Personalities | Mike Bloomfield | Blending in with the Blues | Guitar Heroes
Blues-rock guitarist Mike Bloomfield was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1943, to an affluent Jewish family. He possessed an innate ability on guitar, which he began playing at the age of 13, initially influenced by Scotty Moore.
Despite his background, Bloomfield quickly became a devotee of Chicago’s indigenous blues scene, frequently visiting clubs on the city’s South Side. He often jumped on to the stage, asking to sit in on guitar.
Bloomfield’s empathy for blues performers saw him accepted in an area where white faces were rare. He encountered CBS producer John Hammond, who signed him to the label, but Bloomfield’s solo work remained unreleased until after his death. An equally important meeting was with harmonica player and singer Paul Butterfield, whose Paul Butterfield Blues Band Bloomfield joined in 1964. Their eponymous 1965 debut was one of the first blues albums to feature a white singer, anticipating the British blues boom of the late 1960s.
East-West (1966) was a groundbreaking work that saw Bloomfield hailed for his fluid lead guitar, particularly on the epic, improvisational title track’s blend of blues, psychedelia and Indian raga. Bloomfield switched between a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul on this album, and he would use both guitars throughout his career. His Les Paul work was particularly influential for the way he created long, sustained notes on the instrument. He preferred a clean sound with plenty of reverb and vibrato, rarely using distortion or feedback. Bloomfield’s session work for CBS was equally groundbreaking as he accompanied Bob Dylan’s first, famously controversial steps into electric rock on Highway 61 Revisited (1965).
Weary of touring, Bloomfield left Butterfield in 1967 to form the short-lived Electric Flag, which disbanded after one album. He teamed up with Al Kooper, who had played organ with Dylan, and the pair made Super Session (1968) with Stephen Stills and The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper (1968). Bloomfield’s career in the 1970s was a lower-profile affair. He continued to record and undertake session work, but he had descended into drug addiction and suffered from arthritis in his hands. In February 1981, he died of a heroin overdose.
Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: East-West
The Electric Flag: A Long Time Comin’
Bloomfield / Kooper / Stills: Super Session
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