From His Head to His Heart to His Hands

A bar-mitzvahed Chicago son who baby-sat Muddy Waters' grandkids, Mike Bloomfield was no average Sixties guitar hero. But "hotshit player" doesn't begin to describe the underappreciated blues-rock figurehead, as this beautiful four-disc set makes clear.

The 1964 demos here show a twentysomething fluent in urban and rural blues, country and jazz, with a sweet, breakneck attack. A backing-track version of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," from Bloomfield's most famous session, shows a guy who can also modulate a groove exquisitely, with lines that both peal and gird. Tracks with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band circa 1965-'66 (like the fierce 13-minute "East/West") show off style that nearly every hippie-era slinger would mirror; later jams with the Electric Flag and the Super Session band pushed into R&B and jazz territory. Then heroin stepped in. Three months after Dylan – who called him "the greatest guitarist I ever heard" – invited him to guest at a 1980 show, he was dead of an overdose. (Check "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar," from that performance.) But as this set's documentary DVD testifies, the man's influence lived, and lives, on.

From The Archives Issue 1202: February 13, 2014