For many white Blues musicians starting out in the 1960s and drawn in by Beatlemania, entry to the genre was led by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
American Blues singer and harmonica player Paul Butterfield was, in the words of one of his most famous recordings, ‘born in Chicago’ in 1942 (though the song says "19 and 41"). Paul was raised in the long time home of Barak Obama, Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He attended a private school and studied classical flute with Walfrid Kujala of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
While that is hardly a standard background for the making of a Blues legend, it was pretty difficult to avoid the Blues in Chicago in the late 1950s.
After falling in love with the Blues and joining up with University of Chicago physics student and guitarist Elvin Bishop, Butterfield began hanging around Blues masters like Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Muddy Waters. Not a bad classroom!
It was from the touring band of Howlin’ Wolf that the two collected bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay to form their first Blues band. Even though Butterfield and Bishop were underage, the racially mixed group was able to polish their skills as the house band at Big John’s folk club on Chicago’s North side in 1963 and into 1964.
After adding now legendary guitarist Mike Bloomfield and others, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded their first album in 1964. That recording was scrapped, though we can hear it now from a 1995 re-release called The Original Lost Elektra Sessions. They tried again recording from a live date at the Cafe Au Go Go, but that too was abandoned. For a taste of that gig check out the What’s Shakin’ LP, oddly shared with The Lovin’ Spoonful.
After several of the band members took a timeout to join Bob Dylan for his landmark first electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival the band finally found their first recording success with their eponymously titled album.
It is that album that, along with the British Blues of the British Invasion era, which introduced (and hooked) me to the Blues. I’m not alone in that. I have played with several people over the years who have said that without the album, they might never have come to the Blues.
Soon after the release of the first album drummer Sam Lay was replaced by Billy Davenport for the also quite influential East West, which had a hippy overtone that led a whole different group of young musicians to the Blues.
During their run The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was part of some pretty important American music history, not only the Bob Dylan Newport Folk Festival gig, but both The Monterey Pop Festival and the original Woodstock.Past members have gone on to do some very important work, especially Elvin Bishop and the late Mike Bloomfield who helped found The electric Flag with Buddy Miles.
Hear music from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s eponymous first album this week on The Nine O’clock Blues.