Paul Butterfield

  • Biography:

    Paul Butterfield, a white singer and harmonica player who apprenticed with black bluesmen, helped spur the American blues revival of the '60s. The teenage Butterfield ventured into Chicago's South Side clubs, eventually working his way into onstage jams with Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Little Walter, Magic Sam, and other blues legends.

    Butterfield played with University of Chicago classmate Elvin Bishop in bar bands named the Salt and Pepper Shakers and the South Side Olympic Blues Team. In 1963 he formed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with two former members of Howlin' Wolf's band, Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay, later adding Bishop, Mark Naftalin, and lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield. The group built a strong local following, and its debut album was released in 1965. At that year's Newport Folk Festival, after playing its own set, the Butterfield band backed Bob Dylan for his controversial premiere electric performance. East-West featured extended jams and showed the influences of jazz and Indian music. Bloomfield left to form Electric Flag; Bishop moved to lead guitar.

    By 1967 Butterfield had begun the first of many experiments, adding a brass section (including David Sanborn on alto saxophone) and changing his orientation from blues to R&B. He played on Muddy Waters' 1969 album, Fathers and Sons, and after disbanding the Blues Band in 1972, moved to Woodstock, New York. There he formed Butterfield's Better Days with Amos Garrett, Geoff Muldaur, and Ronnie Barron.

    Butterfield made an appearance at the Band's Last Waltz concert in 1976, and during the late '70s he toured with Levon Helm's RCO All Stars and with ex-Band bassist Rick Danko in the Danko-Butterfield Band. In early 1980, while recording North-South in Memphis, Butterfield was stricken with a perforated intestine and peritonitis, which forced him to undergo three major operations over the next several years. Butterfield's next and last album, The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again, came out in 1986, one year before the 44-year-old musician, an alcoholic, was found dead in his apartment.

    This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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