The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – The Original Lost Elektra Sessions

The Original Lost Elektra Sessions (1995)

B+

1. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl 2. Just To Be With You 3. Help Me 4. Hate To See You Go 5. Poor Boy 6. Nut Popper #1 7. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright 8. Lovin’ Cup 9. Rock Me 10. It Hurts Me Too 11. Our Love Is Driftin’ 12. Take Me Back, Baby 13. Mellow Down Easy 14. Ain’t No Need To Go Further 15. Love Her With A Feeling 16. Piney Brown Blues 17. Spoonful 18. That’s All Right 19. Goin’ Down Slow

 

OK, first things first: in their earliest incarnation, the Butterfield Blues Band, content-wise, played Chicago blues, not rock ‘n roll. This is especially true on this archival release of Butter and the boys’ first recording session in December 1964 for their planned first album, the fruits of which were ultimately scrapped. You may think you’re used to this idea, since the Stones and the Kinks and the Animals and all those guys did so many blues covers on the earlier albums. But if you’re politely sitting through hyper-repetitive underwritten 12-bar dogshit like “Help Me” and “Hate To See You Go” expecting a red hot Chuck Berry cover to come storming down the pipe and save the day, quit waitin’, cause it ain’t coming. All that is coming are your oft-covered standards (which weren’t so oft-covered back in ’64, of course)… your “Spoonful,” your “It Hurts Me Too,” your “Rock Me Baby,” and a bunch more in the same vein that won’t be as familiar to the average classic rock head.

The saving grace is that nobody was playing that stuff this hard and fast when this session took place, were they? Certainly not the original guys like Muddy and the Wolfman, who were more about groove than power – evidence of which can be found on these recordings in the performances of Sam Lay, Howlin’ Wolf’s old drummer, who, as solid as he is, doesn’t play with near the same drive that the guitarists and frontman do. The Stones might have had as much punch, but they didn’t have anyone with near the chops of a Bloomfield, and certainly not a Butterfield. The Yardbirds with Clapton might have been comparable from a lead guitar standpoint, and Eric was certainly a blues purist while he was in the band, but it’s not like Keith Relf and Chris Dreja were up there shredding alongside him. And they were doing sissy Brit invasion pop like “For Your Love” anyway (don’t think I’m putting it down – it’s a GREAT song!). Besides, those guys are almost beside the point. They were foreign imitators… the Butterfield Blues Band were the real thing, straight off the mean streets of Chi-town.

Don’t be expecting some lost authentic Chicago blues masterpiece with this collection, though. It’s actually quite rough, and may take a few listens to get used to. They play everything much too fast and even sound a bit under-rehearsed at times. And while the recording quality is clear and punchy, there’s no sense of space to anything and it’s mixed kind of ham-handedly (for instance, what the fuck is going on with ride cymbal in “Poor Boy”? Did whoever remixed this thing for release put a phaser on it or something? It completely ruins the song!). But good god could they play. Have you ever heard Paul Butterfield play the harp (and yeah, that’s the proper terminology when it’s played in a blues context… the harmonica is for folkies, and only British fruits like John Lennon call it the mouth organ)? I recommend it sometime. He probably applies it more liberally here than on any of his other records. Mike Bloomfield ain’t no slouch on the six string himself, even though he appears on no more than half of this material for some reason (leaving the very solid but less spectacular Elvin Bishop to hold down the guitar fort all by his lonesome on the remainder). Their searing interplay on the speedy instrumental “Nut Popper #1” is so kickass it will almost make you forget that the song is called “Nut Popper #1,” a title so hilarious that there’s even some hidden studio chatter at the end of the record making fun of it. Bloomfield even gives the great Texas bluesman and guitar wizard Freddie King a run for his money on King’s slow “You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling,” and that’s no easy feat.

There are enough gems here to keep any fan happy – a barnburning take on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” a surprisingly great smoky original Butterfield composition called “Lovin’ Cup,” the bubbly “Ain’t No Need To Go No Further,” a previously unknown to me little nugget written by Al Duncan, a drumming associate of mainstays Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, et al. Fans will also be interested to hear early versions of songs that would end up on a number of later Butterfield records, like “Just To Be With You” (In My Own Dream), “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right” (Live), and two that would be re-recorded for the band’s official first album, “Mellow Down Easy” and “Our Love Is Drifting,” which is at this point was just a “Green Onions” rip off. But as I mentioned in the first paragraph, their choice of material here at times leaves something to be desired. The good news is that the songs they chose to record from hereon out would never be this formulaic again. We all gotta start somewhere. This was a pretty promising place to do it from.



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