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Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - East West (1966 us, pioneer influental blues psych rock)

In the fall of 1965, the blues guitar prodigy Michael Bloomfield dropped acid. He had a vision, a musical vision, that he said unlocked the secrets of Indian music.

After the all-night psychedelic experience, he began work on “the raga,” an improbable instrumental mash-up of Eastern drones and scales, and Western free jazz, rock and Chicago blues harmonica.

Bloomfield presented the improvisational concept to his fellow players in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Until that point, this was a fairly straightforward group out of Chicago — except for its white leader and its interracial mix of musicians.

“East-West” seemed to come out of nowhere, a full-blown shock of the new, but clues to its genesis could be found in the key players’ musical DNA:

Butterfield, a local harmonica player, had been schooled on blues by Muddy Waters (who called him “my son”). Butterfield’s harp playing was fluid and thoughtful. New to the group was Billy Davenport, a jazz drummer whose heroes included Charlie Parker, Gene Krupa and Max Roach. To pay the bills, he played the blues. A second white guitarist, Elvin Bishop, specialized in the often eerie sounds of seminal bluesman Robert Johnson. Keyboardist Mark Naftalin studied music theory and composition.

From this cauldron emerged one of the boldest experiments in the history of blues and rock. The group’s second album, “East-West,” hit the street a year later, its title song running 13-plus minutes. This, however, was not the full-blown “East-West,” which in performance could top an hour’s length.

“This song was based, like Indian music, on a drone,” Naftalin has said. “In Western musical terms it ’stayed on the one.’”

Bloomfield, Butterfield and Bishop take solo turns and come together just the song’s unforgettable climax. The stucture is that of a suite, with different modes (scales) ruling different sections. Bishop takes the first solo spot, with Bloomfield doing the heavy lifting throughout, running through his acid-flash collection of exotic modes while his partner drones along.

Davenport works furiously in the background, applying the (oxymoronic) disciplines of free jazz. He sometimes imitates the tabla and mridanga drummers of Indian sitar ensembles. At other times he plays what sounds like bossa nova/samba.

Butterfield provides ballast and encouragement throughout, before propelling “East-West” in its final minutes, his blues harp channeling Coltrane as the guitars go spinning-dervish around him. At one point, Butterfield responds to the creative chaos with dissonant honks, a brilliant and somehow logical move.

“East/West” influenced many of the California psychedelic bands, lighting the way to free-form improvisation, instrumental textures for their own sakes, dissonance and non-traditional scales. Few of these hippie acts had the musical chops to even approximate the Butterfield band’s achievement, but some did — such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana and to some extent the Grateful Dead.

Bloomfield left the band after the “East-West” album, and formed Electric Flac before join forces with Al Kooper in some great collaborations, "Super Sessions", and later with Nick Gravenites, he found dead in his car on February 15, 1981 (he was 37). Butterfield, also died early, but not before the spirit of “East-West” infused a series of excellent albums by his growing band, notably 1968’s “In My Own Dream.” Bishop went on to a career in Southern rock and enjoyed some success.

Indian and Arabic sounds never left rock. The Beatles’ George Harrison, of course, became the highest-profile student of Eastern sounds, studying with the sitar master Ravi Shankar. In 1966, the brought the instruments to the Beatles recordings with “Norwegian Wood.” The Beatles continued with the instrument for several years.

1. Walkin' Blues (Robert Johnson) - 3:15
2. Get Out Of My Life, Woman (Allen Toussaint) - 3:13
3. I Got A Mind To Give Up Living  (Traditional) - 4:57
4. All These Blues (Traditional) - 2:18
5. Work Song (Nat Adderley, Oscar Brown) - 7:53
6. Mary, Mary (Michael Nesmith) - 2:48
7. Two Trains Running (Muddy Waters) - 3:50
8. Never Say No (Traditional) - 2:57
9. East-West (Mike Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites) - 13:10

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
*Paul Butterfield - Harmonica, Vocals
*Mike Bloomfield – Guitar
*Elvin Bishop – Guitar, Vocals
*Mark Naftalin – Keyboards
*Jerome Arnold – Bass
*Billy Davenport - Drums

Paul Butterfield's back pages
1966-68  Strawberry Jam
1967  The Resurrection Of The Pigboy Crabshaw
1968  In My Own Dream
1969  Keep On Moving
1970  Live 
1971  Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin'
1973  Paul Butterfield's Better Days
1973  It All Comes Back (Japan Edition)
1976  Put It In Your Ear

Elvin Bishop
1969-70/72  Party Till The Cows Come Home
1974  Elvin Bishop - Let It Flow
1977  Live! Raisin' Hell (2012 remaster)

Mike Bloomfield's tapestry
1967  Electric Flag - The Trip
1968-69  Electric Flag - An American Music Band / A Long Time Comin'  
196?-7?  The Electric Flag - Live
1968  Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield - The Lost Concert Tapes, Filmore East
1969  Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper - The Live Adventures
1969  Michael Bloomfield with Nick Gravenites & Friends - Live At Bill Graham's Fillmore West
1969  Nick Gravenites - My Labors
1973  Bloomfield, Hammond, Dr.John - Triumvirate (Japan remaster)
1976  KGB - KGB
1976-77  Michael Bloomfield - Live at the Old Waldorf
1977  Prescription For The Blues


  1. Marios, very thanks - i have the vinyl from almost 30 years and for me this is the best album of them - now i have a beautiful digital version!!!

  2. I never say it enough, but thanks Marios for sharing! Every day I find some incredible music on this blog. Totally wonderful!


  3. My favorite BBB album. 'I Got A Mind To Give Up Living' is a masterpiece...

  4. thank you for your excellent posts!

  5. Informative article, but note that "Norwegian Wood" was released in December 1965 having recorded it in Octobe. Other Indian influenced music abounded in pockets around this time: the Byrds' Gene Clark was fiddling with "Eight Miles High" as early as November of that year, with initial recording commencing the following month (though the master was taped in January '66). The Kinks "See My Friends" is generally acknowledged as the earliest raga-pop music, released in the UK in July 1965.