Jewish Telegraph, March 2018
MICHAEL Bloomfield may have died in 1981, yet interest in the blues guitarist is as strong as ever.
Wienerworld are releasing San Francisco Nights next Friday, just a couple of months after issuing Live at McCabe’s Guitar Workshop in 1977.
The latest release was recorded live at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco on April 14, 1977. Bloomfield’s band included Barry Goldberg (piano, organ) and Mark Naftalin (keyboards).
The album includes live versions of I’m Glad I’m Jewish, Greatest Gifts From Heaven, Eyesight To the Blind and Linda Lou among others.
But all this interest in the rock legend comes as no surprise to Bloomfield historian David Dann.
“I was more surprised that interest in him languished to the degree it had in the latter part of the 20th century,” said Dann, who runs a website dedicated the musician and is writing the ultimate Bloomfield biography.
“Today, there is vastly more interest in Michael and his music, as there should be.
“I think that once popular music began moving away from its late 1960s’ focus on soloists, on virtuoso players, and became fascinated with other forms — glam, punk, indie, etc — people lost track of Bloomfield and his extraordinary contribution to American pop music.”
Bloomfield was born in 1943 into a wealthy Chicago Jewish-American family.
It was after his family moved to Glencoe, Illinois, that he joined local bands.
Bloomfield first shot to prominence when he joined forces with Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop for The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
After a couple of albums, he left and formed The Electric Flag with Goldberg and vocalist Nick Gravenites in 1967.
Two years later, he was releasing albums under his own name.
In 2013, Sony released the boxset From His Head To His Heart To His Hands which included I’m Glad I’m Jewish.
Bloomfield died from a drug overdose in his car on February 15, 1981 — on the day his album Crusin’ for a Brusin’ was released.
Dann’s interest in Bloomfield began in 1968.
“I bought Super Session, Bloomfield’s ‘jam’ album with Al Kooper, and was amazed by his playing,” he said.
“I didn’t really know anything about blues or guitar playing, but hearing it made me want to learn how to play.
“In early 1969, I saw Michael perform with Kooper in Boston, a gig that turned out to be the last live Super Session show, and I was equally amazed by his dynamic stage presence.
“The way he moved as he soloed was quite impressive. I thought he was going to fall off the stage!”
Dann believes that Bloomfield should be ranked “among the great blues-rock guitar players of the 60s, right up there with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton”.
He added: “For my money, he was much more soulful than either of those two masters and he was more adventurous than Clapton.
“He was also a scholar of American musical history, its styles and its guitarists. I think there were very few rock guitarists then, or even today, who knew the music of artists as obscure as George Van Eps and Robert Lee McCollum.
“But Michael knew them both — McCollum, also known as Robert Nighthawk, he knew personally — and he knew many others. He even gave lectures at Stanford and other California colleges on American music and blues.”
Dann adds that Bloomfield was “very proud of his Jewish heritage”. He said: “He was barmitzvah in Glencoe, Illinois, and had seders at his home in Mill Valley, California, with friends and family later in life.
“He wrote the delightful blues song I’m Glad I’m Jewish with lyrics that might not have pleased an Orthodox rabbi, but they clearly expressed Bloomfield’s affinity for his roots.
“Michael had a pretty casual relationship with organised religion, but he certainly had a deep appreciation for Jewish culture, its humour, music and artistry.
“He told Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner that when he played Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, with his band The Electric Flag, he felt ill at ease because there were no Jews anywhere in the audience.”
Dann added that Bloomfield’s death was “big news. There were pages of coverage in Rolling Stone and most of the other alternative papers, plus lengthy obituaries in most major newspapers.
“Time and Newsweek ran notices and radio stations did tributes. The Fillmore’s Bill Graham, a close friend of Michael’s, held a New Orleans-themed party following the guitarist’s funeral and hundreds of his fans and friends attended.
“Though many of those closest to Michael were not entirely surprised by his death — his issues with heroin were well-known by that time — his demise left a void that many to this day still feel acutely.”
Dann says he can hear Bloomfield’s influence in guitarists like Carlos Santana, Robben Ford and Jimmy Vivino.
“But Bloomfield had a sound that is very difficult to replicate,” he added. “There are hundreds of guitarists who can sound like Clapton and dozens who can imitate Hendrix, but Michael’s distinctive style is not easily copied.
“But his influence is primarily in how serious guitarists approach improvisation — not only in blues, but in other forms as well. Bloomfield always was trying new things. He was fearless in that way.”
By day, Dann is a commercial artist, editor and art director, but he has been playing blues guitar for almost half a century.
His links to Bloomfield include visiting the same clubs in Chicago where his hero learned from the masters and attending New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, which Bloomfield attended.
He also attended the University of Chicago, where Bloomfield and Butterfield hung out in the early 1960s.
“So I guess it was inevitable that I should create a website dedicated to his music, and that I should write an exhaustive biography of his life and career for the University of Texas Press, due out in 2019,” Dann laughed.
And what would he recommend for any Bloomfield newcomer?
“Perhaps the best known of Michael’s recorded performances are those he did with Al Kooper for the first Super Session LP,” he said.
“Really best demonstrates Bloomfield’s amazing control and phrasing when it comes to blues.