Book Review – Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero

 

bloomIt was back in 1962 when Michael Bloomfield heard Bob Dylan’s first album. He didn’t think much of it.  A year later, Bloomfield met Dylan and watched him perform when the folk singer was appearing in a Chicago club. This time he was knocked out by him. They spent some time jamming and evidently got along well. They met again in 1964 when Bloomfield was in New York for a recording session with John Hammonds Jr. In June 1965, Bloomfield received a phone call from Dylan saying he’s making a new album. Would he like to play on it? Bloomfield, at the time, was part of the still unrecorded Paul Butterfield Blues Band quickly agreed and flew to New York. The album would turn out to be Highway 61 Revisited. He didn’t play on all tracks, but his guitar was featured on Like a Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues and Maggie’s Farm.   It was the start of a personal and professional relationship that lasted on and off almost until Bloomfield’s death in 1981.

1965 would turn out to be a pivotal year for the guitar man. Recording on Dylan’s historic album was only the start. During those sessions he met Al Kooper who would become an important part in Bloomfield’s career later on. The year would also see Bloomfield play at the famous Newport Folk Festival, not only as part of the Butterfield Blues Bland, but as part of  Dylan’s band during his infamous “going electric” set. Later that year, The Butterfield Blues Band, up to this point only known in their hometown of Chicago, would record their first album.

Ed Ward’s revised biography, Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero is an aptly titled, essential and absorbing read for anyone interested in the history of rock and roll. This edition includes new interviews as well as the complete Rolling Stone interview. Born to a upper middle class family, Bloomfield. like many artists, was an outsider growing up. By the time he was 15 he was frequenting Chicago’s Southside nightclubs where blues singers like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf performed.  The black musicians didn’t take him seriously at first and he admits that in the beginning he wasn’t very good. He learned quickly and he had the talent and style to convince one and all.

Bloomfield made two albums with Butterfield before differences between the two made him leave the group. Fortunately, that was not before the second Butterfield album, East-West, added to Bloomfield’s growing reputation.

After leaving Butterfield, he formed the Electric Flag which included Nick Gravenites and Buddy Miles. Their first project was the soundtrack for Roger Corman’s The Trip. They appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and also released their first real album. However, for  Bloomfield, it would not last long. He left the group soon after.  In 1968, he reunited with Dylan session player Al Kooper, and along with Stephen Stills, unintentionally formed what was essentially the first super group. Their album, Super Session, was an artistic and commercial success. It was followed by The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, recorded live at the Fillmore West. Bloomfield felt the albums were “scams” and calling it “super” was just a way to sell records.

Ed Ward (Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll) chronicles Bloomfield’s career with plenty of first hand accounts from family, friends and fellow musicians plus interviews the author did with his subject. Like many musician’s of the era, Bloomfield was plagued by drugs. Insomnia was also a life long problem he had since his teen years.

Compared to many of his contemporaries, Bloomfield is less remembered today than he deserves. One only has to listened to his work on Highway 61 Revisited or Super Session to realize this is a guy who could give Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix a run for their guitar money. This book, along with the 1984 album, Bloomfield: A Retrospective, which includes 27 essential tracks as well a documentary film, hopefully will remedy that.

On February 15, 1981,  Michael Bloomfield, like Hank Williams,  was found dead inside an automobile. He was 37 years old.

 

Going to the Movies with John Lennon – Sorta Of…

john-lennon-yoko-ono_650It happened on September 30, 1976. Martin Ritt’s film, The Front, starring Woody Allen, opened that day at the Coronet theater in New York. I have been, and still am, a huge Woody Allen fan since his standup days when I first saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show.

coronet44At the time,  I was living and  working in New York. Being the Woody fan that I was, I took a half day off from work to go see The Front. The Coronet theater was located on Manhattan’s Eastside. The Coronet, its sister theater, the Baronet along with the Cinema I and Cinema II were high end  theaters. All the studios and distributors wanted their big films to be booked into these theaters.  Foreign films like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Antonioni’s Blow-Up to domestic works like The Exorcist and The Graduate had their premiere engagements at one of these fours theaters located on the Upper East Side. The four theaters filled the entire block, between 59th and 60th streets, except for  a Bookmasters store in between.

baronet-coronet-theatres_cr1The theater was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon. In New York, Woody was always a big draw. After the film ended,  everyone began filing out. It was at this time, I suddenly noticed walking out right in front of me among the crowd were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Growing up in the 60’s, and a Beatles fan, I pretty much stood there stunned. In truth, while I saw the both of them, it was Yoko who I first recognized. I had to take a second look at who was standing next to her. Of course,  it was Lennon.

They and everyone continued to slowly leave the theater.  A few folks said hello and he returned the acknowledge. Most people just looked and gawked, like I did. Some, I am sure didn’t even recognize them, though they are hard to miss. New Yorker’s can be a jaded bunch and seeing famous people in the street is not an uncommon experience. A few famous people though can even shake up the jaded New Yorker. Lennon was one of those.

 I purposely stayed a few steps behind them all the way out of the theater until we all were out in the street. For those who are unaware, that block of theaters were located directly across the street from Bloomingdales. That was John and Yoko’s next destination. They crossed over 3rd avenue and disappeared in the department store. I stood by the theater watching them, cursing to myself that I did not have my camera with me. This naturally was in the days long before cellphones.

I never saw The Beatles in concert, but over the years I did get to see Paul, George and Ringo separately in concerts. Never did with John, however, I did get to go to the movies with him. Sorta…

 

 

 

Review of Film Noir At Twenty Four Frames Per Second

book-cover_dsc_0583-003Ivan G. Shreve Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear gave a fabulous review of my e-book. You can read it here!

http://thrillingdaysofyesteryear.blogspot.com/2016/09/book-review-film-noir-at-twenty-four.html

…and you can buy it here!

https://www.amazon.com/FIlm-Noir-Twenty-Frames-Second-ebook/dp/B00JZCDPEW/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8#nav-subnav

Longmire is Back!

longmire-htmWalt Longmire, portrayed wonderfully by Australian actor Robert Taylor, rides again this month with a doubleheader for fans of the sturdy Gary Cooper type sheriff of Absaroka County. Despite Taylor being from half way around the world he sounds and looks like a true westerner. Continue reading “Longmire is Back!”

Quarry – New Cinemax Series Scores A Hit

quarry-on-set

The new  TV fall season has barely begun, yet what is most likely going to be one of the fall’s most interesting shows premiered on Cinemax last Friday night. Quarry is based on a series of Max Allan Collins novels. The show follows the story of Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), a recently discharged marine just back from Vietnam. Set in the early 1970’s, the political winds of the county were blowing against the war. Unlike soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan now, nobody was thanking Vietnam Vets for their service. Mac and his fellow marine and friend, Arthur, are greeted by protestors at their home town Memphis airport. Continue reading “Quarry – New Cinemax Series Scores A Hit”

Book Review: Oh, Florida!

FLorida

A must read for anyone thinking of moving to Florida. You just might have second thoughts! Author Craig Pittman (Tampa Bay Times) writes in a breezy informative style that is as engaging as it is funny. The sad, or scary part, is everything he writes about is true. It all happened. No exaggeration needed. From teachers who have had sex with their students, remember Debra Lefave, a sexy blonde bombshell,  being the most prominent to crazies like a woman who thought riding a Manatee, an endangered species,   as if it were a surf board would be a sane thing to do. Of course the state is loaded with crazy politicians. Now most states have a weird politician or two, but Florida seems to be growing them like oranges including the only Mayor to ever be over thrown in a military coup.  We also meet Old Sparky,  Florida’s famed electric chair and a long, long, long history of land swindles (swamp land for sale!). And let’s not forget the ‘stand your ground’ law. That all said, Pittman does not just focus on the crazies and the weird. While the state has more than its share of both some good and smart people have emerged and the author gives them their due.

The book is entertaining, informative and a warning to anyone contemplating moving to the Sunshine State.