master your instrument, master the music, and then forget all that crap, and just play.   

   Some listeners might find this approach to music as a bit laissez-faire, and it can be, if there isn't a strong leader to keep the musicians moving in one direction. As Trevor Lawrence recalls: Butter always kept things going. He was a blues dude, but it wasn't like doing the same little thing over and over.  We did it different every single night. We had to because there were no written arrangements. So the band just kept evolving. 



    So, in late '68, he hires Buzzy Feiten as a guitarist, but discovers the teenager has many other skills to offer too, he also sings, plays piano, composes, and plays the French Horn, (see post # 37). In the electric guitar driven world of '60's Rock, the French Horn seems like an odd instrument to be use in a Rock band. One interviewer actually stops Butterfield when he mentions the instrument, and asks him are you really going to use French Horn....? Butterfield replies with an emphatic, Yes, we’re really goin' to use the French Horn. We’re writing almost all of our own material now.

   Feiten shows that he has an ear for talent when he recruits Beckmier, and now he will recommend his former Mannes College classmate, Steve Madaio for a position in the horn section. At 19, Madaio has already worked the Copacabana, backed Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and the Beach Boys. His greatest weakness is that his classical training conditions him to work within a very tight structure,  Most of the music I’d played to that point had been very structured - I’d never heard the band, had no idea of this type of music. Sanborn had that hypnotic sound, and Gene Dinwiddie was like a very cool cat, and Philip Wilson was quick to play free - a monster. Keith was mostly playing organ, although we’d double up on trumpets sometime.  The band would play the head of a song, and then it would free up, which was perfect for me, some structure but a chance to play solo. It really intrigued me, was real cool, kind of like a jazz quartet. According Keith JohnsonMadaio is very quick to adapt to the new playing style though, that Steve was an absolute motherfucker, a young 21-year old whose father was also a trumpet player, he was always pushing me.

    Freddie Beckmier's duties as the band's bass player seem to be slowly shift over to Rod Hicks as the two can be found on tour, and in the studio with the band in late '69. Before joining the Butterfield band he is working with Aretha Franklin's touring band, and only leaves because she stops performing live. Hicks is a Detroit native, originally an upright bass player in a Jazz band, but can seamlessly move from Free Jazz to Rhythm and Blues or Rock. While in the Butterfield band he ... plays all the basses: upright, cello, electric, and some piano, but most of the time Hicks plays an Ampeg Fretless bass (the first electric bass of its kind) through a Kustom Amp while displaying an almost manic energy on stage. He is a composer too, and will write a few pieces for Butterfield over the next few years. (Long after the Butterfield Blues Band disbands, Hicks will still be playing live shows with Butterfield.)

    Another major contribution Rod Hicks makes to the band is the referral of arranger/keyboardist Ted Harris to Butterfield. He isn't the first choice though, as Butterfield initially hires the brilliant Canadian Jazz arranger Gil Evans for the position, but the two parties can not reach an agreement on work schedules, so the Evans hire is dismissed. However, Harris will prove to be the better choice as he is keener to participate in the band's experiments. Even Elektra, and Grossman are happy with Harris as they want a hit song from the Butterfield Band, and he is more likely to deliver than Gil Evans. Before he joins the Butterfield band he needs to finish up a stint as an arranger, and pianist for Tony Bennett, so he seems to have an ear for mainstream pop. He is very anxious to work with everyone in the Butterfield Blues Band though, That band was a godsend to write for.  That was the only band I've ever played with could turn it on - all you had to say is ‘Let’s play,’...


   Trevor Lawrence is working as a full-time session player in New York often for producer Jerry Ragovoy at the Hit Factory when Butterfield hires him. He has studied arranging under Hall Overton, and has done transcriptions, as well as charts for Thelonious Monk's Big Band. Lawrence will join the band in mid-'69, and stay for three albums. He says,  I don’t think we ever wrote arrangements.....  That was one of the remarkable things about the band.  It was totally a head band.  When we played we did it on the spot; what we played was what came out. It was like a magical creation that just happened.  It was so free and giving....
  
 .... When I got in the band I dug Philip Wilson’s playing.  He had a different feel and time, and there were always twists and turns and you just had to go with him.”... The blues is the blues, but it’s the twists and turns that make it great, and this bad did some very creative things.  Soon it was obvious that it wasn't just the blues anymore, or R & B or jazz - it had become something else.  For some reason they didn't record the band fast enough.  It had become so vivid that it would grow to one stage then grow right past it to another stage.  They should have caught more of that magic on tape......
Lawrence's memories of the dynamic in the band are so familiar when you listen to former members reflect on working in the Butterfield Blues Band, and that positive energy seems to transfer to fans also still carry fond memories of their performances.

    If hearing Paul Butterfield, and his big band leaves a lasting imprint on fans, then playing in the band must have been a musician's dream. As Ted Harris sums up his years with the band, I want to tell you something, I've been playing music a long time, and that’s the only band I've ever played in that could turn it on everyday, at the drop of a hat. It could just turn on.  I've never played in a band like that - it seemed like there never were any bad days.

     Enough said.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

# 38 Muddy Waters & Paul Butterfield Fathers and Sons Band Live

   Muddy Waters' Fathers and Sons album is really just an accidental byproduct of the Cosmic Joy-Scout Super-Jam. The charity concert is the original reason Bloomfield and Butterfield are in Chicago, not to make a studio album. (see post #37)

    It never receives as much attention as the studio performances, but fortunately, some of the details associated with the live show are documented. The Cosmic Joy-Scout Super-Jamboree is a one time concert to raise money for the Wheaton based Phoenix Academy in Chicago. It isn't a four day concert as some in Rock press state; but rather just a one time performance, held on Thursday, April 24th, 1969 at the Auditorium Theatre. In the end, the live performance serves three purposes: it does raise money for the original charity, it acts as a promotion for the studio album, and in addition, the live tracks work as a tasty supplement to the final Fathers and Sons album.

    Concert organizers (Nick Gravenites is the concert producer) sell 2600 tickets, however, another 200 end up sneaking into the show. The Muddy Waters Fathers and Sons Band is the headliner, and will appear around 10:45 p.m., but organizers have planned a full evening of entertainment for fans.

 Here is the concert line-up:

    As patrons file in Jazz drummer Roger Wandershield is on stage playing an African Finger Piano.

   Then, the Phoenix Academy representative, Jo Anna Guthrie comes out, and gives a speech about people, language, and the academy's mission. However, many in the audience grow impatient during her speech, and yell out MUSIC!.

    After the formalities are satisfied, the five girl Rock band from San Francisco, Ace of Cups appear, and do an uneven set. They are a fairly new band on the rock scene. One critic calls their performance Amateurish.

    As the concert picks up energy, Nick Gravenites comes out with members of the Quicksilver Messenger ServiceGreg Elmore on drums, bassist David Freilberg and John Cipolina on guitar, and they perform a few songs.

    Then the bigger stars arrive, Butterfield, Bloomfield, Duck Dunn, Ira Kamin (organ), and Buddy Miles (in a shocking purple outfit) come out, play Good Morning Little School Girl, Butterfield does a very convincing version of  Losing Hand, the band plays a shuffle version of Down on Broadway, and Miles sings a song called Texas. One critic notes that Butterfield appears very uncomfortable with Miles' heavy drumming.

   Then, with no introduction, Sam Lay and Otis Spann appear on stage before Waters makes his star entrance. He sings Hoochie Coochie ManLong Distance Call,  Baby Please Don’t Go, The Same Thing, Sail On, and finishes with Mojo. As is the tradition with most Waters concerts, he works his audience into a frenzy with Mojo pt 1, exits, but returns to perform Mojo pt. 2. The curtain goes down, and the audience pays a ten minute standing ovation for the masters performance.

    Rather than ending the concert with such a moving climax, James Cotton, Otis Spann, Buddy Miles, Tom Webb of the Rock band The Flock, come out, and play a set of tunes. It is a good jam session to witness, but creates an anti-climatic ending to an otherwise great show.

   According to the review of the concert posted in Downbeat, All the men on the (studio album) session were suppose to play at the Thursday night concert, but none seemed particularly excited about it.

   However, Butterfield tells Rolling Stone, It really made me feel good to get back, and really be playing some shit on the harp that was the shit I came from.

   In August of '69, most of this Muddy Waters Fathers and Sons Band set is released with the studio album, and the double album manages to work its way up to peak at # 70 on Billboard Album Charts.

    It is the first of a series of albums that American blues artists will make with popular Blues Rock stars of the late '60's and '70's, some good, others are weak. For example, Fathers and Sons producer, Norman Dayron will do the Howlin' Wolf London Sessions the next year. Soon, B.B. King, and John Lee Hooker will follow the pack. It is a pretty impressive trend considering it all starts with a humble suggestion Mike Bloomfield makes to Marshall Chess in early '69.

                                                                  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

#37 Paul Butterfield and Fathers and Sons

    In the early 20th century, many of the American port cities are busy receiving massive shipments of raw materials for the processing of products which will be shipped to markets around the world. It is this industrial initiative which will help to catapult the country into the role of an economic power. However, all this industrial growth demands a huge labor force, and so, it sparks a huge national migration of workers to the industrial centers.
 
    For example, during the '40's, the City of  Chicago's population increases 14% , and then another 22% during the 50's. The demographic of the thousands who flood into the city tends to be poor, under-educated, Afro-Americans from Southern states along the Mississippi River, and especially the State of Mississippi. Young fathers and mothers often leave their lives back home, in search of prosperity for their future sons and daughters only to become lost in a life of menial labor, low pay, and substandard housing in the city's South Side neighborhoods. Many times the only connection they have with their former lives is the music, and that too is changing.

    By 1943, McKinley Morganfield is embarking on his second attempt at success in Chicago. This time he intends to use his music as the vehicle which will deliver him to success. After all, working long shifts in a factory is hard work, and music helps to settle the dust at the end of the day.

   So, he works a day job, and at night turns into Muddy Waters, playing his acoustic country blues anywhere he finds a willing audience. By 1948, he has an electric band, and touring in support of his first hit, I Can't Be Satisfied. Then in '53, two Polish-Americans, the Chess Brothers, offer to record him. The relationship he develops with the brothers will deliver several R. & B. hits over the decade.

    Many believe the key to Waters' success is that he is singing Country Blues, but with electric instruments, and this is what resonates with so many of the southerners who have migrated north.

  The motivation for his transition to electric instruments isn't impulsive, serendipitous, or even new. In the '50's, it is an industry standard first introduced by A&R man, Lester Melrose.  In many ways he is the unsung father of the Chicago Blues sound. (His format uses drums, bass, piano, guitar, and saxophone to support the singer.)

    However, Waters does make one significant alteration the Melrose format; he replaces the saxophone with an amplified harmonica. It's a wise adjustment as the popular little instrument maintains a emotional rural connection in his urban presentation. Waters is a harmonica player too, and knows exactly what he wants in a harp player. The new addition needs to be able to to solo in a way which compliments Waters' rural lyrics, and he finds that skill in Marion Walter Jacobs (Little Walter). Having a harmonica player of Jacobs' caliber will establish Waters as bandleader with an ear for talent.

    As a bandleader, Waters will command some of the greatest blues bands of his era, and in the process develop a patriarchal profile both on and off the bandstand. The influence Muddy Waters has on the genre of Chicago Blues, its musicians, and its offspring Blues Rock is as profound as any of the great band leaders working in any genre of the twentieth century.

    Unfortunately, by the late '50's, the art of the Country Blues singers who morph into electric Chicago Bluesmen is a dying trade. Waters' popularity is waning, and so is his music; both are in danger of fading into history. The children of his initial audience are searching for new sounds that resonate inside them, and that doesn't include electric Country Blues. It is a throng of young Rock musicians from Britain who pay a lip service to his music that temporarily release him from a future in obscurity.

    In the early '60's, the promotion of Chicago Blues by the young white Rock artists sparks a renewed interest in Waters, as well as a few other Blues artists, but it is the introduction of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in '65 that really re-energizes his profile.

    Butterfield Band members, Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, and Paul Butterfield are the nucleus of what the West Coast press will call the Chicago Crowd. They have become stars in the new world Blues Rock, and they never forget their roots. They never deny the historical significance, and respect they have for Muddy Waters either. Most of them know Waters on a personal level, he invites them into his home, allows them to sit-in with his band in local bars, and many times they have been on the receiving end of his fatherly support. So, as their fame grows, they don't just pay lip service to Waters, they actively promote his music to Rock promoters, the press, and audiences alike. It is the support of these young white bluesmen that helps Waters access a larger more diverse audience, and return him to active duty as one of a great Bluesman.
 

   In early '69, Mike Bloomfield tells Marshall Chess that he and other local artists, including Paul Butterfield will be in Chicago on April 24th to play a charity for The Phoenix Academy. During the conversation he tells Chess that he would like to record an album with Waters and Butterfield. Chess likes the idea and immediately agrees:  Michael was at my house, and he said he’d like to do a record with Muddy and Paul.  The title, Fathers and Sons was his idea.  Muddy thought that was a good name because he saw himself as a father to these younger musicians. Bloomfield's idea sets the wheels in motion for a Muddy Waters album which will be unlike any album the bluesman has done.

    As the project develops it is decided that another Chicago Crowd alumnus Norman Dayron will be the producer. He sifts through every Chess recording of  Waters, and manages to whittle the set list down to songs which are good and strong but not over- familiar....  Then Chess, hires Memphis groove bassist Donald Dunn, Otis Spann for keyboards, and shuffle drummer Sam Lay to create the studio band. Once everyone is on board, Tel Mar Studios is booked to record on April 21, 22, & 23, and then the Phoenix Academy charity show will take place in the 24th.

    Muddy Waters: Father and Sons is one of the first Chicago Blues albums which succeeds in crossing over to Rock audiences.The success of the album sparks a trend where many Chicago Blues artists record blues albums which are directed at larger Rock audiences.

   It is heavily promoted in the Rock press, with good reviews, and interviews with key players like Butterfield and Waters, but it isn't the publicity that makes Fathers and Sons such a great album.

    The musicianship, especially the harmonica work by Butterfield is stellar. Each song is an energetic, inventive expression of soulful blues though his harmonica. As one critic notes: Butterfield played with controlled power, with taste and invention to spare, and tons of energy to spare.....  Then too, Butterfield plays slashing, burning harmonica on these tracks never letting up and pushing things along...... The project is helped not a little by Butterfield’s intelligent and feelingful playing.... It is Butterfield's work on Fathers and Sons that establishes his profile as the logical successor to the late Little Walter. After the release of Fathers and Sons, Paul Butterfield becomes the greatest living blues harmonica player.

   There are documented face to face conversations between the two, but Butterfield never seems to seek out Walter's advice or make an effort to watch the master play. Butterfield has a healthy respect for Walter, but views him as a rival rather than an iconic figure. When Butterfield is establishing himself as credible singer/harmonica player, he makes a concerted effort to distance his technique and style from that of the established master. He succeeds at achieving this goal, but he shares some other qualities with Walter which are not as apparent in 1969.

    Over the course of his career, Little Walter develops a severe addiction to alcohol, and this disorder enhances his frequent erratic behavior. It is a personal element which is a major factor in his decline as an artist, and his early death. So, there is an irony in the sentiments Butterfield express' when an interviewer asks him about Little Walter.  He says: I’m only talking about the only person who can mess you around is yourself.  Little Walter, man, I had the greatest respect for that cat. He always treated me good.  But he messed himself around by juicing too much.  He was a great cat, a great musician, but he messed himself around.  That’s sad y’know?


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