Michael Bloomfield: From His Head to His Heart to His Hands-An Audio/Visual Scrapbook

By Fine, Thomas | ARSC Journal, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Michael Bloomfield: From His Head to His Heart to His Hands-An Audio/Visual Scrapbook


Fine, Thomas, ARSC Journal


Michael Bloomfield: From His Head to His Heart to His Hands--An Audio/Visual Scrapbook. Columbia/Legacy 88765476342 (3 CDs and 1 DVD).

Guitarist Michael Bloomfield (1943-1981) has been dead long enough that his music has faded in the popular memory. His friend and sometime collaborator, the keyboardist and record producer A1 Kooper, has produced what he calls "an audio-visual scrapbook" about Bloomfield, inviting another listen to and look at this incredibly talented but tortured soul.

Bloomfield's life was short and somewhat tragic. Raised in a conservative Jewish family in Chicago, he was often at odds with his father, a driven and successful businessman. In the box set booklet, Bloomfield's sister speculates that he was likely manic-depressive, and the drug and alcohol problems he developed in his formative years sped his demise. His flighty personality led him to walk away from many potential successes, and yet his raw talent and gusto allowed him to string together a recorded legacy of superb music, including gigs with Bob Dylan on "Highway 61 Revisited" and Muddy Waters on "Fathers and Sons," plus Bloomfield-headlined outings.

Eric Clapton, definitely not a slouch of a blues guitarist, in 1966 called Bloomfield "music on two legs." In a 1968 Rolling Stone magazine interview, Clapton said of Bloomfield: "His way of thinking really shocked me the first time I met him and spoke to him. I never met anyone with so many strong convictions."

Bloomfield cut his teeth and honed his skill in Chicago's predominantly black blues clubs, occasionally rubbing elbows with a young harmonica ace named Paul Butterfield. In 1964, Bloomfield was signed to Columbia Records. After initially failing as a solo recording artist, Bloomfield played lead guitar on the first two Butterfield Blues Band albums. He then led his own band, Electric Flag in the late 60s and early 70s. Electric Flag also featured future Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles.

Bloomfield then collaborated with Kooper on part of the "Super Session" album but disappeared after only a day of recording, leaving Kooper scrambling for another guitarist. Kooper found a willing Stephen Stills, who played on and penned the album's hit, "Season of the Witch." Bloomfield's erratic personality thus kept him out of the mainstream rock radio success enjoyed by the song. Bloomfield and Kooper also made a live album together. Then Bloomfield made a series of one-offs and guest appearances without a long-term major-label contract. He recorded a few times during his later years, mostly live albums with bands of varying quality. His playing was still spot-on at times, and producer Kooper seems to have harvested those prime cuts, sequencing most of them on CD3, which is subtitled "Last Licks."

Because this box set is intended as a multi-media tribute, the three music CDs are only part of the presentation. The DVD, "Sweet Blues--A Film about Michael Bloomfield," directed by Bob Sarles, is a tribute, a biography and a series of searing performance clips. Capping the audio/visual experience is the excellent booklet, with essays by Kooper and Michael Simmons, and a detailed discography with Kooper's comments about each tune's context in Bloomfield's career. Clearly, this project was a labor of love for Kooper and a long-overdue tribute to his late friend.

Kooper's main success in this project is presenting Bloomfield as a likeable if troubled character. Aside from great musical talent and a bit of a gun-slinger mentality Bloomfield possessed a quick sense of humor and a manner that seemed to relax audiences and fellow musicians, despite his often manic delivery. He had a deep knowledge of and respect for the blues and for the older bluesmen he met along the way. …

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