MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD-FROM HIS HEAD TO HIS HEART TO HIS HANDS.

MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD-FROM HIS HEAD TO HIS HEART TO HIS HANDS.

Michael Bloomfield was an unlikely candidate to become one of the finest blues guitarists of his generation. He was born in Chicago in 1943. His family were a wealthy Jewish-American family who lived in the north side of Chicago. His family hoped he’d join the family catering business. That wasn’t for Michael. He’d other plans. Ever since he’d been interested in music his first love was the blues. This is apparent on the box set of Michael Bloomfield’s music From His Head To His Heart To His Hands, which was released by Song on 3rd February 2014. 

His Head To His Heart To His Hands is the perfect introduction to Michael Bloomfield’s career. It’s a four disc set. The first three discs feature a combination of Michael’s collaborations and solo work. Disc one is entitled Roots, disc two Jams and disc three Last Licks. On these three discs are forty six tracks, which feature Michael’s collaborations with Muddy Waters, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Electric Flag and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. There’s also nine unreleased tracks on the three discs. This makes His Head To His Heart To His Hands a veritable musical treasure trove. An added bonus is disc four, a documentary about Michael’s life. Entitled Sweet Blues: A Film About Michael Bloomfield, is the finishing touch. For the newcomer to Michael Bloomfield, this is the perfect place to start. Why? I’ll tell you that after I’ve told you about Michael Bloomfield and his music.

Growing up, the young  Michael Bloomfield literally lived for blues music. By the time Michael was a teenager, he was a regular fixture at Chicaago’s south side blues’ clubs. Already, Michael was playing alongside blues legends like Sleepy Johns Estes, Little Brother Montgomery and Yank Rachell. For a blues fan like Michael, he was living the dream. Here he was playing alongside some of the greatest blues musicians. Whether he realised it, this was Michael’s musical apprenticeship. 

By the time Michael was twenty-two, he was well on the way to establishing a reputation as one of the best guitarists of his generations,  Michael had met first Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop when he was doing the rounds of Chicago’s blues clubs. By then, Michael had recorded a few sessions as a solo artist for Columbia. Despite that, he decided he’d rather join The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. 

Michael was a member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band when they recorded their 1965 eponymous debut album. It reached number 123 in the US Billboard 200 and is perceived as a classic album. No wonder. Look at the rhythm section. Accompanying Michael and Elvin Bishop on guitar were Howlin’ Wolf’s bassist Jerome Arnold and veteran blues drummer Sam Lay. Later in 1965, Michael played on another classic album.

Bob Dylan had been an admirer of Michael’s guitar playing. He’d been aware of Michael from his early years playing in Chicago. So, he made the call to Michael and asked him to play on his forthcoming album. This would be Bob Dylan’s seminal classic Highway 61 Revisited. Recording took place over nine days in June, July and August 1965. Highway 61 Revisited reached number three in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the UK. It featured the classic song Like A Rolling Stone. Michael had played his part not just in a classic album, but one of the most memorable songs in the history of modern music. However, this was just the top of the musical iceberg. 

In 1966, Michael returned to playing with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He played on their sophomore album East-West. It was recorded at the legendary Chess studios. The magic rubbed off and East-West reached number sixty-five in the US Billboard 200 Charts. This proved to the last album Michael recorded with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He’d grown disenchanted with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Part of the problem was the gruelling tours The Paul Butterfield Blues Band headed out on. So, Michael formed his own band The Electric Flag.

With drummer Buddy Miles and keyboardist Barry Goldberg, Michael founded The Electric Flag. They were joined by a variety of well known musicians. Their music is best described as a fusion of blues, rock and soul. Having made their debut at the Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967,The Electric Flag went on to release  three albums. Their debut was 1967s soundtrack to the move  The Trip. This was followed by 1968s A Long Time Coning and The Electric Flag: An American Music Band. Sadly, The Electric Flag was a short-lived band, who never quite filled their potential. They literally fell apart amidst tales of drug abuse, poor management and disagreements between band members. Things go so bad, that Michael left his own band and began working with Al Kooper.

Along with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, Michael released the first of what would be several collaborations. He released Super Sessions on Columbia in 1968. Then a year later, Michael released his debut solo album. 

It’s Not Killing Me, Michael’s debut album was released in 1969, which showcased Michael’s fluid guitar playing. This had become Michael’s trademark style. It featured on three other albums Michael played on that showcased Michael’s guitar playing. This includes Live At Bill Graham’s Fillimore West and The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. The other release was Fathers and Sons, a collaboration with Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Sam Lay and Donald “Duck” Dunn. Remarkably, this wasn’t the only albums where Michael Bloomfield’s guitar playing can be heard.

Before the sixties were over, Michael had played alongside The Chicago Loop Band band on their 1966 album. Michael played on Grape Jam, Moby Grape’s 1968 sophomore album. However, Michael didn’t play guitar. Instead he played piano. The same year, Michael credited as Mukal Blumfield played on Mother Earth’s Living With Animals album. Then in 1969, the busiest year of Michael’s career so far, Michael played on Muddy Waters’ Fathers and Sons. For a blues lover like Michael, this must have been one of the highlights of his career. Another album Michael played on, was Janis Joplin’s I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Released in June 1969, the album was certified platinum. If only Michael could release such a successful album? Maybe his luck would change in the seventies?

For the first half of the seventies, Michael concentrated on session work and collaborations. Michael and Nick Gravenites provided the soundtrack to Steel Yard Blues in 1972. Then in 1973, Michael, John Paul Hammond and Dr. John joined forces on Triumvirate. While this wasn’t the most successful album ever released, it  showcased three hugely talented musicians at the peak of their powers. So did the solo albums Michael released in the second half of the seventies.

1976 saw Michael release If You Love These Blues, Play ‘Em As You Please. His previous album, Try Before You Buy was recorded in 1973, but wasn’t released until the eighties. So, If You Love These Blues, Play ‘Em As You Please wasn’t just Michael’s first solo album of the seventies, but only his sophomore album. His third album was 1977s Analine. Then in 1978, Michael released two albums. They were Michael Bloomfield and Count Talent and The Originals. Michael’s final album of the seventies was 1979s Between A Hard Place And The Ground. Bloomfield-Harris a collaboration with Woody Harris was also released in 1979. Having released five solo albums since 1976, little did anyone know that Michael would only release one more solo album. 

Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’ was recorded before Michael’s death in February 15th 1981. Nobody has ever got to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding Michael’s death. He was found dead in his car. The cause of death was a drug overdose. However, it’s thought Michael died elsewhere, possible at a party and was moved after his death. That day, music lost one of its most talented guitarists. Michael had packed a lot of living into his forty-seven years. He’d lived his life hard and fast. There was never any danger of Michael Bloomfield fading away. Instead, he burnt out and left behind a rich musical legacy. A tantalising taste of Michael Bloomfield’s musical legacy can be found on the From His Head To His Heart box set, which I’ll tell you about.

DISC ONE-ROOTS.

On disc one of His Head To His Heart To His Hands, which is entitled Roots, there are sixteen tracks. This includes seven previously unreleased tracks. I’m a Country Boy, Judge, Judge and Hammond’s Rag are previously unreleased tracks from Michael’s audition for Columbia. Even aged twenty-one, which Michael was then, he’s a prodigious talent. I’ve Got You in the Palm of My Hands and I Got My MoJo Working were also recorded in 1964. They were produced by none other than John Hammond. These two blistering blues demonstrate what Michael was capable of.

Three tracks from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band feature on disc one. Born in Chicago and Blues with a Feeling are from the 1965 debut album The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The other track, East-West is the title-track to the 1966 album. It’s thirteen minute Magnus Opus which reminds you how good a band The Paul Butterfield Blues Band were. These three tracks are a reminder that The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first two albums were their best.

For Bob Dylan fans, the instrumental version of Like a Rolling Stone and the Alternate Chambers Brothers Version of Tombstone Blues will make From His Head To His Heart, essential listening. The instrumental version of Like a Rolling Stone is a laid-back jam where Michael’s fluid guitar playing and the piano are the perfect foil for the Hammond organ. Remixed by Al Kooper and Magic Dave Roberts, new life is breathed into a classic track.

There’s five tracks from The Electric Flag on disc one. Killin’ Floor, Texas and Easy Rider are taken from the group’s 1968 sophomore album A Long Time Coming. Susie’s Shuffle and Just a Little Something demonstrate just how good a live band The Electric Flag were.

DISC TWO-JAMS.

Disc Two of His Head To His Heart To His Hands, which is entitled Jams, features fourteen tracks. The first three track are from Super Session, a collaboration between Michael and Al Kooper. Albert’s Shuffle and His Holy Modal Majesty were penned by Michael and Al. The other track was Stop. They’re a reminder of the quality of music on Super Session, which features two blues virtuosos showcasing their wares. Quite simply, Michael and Al were a potent partnership. Thankfully, that’s not the end of this partnership.

During 1969, Michael and Al featured on two live albums. They were The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper and Live At Bill Graham’s Fillimore West. The Weight, Her Holy Modal Highness, Fat Grey Cloud and Mary Ann are all taken from The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. Al rejoins Michael on Live At Bill Graham’s Fillimore West. They’re at the top of their game. Proof of this is 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy), Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong, Santana Clause, Opening Speech, One Way Out and That’s All Right. The eleven live tracks on disc two, feature Michael Bloomfield guitar virtuoso at his blistering, bluesy best.

DISC THREE-LAST LICKS.

The third and final disc of music on His Head To His Heart To His Hands is entitled Last Licks. It features another sixteen tracks, fifteen of which are live tracks. The exception is Don’t Think About It Baby. It’s taken from Michael’s debut album It’s Not Killing Me. It’s a tantalising taste of one of the finest albums Michael released as a solo artist. Then there’s the live tracks,

This is where Michael’s at his best. I’m Glad I’m Jewish, Men’s Room, Don’t You Lie to Me, Darktown Strutters Ball, Jockey Blues/Old Folk’s Boogie, A-Flat Boogaloo and Hymn Time were recorded in 1977 and feature on the 1987 album I’m With You Always

Nick Gravenites adds vocal on a trio of tracks. This includes Gypsy Good Time from My Labors. It’s About Time and Carmelita Skiffle see Nick feature on the 1969 album Live At Bill Graham’s Fillimore West. Accompanied by a band at the top of their game, Nick’s vocal is the finishing touch to theses tracks.

Can’t Lose What You Never Had is a track from Muddy Waters’ 1969 album Father and Sons. For Michael, playing alongside a true blues legend must have been a dream come true. This seems to encourage him to even greater heights.

One Good Man is a track from Janis Joplin’s 1969 album I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! It features Janis Joplin at her best. No wonder the album sold over one million copies.

Among the other tracks on disc three are previously unreleased tracks. This includes Glamour Girl, Spoken Intro and The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar. Their addition is to be welcomed. They allow is to hear the listener to hear another side to Michael Bloomfield and his music. That’s often the case with live tracks. The listener is able to hear an artist in their natural environment. This means they’re relaxed and at ease. You can hear that on Spoken Intro, where Michael’s obviously enjoying himself. He’s a natural raconteur, toying with the audience. They’re enthralled, spellbound by the maverick bluesman at his best. Michael shines during these live performance, proving why he’s one of the greatest guitarists in musical history.

Adding the finishing touch to the His Head To His Heart To His Hands box set is Sweet Blues: A Film About Michael Bloomfield this is the finishing touch. For the newcomer to Michael Bloomfield, this will tell give them an overview of the life and times of Michael Bloomfield. It’s best described as a moving and poignant tribute to an artist whose career was cut tragically short.

Tragedy intervened in Michael Bloomfield’s career on 15th February 1981. Aged just forty-seven, he died of a drug’s overdose. That day, music lost one of its most talented sons. Despite his recording career spanning just fifteen years, Michael released eight solo albums. Then there’s the two albums he recorded with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and a trio of albums with The Electric Flag. Then there’s collaborations with Al Kooper, Dr. John and Nick Gravenites. He also accompanied Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Janis Joplin and Muddy Waters. Michael Bloomfield was the go-to-guy for an artist looking for a guitarist for hire. 

Back in the sixties, there were plenty guitarists for hire, but not many who played with the same fluidity as Michael. In Michael’s hands, the guitar came alive. It spoke, cried and wept. Emotions came to life via Michael’s guitar playing. That’s why some of the biggest names in music asked Michael to accompany them. Along with his work as a solo artist, Michael Bloomfield is remembered as one of the greatest blues guitarists of his generation.

Truly, Michael Bloomfield was a blues great, one who helped repopularise the blues during the sixties. Michael Bloomfield helped introduce a new generation of music lovers to blues music. In doing so, blues players like Sleepy Johns Estes, Little Brother Montgomery and Yank Rachell, who Michael once played alongside, found a new generation discovering their music. That’s quite fitting, given Michael as a teenager, lived and breathed blues music. Having helped introduce blues to another generation, Michael became one of the genre’s most popular players.

Even today, nearly thirty-three years after his death, Michael Bloomfield is revered as a musician. He’s remembered as a blues fan who lived the dream. Having grownup  playing alongside some of the greatest blues musicians ever, he became a keeper of blues music’s flame. During his recording career, which tragically, only lasted fifteen years Michael Bloomfield recorded some of the best blues music of the sixties and seventies. A reminder of this is the music on the His Head To His Heart To His Hands box set which celebrates the life and times of Michael Bloomfield.

MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD-FROM HIS HEAD TO HIS HEART TO HIS HANDS.

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