Friday, February 3, 2012

The #98 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Mike Bloomfield

We're well into this special that features The Top 100 Guitarists of the Rock Era*.  The late Mike Bloomfield checks in at #98:
#98:  Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Electric Flag
 20 years as an active guitarist

Bloomfield was born on July 28, 1943 in Chicago, Illinois.  His influences included Scotty Moore, B.B. King, Freddie King, Ray Charles and Little Richard.  Bloomfield became one of the first superstars of the 1960's to earn their reputation almost entirely on their instrumental ability.  Mike was attracted to blues at an early age and spent time at the blues clubs on Chicago's South Side.  B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy were among Bloomfield's early supporters.
Bloomfield met Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop and ran his own small blues club the Fickle Pickle.  Soon after, John Hammond, producer and scout at Columbia Records, discovered Bloomfield and signed him to a contract.  He recorded a few sessions but ended up joining the Paul Butterfield Blues Band which also included Bishop.  Bloomfield's early work brought much acclaim.  His "East-West's", thirteen-minute title track, which combined blues, jazz, classical Indian raga and psychedelic rock, was especially noteworthy.
Bloomfield also worked as a session musician with Bob Dylan and his guitar work was a major part of Dylan's change into electric music.  Dylan asked Mike to join him permanently but Bloomfield rejected in order to continue playing with the Butterfield Band.  But Bloomfield and fellow group members Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay did back Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival for his controversial first live electric performance.

Although Bloomfield enjoyed the work with the Butterfield Band, he was exhausted with the constant touring schedule and when he relocated to San Francisco, California, he created his own group, Electric Flag.  He hired drummer Buddy Miles away from Wilson Pickett and the Electric Flag debuted at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.  However, the use of drugs took its toll on the band and they split up after just one album.
Bloomfield also gained fame for his work with Al Kooper on the album Super Session in 1968, which featured jamming by the two.  Stephen Stills contributed to the album as well.  Bloomfield continued to do session and solo work from 1969 to 19890, releasing his debut solo album It's Not Killing Me in 1969.  He worked with John Cale and Dr. John and was a member for a brief time of the failed supergroup KGB with Ray Kennedy, Barry Goldberg, bassist Rick Grech and Carmine Appice on drums. 

Bloomfield played in local San Francisco clubs in the 1970's and had planned to tour Sweden in 1981 but was found dead on February 15 in the front seat of his car, victim of drugs.
Bloomfield originally used the Fender Telecaster but switched to a 1954 Gibson Les Paul when he joined the Butterfield Blues Band.  He then picked up a 1959 Les Paul Standard for use later in his career.  Bloomfield rarely used feedback and distortion, preferring a loud but clean sound with a good amount of reverb and vibrato.  One of his favorite amplifiers was a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb.  He used chromatic notes within the pentatonic framework and his solos reflected a great degree of fluidity. 

Gibson has released a Michael Bloomfield Les Paul, replicating his 1959 Standard, in recognition of Bloomfield's influence.  Guitarists such as Carlos Santana, Slash, Eric Johnson and Phil Keaggy have all been influenced by Bloomfield's early work.

Mike Bloomfield ranks as The #98 Guitarist of the Rock Era*...

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