The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Introductory Page

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band



These days, Paul Butterfield and his mighty Blues Band might be closer to a footnote than a headline in the history of rock ‘n roll, but one that sure seems to get cited a lot without most people noticing. Like the popular girl’s less hot but strangely alluring friend, or Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the Butterfield Blues Band seemed to show up at all the important moments while getting looked over in favor of somebody more famous. Monterrey Pop? They were there. Woodstock? They were there too. Backing up Dylan when he first went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, aka one of, if not the most important moments in the annals of rock? Yup, that was them. Paul even showed up in The Last Waltz, which is probably about as legit a rock royalty cred as you can get.

It’s easy enough to understand. The Butterfield Blues Band, in their early days, stood out from their roughly 882,296,425 wannabe whiteboy Chicago blues band contemporaries by 1) actually being from Chicago, and 2) somehow managing to stage a major coup and hijack Howlin’ Wolf’s rhythm section (drummer Sam Lay and bassist Jerome Arnold). They were so bona fide, in other words, they even had two real live black Chicago bluesmen in the band. The three white dudes were no slouches, however, to say the least. Elvin Bishop, a mighty fine guitarist in his own right, at first played a secondary role to the precocious young Jewish hotshot Mike Bloomfield, at the time probably one of the most impressively flashy and distinctive guitarists in the States (he also played on a bunch of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, and later went on to form the Electric Flag). Then there was Paul Butter himself, who, in addition to being a tough and soulful singer, did not so much “play the harmonica” as coax the cries of the mystical mouth harp dragon from his instrument. I won’t go so far as to call him unequivocally the best blues harp player who ever lived, simply because I think it would be tacky to argue so bluntly against his forbearers like Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. But when I hear his incredibly thick, fat tone, his effortless trills and bends, I can’t help but consider him the Jimi Hendrix of the blues harp (which I guess makes that asshole from Blues Traveler the equivalent of Steve Vai).

Together, from 1964-66 these guys played a style of Chicago blues combining the grit and power of the original form with the vibrancy and excitement of emerging rock ‘n roll with a conviction and authenticity that not even the Stones could match at the time. The original crew didn’t stick together long, unfortunately – Lay left the band after their first album, Bloomfield and Arnold after their second, with Bishop following suit after their fourth in 1968. This allowed Paul to expand his lineup as the band morphed into a stoned soul picnic incorporating a horn section and early funk influences. After the Butterfield Blues Band ceased activity in 1971, Paul moved to Woodstock, started a short-lived new band called Better Days (who I’ve never heard), and then sporadically released solo albums (which I’ve also never heard) until his death in 1987. That’s what happens when you drink and take too many drugs, kids! You die early! But you also become a famous rock star, so go for it!

No, seriously, drugs are bad.

One Comment

  1. Robin wrote:

    Am so excited! Get on this, kid!! One of my favorite bands in the whole wide world…….

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