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The Rolling Stone Interview: Mike Bloomfield

The guitarist on the Chicago blues scene, why Clapton is perfection and what it was like playing on ‘Highway 61’

Mike BloomfieldMike Bloomfield

Mike Bloomfield

Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

You were telling me that Eric Clapton was a perfect guitarist. What makes you think that?
His attack is flawless, that’s one of the things. A perfect musician is dedicated. He has ideas, attack, touch, ability to transmit emotion and abillity to transmit his ideas. His ability to transmit his ideas and his emotion logically is kineticism; he can build. Eric does all of these about as well as you can do them. It shows in the area that he plays that his attack is perfect. His tone is vocal; his ideas are superb; he plays almost exclusively blues–all the lines he plays in the Cream are blues lines. He plays nothing but blues; he’s a blues guitarist and he’s taken blues guitar to its ultimate thing. In that field he’s B. B. King cum the Freddie King and Ernie Cahill style of guitar playing. Eric is the master in the world. That is why he is a perfect guitarist. Eric plays in bad taste when he wants to. He can play crappy. But, like, Eric plays almost exclusively perfect.

Does the adaptability of the guitar to the blues account for its popularity as an instrument today?
No, I don’t think so. The blues is a very vocal music, most Afro-American music is very vocal. It’s music that’s sung. Its fullest form is vocal music more than instrumental music. The best blues is sung blues, not played blues. Like the best gospel music is sung gospel music, not a tune played on a piano. You can reach more people with the human voice so blues is extremely emotional and involved with instruments and minor scales, vibrato and all the things that the voice has. I think that Indian music, any musical form that has kineticism and involvement, that has emotionality to it, is a valid moving musical form. A guitar or orchestra to six strings is suitable for any music.

Most of the young blues guitarists today seem to be playing vocal lines.
It’s funny you should mention that because the Procol Harum can play very vocally. They have a very beautiful guitar player, very funky, very bluesy guitar player. He plays blues and he plays minor Bach changes.

Then why the popularity of the guitar?
It’s got the most commercial soul. Hula hoops once were the most popular thing. The public was masturbating with hula hoops; now it’s guitars. Guitars are easy, they’re cheap, everybody plays them. Simple, a few chords. That’s why they are buying them. There’s really no reason at all.

When, how and why did you start playing the guitar?
Well, I was left-handed and I couldn’t play well. I took lessons for about a year, a year or so. I learned rhythm. I learned dance band guitar, straight rhythm chops. When I was around fifteen I was a monster rock guitar player: I played Chuck Berry, and I played stuff like “I’ve Had It.” And I tried to play some Scotty Moore solos. I liked to play with dance bands. Some dance bands they had clarinets” and things. I wasn’t hip to anything. Man, all you knew about electric guitars is that they were loud … And they had a high tone, like I could sound like Chuck Berry and that’s all I cared. High, shrill, whatever, I don’t know how they did it. I thought the spade cats had some sort of magic device. There was something in rock and roll, all kinds of rock and roll that always moved me: Gene Vincent’s rock and roll, hill-billy rock and roll, spade rock and roll. Little Richard moved me much more than anything else. Man, when I first got hip to real soul people singing, real spade music — –I mean it was like not at all white oriented — –you know, I don’t mean “do wah” music because that really didn’t knock me out too much, you know, like really as in Blues Jordan and Charles Gile and over the radio “Deep Feeling” like Chuck Berry, or a B. B. King record that was so heavy and that was soulful –— that was where it was at. I couldn’t even believe that was music. I couldn’t believe…

What guitar players got to you first, as guitar players?
The rock guitar players that got to me first: Gene Vincent’s guitar player, Jimmy Burton, Scotty Moore. I dug them first. The first spade guitar player I heard was Chuck Berry. I dug him but I didn’t consider him blues oriented. I started hearing blues when I was around sixteen. That was just a whole other thing. Like I was playing the same notes that they were playing but when I would take my solos they weren’t the same. I wasn’t playing together like them. It was like fast bullshit; it wasn’t right at all. And those cats were using the same notes and it was all right. And I just couldn’t figure out the difference. It takes a long time to really learn how to play the real shit, knowing where you’re supposed to be you see and that’s the shit you want to master.

Your major influence is B. B. King, of course.
Well, when I’m playing blues guitar real well — –that’s when I’m not fooling around but I’m really into something– — it’s a lot like B. B. King. But I don’t know, it’s my own thing when there are major notes and sweet runs. You know I like sweet blues. The English cats play very hard funky blues. Like Aretha sings is how they play guitar. I play sweet blues. I can’t explain it. I want to be singing. I want to be sweet.

Do you hear yourself in other guitarists?
Millions of them, billions of them. I’ve heard young kids say ‘Man, you sound just like B. B.’ and others say ‘I’ve never heard of him, who’s he?’ I can pick out certain things in what the Rolling Stones play, a few things that I know are exactly the licks that I play. Then I hear guitar players like Jerry Garcia. He sounds amazingly like he’s trying to sound like me but I don’t think he is. I think he came that way himself.

Do you play any other instruments?
Well, I dig the piano. Once I had a piano, man, and I didn’t touch the guitar at all. The piano is a whole other field, a whole different shot. I don’t like to sing and play a guitar but I do like to sing and play the piano. I can express myself much easier on it than with other instruments.

Why do you choose to play the guitar then?
Expression, pure expression. Without a guitar, I’m like a poet with no hands. Actually, I can articulate much clearer on the guitar than anything else.

How did you form to The Electric Flag?
I was with Butter [Paul Butterfield] and I flipped out and went crazy. I didn’t dig anything. Elvin [Bishop] was really dragged, he wanted to play lead. He was tired of playing second guitar. I felt it was being shitty and that was a drag. So I quit Butter, hacked around for a while and that was more of a drag. I wanted to get a band of my own. Always wanted to and so me and Barry Goldberg put a band together.

We knew this guy named Peter Strassa, that’s three, and Nick the Greek [Gravenites], that’s four. I knew Nick in Chicago. Harvey [Brooks] volunteered his services. I really didn’t dig the way he played but I knew he was supposed to be really good. I’d heard him play folk-rock. Harvey’s good. Harvey’s learned a lot of how to play funky bass; he’s on his way to being a master. Then we met Buddy [Miles]. Buddy’s so good that no one could believe it. Best fucking drummer in the world, unbelievable. He wanted to play in the band. He asked and we said yes. We had the band and we had hired another horn player who is an amazing organ player … He played horn and then switched over to organ. And that’s how I got the band.

We all lived here and I lost my ass — –a fortune feeding and housing them. We worked and like the millions of ideas that I had never came true. The band sort of fell into the bag of a soul band because of Buddy’s dominant personality. I kinda didn’t dig it, but now I really dig it. The band has become an extremely good soul band. That’s where it’s going. There are a lot of good ideas which will come about eventually if the band gets to know each other. You’ve got to be thrown together a long time to get close and share knowledge. I thought the whole thing through, planning it out. I’m very influenced by producers, especially Phil Spector. I think it would be really better if the groups would produce themselves.

There’s another thing. The Rolling Stones are a really good band, but, like, I consider them like a boys’ band because they don’t play men’s music. They don’t play professional music for men, they play music for young people, and even with their most intelligent material as a stimulant, they play music for the young. Then there’s a whole other thing– — the masters of music — –the Beatles who slowly evolved to music for men with serious patterns and serious and curious ideas. There’s no juvenality about it at all. They developed the pop scene. And soul music is as serious as you can get, even in its most frivolous moments.

Do you pay the boys in the band as sidemen or share the bread equally?
No one makes money, man. It’s completely cooperative.

Are there a lot of hassles in a big band venture?
Millions of them. There’s the ego hassles, the personality hassles. One cat is not as good as another cat. Buddy … Buddy is a person who plays well, who sings well. Any band can be centered around him. He’s got talent and feeling. It’s very easy to get Buddy to be a star. Everybody is very familiar with R&B. It’s quite easy to get Buddy over to that area.

That shit is really well ironed out now. We have had some weird changes, really weird changes. Everybody got really bizarre for a while and most of it ironed out. The problem is we’re instrumentally really radioactive. Put a bunch of people in a room together and break it down and get it together and break all of that personal shit down. You gotta be able to really combine and catalyze yourself when you’re playing together. You got to look at the other cat and get off right there. And the people are able to get off because the other cats are getting off behind you and your whole sound and your whole thing. There’s got to be that kind of thing going very strongly. It’s got to be that one thing, because if that doesn’t happen it’s all over. You can’t make it.

You dug Albert King. You notice his band is absolutely nothing. They were dead schleps, dead schleps playing behind him and Albert was the only one who really measured up to Albert’s own sound. It was like they were old tired blues players and it was a drag. But Albert was exquisite. It was weird to see this exquisitely exciting cat, Albert King, freaking out and all these kids digging him. Here, this whole vast audience of which he was unaware. He’s been scuffling around the blues for all these years and his band, who weren’t hip to it at all — –I mean they didn’t even care. It was just a bunch of white faces and that was a drag.

Everybody was willing to cooperate, but the groove has gotta be there. In other words, with Buddy it’s very easy to groove. He’s mixed up: sometimes it’s easy to groove and sometimes it isn’t. But when the groove isn’t there, it’s very hard. Once you establish the feeling, once everyone knows what he has to say, then it just becomes a matter of saying as best as you can say it, because you really say it right.

Why did you choose “Groovin’ Is Easy” for your first single?
We did “Groovin'” because “Groovin”‘ … well for several reasons: One, because I had a really groovy arrangement in mind for it; number two, because groovin was the thing for a pop record, groovin all over the place. I figured well we got a pop record. In my opinion “Groovin’ ” is a great pop record, a really pop record from beginning to end. The horns, the guitar, the drums. I think the voice is a little old-timey, but it’s a pretty groovy record and that’s why we chose it. When we came out of the studio and we heard it, we though it was really good. I mean it blew our minds. Beautiful, big, lovely. I think it’s the best thing we are ever going to do, pop-wise. But it wasn’t released right which was a drag.

Who produced it?
We produced “Groovin’ ” ourselves.

What do you think of some of the current producers? What do you get from them?
I would like to be personally produced by Jerry Ragavoy in New York. He’s one of the greatest soul producers I’ve ever heard. John Simon, he produced some Dylan stuff. He’s very heavy. Phil Spector, George Martin, cats like that know everything. They know every line, every cue, every idea. Every bit of percussion. They can constantly come up with original ideas. They understand the idiom; they understand the history of rock and roll; they know the board like they know their hands. It’s an instrument to them. They know every sound.

What about John Court?
No, he’s not that hip to rock for all those years. The sound is not as good as it could be for all those records, not as good as a Stones’ record, as good as a Beatle’s record, as good as a Motown or Stax record.

Those are the standards of the trade and I don’t think his records are that good. John did a lot with the Butterfield records. I don’t think he’s a really groovy producer. I can see other producers who are much groovier, who with those artists would be much groovier. I think Jim Stewart, if not better, would be just as good. Or perhaps Jerry Wexler would be groovier. Something along the lines of the earlier Ray Charles things.

What you need is a cat who will say “well, dig man, you’re not playing what’s hip; there’s a lot groovier bass line; dig what’s happening today, why don’t you try to get in a funkier heavy beat instead of that old shuffle beat because that’s not what’s happening; you can better groove with a little more groovy horn line.” And that’s where a producer should be at.

Are the differences between Butterfield’s band and the Flag as easily characterized as the difference between soul music and the blues?
Yeah, not quite that easy. With Paul’s band, we always wanted to play like a real professional blues band. The Electric Flag is a real blues band and it’s in that bag. You get the soul feeling of Afro-American popular music. The Flag probably handles it about as good as it can be handled … and that’s what the Flag can do other bands couldn’t do. Paul’s band had a unique thing: Paul could blend certain talents to make the unique sound that is the Butterfield Band and which it has today but the sound of the Butterfield Band is really more standardized than it was when I was playing with it. I played further out riffs. Now it’s a little more standardized except they freak out a bit, sort of a not-really-jazz but jazz-oriented on some things. I don’t know. In my opinion, our band is sort of leaving them behind. In ours a lot of ideas —– as well as personalities — have blended together.

Herbie, our organ player, is a monster on keys, really heavy. He will get to be just as good as anybody. He plays like Hendrix plays guitar.

Some of your best stuff is Stax material. Even though your group is larger and more complex, do you find a strong similarity in your group is larger and more complex, do you find a strong similarity in your group to the Stax house band?
No, because they have a very weird concept of exactly what they want to do in just the area where they’re working. They are directed and guided by a different combination of talents, Duck Dunn, Al Jackson. They have been playing that way since they were in high school together. Seven years is a good thing. Look at the Beatles going on for years. Stax will go on; Nashville will go on. The reason is that they bothered to find really good things. They bothered to find the best possible. When I first heard “Hold On, I’m Coming,” well I heard a new type of singing. I mean Sam and Dave. I mean I hadn’t heard anything like that since I heard some of those cats on Arhoolie Records or something. Those cats have voices like steel and young leather or something. Otis was so unique, so individual, you know, and like that’s where Stax is at.

It’s like with Motown, except that Motown is a little more shitty, like, really more and more sugary. Except that Motown is like, well there’s hope. Motown is trying to be funky now like with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” On that they are funkier than blues and playing as about as down home as you can get that’s really voodoo music, man, boogaloo music. All music is extremely sophisticated. There’s no primitive music made anymore, you know, in popular American music. The most primitive thing I remember hearing was like the Troggs, they were pretty primitive you know.

Do you do any Motown material?
I think the one we do is “Uptight.” I’d like to do “Reach Out For Me.” It’s a very soulful song.

It seems like you do a lot of Stax material.
We do it, yeah, We do it once in a while. We do “Loving You Too Long” That’s a Stax thing …

You do “Knock on Wood.”
No, No we don’t do that. I don’t know. We don’t do many Stax things. I sing a couple of them. We do our own things, dark blues. I want to do all kinds of things, American music. That’s our thing, American music, whatever strikes our fancy, whatever there’s no staying in one bag when there are way lot more things to do.

Are you interested in modern country music?
Yeah, of course, because Harvey and I really dig it. I know a lot about it. I played with bluegrass bands. I really love country music, I’m really into it, I adore it. I love country singing and writing, and it’s styles. Today it’s better than ever, except that today there stuffing it with strings and stuff. Cats in that field are beautiful, like the young Buck Owens imitators.

The cats after Buck, Merle Haggard, David Houston, Tammy Wynette, great, great singers. I definitely want the band to that music, I really want to do American music. Have you ever dug Lonnie Mack or “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” or “Why Not Tonight?” by Jimmie Hughes? That’s like country music, but it’s soul music too. It would be a little of each; it would be an intelligent hybrid. Like I dig the horns to play like steel guitar.

Have you any interest in the sitar?
No, I can’t give up my life. You know I’d have to sit down and just do that. Man, it’s too heavy.

Jerry Garcia incorporates a country picking style into his playing and the Dead do a couple of fine rocked-up country songs. Have you ever wanted to incorporate country sounds in that way?
Sure, I fucking love country music. I love it. There’s really dimensional form. I like it all, I like even the the most insipid period of country music, country swing. Are you hip to that? … Spade Cooley and Bob Willis and the Country Playboys whatever or Texas Playboys. I dig walks, chicken walks, stuff like that.

I could play almost every song, man, I know country music up the ass on the guitar. I could play about every country style guitar there is: old Flatt, picking, Travis picking, Chet Atkins, right on down to chicken picking. I have played a lot of country music, I have played it for years. I could put it into my guitar playing, but I don’t want to. I won’t play country music, Well, one of our tunes has it in there. I’ll play country music, when we play country music. I sort of prefer to remain relatively valid to the idiom unless it adds to idiom like when Ray [Charles] does country music. I would put country guitar into the same way Ray does country music. When Ray does country music man, it was good spade-oriented country music.

Do you see the differences between soul music and the blues?
Absolutely, the difference is quite clear. Soul is from the church; soul music’s whole trend has singing like church music, no snaps, melisma, a lot of notes. Monosyllabic singing, extreme virtuosos of the voice. It’s right after gospel singing…

And Aretha is the perfect representation of that.
Of course, man, she’s a monster. She’s like the best of that type of singer. But all the new soul singers man, all the best, like Sam and Dave, all sing like fucking preachers. They’re gospel singers is what they are. Blues is secular, not religious, right? Blues is a secular music. It’s a bar music. It’s a simpler thing you know. Even the blues today is getting kind of soulful. I don’t mean soulful, I mean gospel-oriented. It’s decidedly different structure-wise, right down the line. Soul songs preach a sermon, tell the story … blues tell the story, but it’s much more accurate, it’s like a newspaper. It says ‘this is what happened.’ There’s not that much velocity involved. It’s more accurate reporting maybe using different words … while soul music is really different you know it’s more of a preaching, Joe Tex, velocity. It’s like “The Love You Save.” Just a beautifully, superbly written music for the Negro masses. Soul music is more behind the church.

Has this led you into the purer forms of Gospel music?
Lately, man, yeah I’ve gotten extremely into Gospel music, just plain Gospel music. That’s my favorite music today in the whole world. I think that’s the most happening thing in the world now. It was the best singing in all of American Music, those are the best. I mean Gospel singers, real good Gospel singers, they have the same voice, like Yma Sumac, or like an opera singer, except they sing in a more funky way. I find like listening to Eddie Jackson. Oh man…. I’ll play you a record by the Swan Silvertones. Man, the voices are unearthly.

What singers and groups would you recommend for someone who was interested in learning about gospel forms?
I would recommend the Silvertones, Blindboys, any of those groups, they’re all top notch gospel groups. The Staple Singers are a little hokey for my taste. Now, they are very good, they have their own thing. They’re real folky, too. Mavis is about as exciting a female singer as ever walked on this earth. It’s just that I think there are groups that are better than that … like the blindboys, they’re really groovey. The Soulstirrers are another, they are really heavy. Little Richard is a very poor gospel singer.

How did you get involved with the blues? What was happening then in Chicago from which so much new blues talent has come?
Well, I’ll tell you a little bit about the Chicago blues scene, the white Chicago blues scene. The whole story as best as I can remember it. Now what originally went down, the first cats I knew on the scene–there were several areas, where there were people interested in blues in Chicago — –the collectors, and the record cats, the historians and the discoverers who somewhere in their life realized that they were living in a city that was fraught with the real shit — –all the old cats on the records that had moved out of Pigeonfoot, Georgia– — and had ended up in Chicago. And I was one of those cats, like Bob Kessler and Pete Welding. There were a whole lot of people. And then there were cats around who were folkies, esoteric folkies, who put blues among other esoteric, ethnic folk music.

Was Charles Keil one of those cats?
Charlie Keil, yeah, Charles was one of those cats. And then there were a very few cats who dug blues because they were living in that neighborhood and there were nothing but spades around and they dug hanging out in the bars. And there were a few cats like that. The first cat on the scene that I picked up on– — the old granddaddy of the white Chicago blues scene — –was Nick the Greek. Nicholas was from the West Side man, a very tough Polak neighborhood, like they were smoking reefers. And the next cat down there on the really tough scene was Butter [Butterfield] and like Butter wanted to play harp. And he went down there when he was a young man, right down on the street which was the hardest fucking scene in the world, the baddest, filled with bad mother fuckers. He went down there. Butter went down there with his harp and sucked up to Junior Wells, and Cotton and Little Walter. After a bit Butter got better than them. At that time Butter was going to the University of Chicago, but he spent most of his time on the he spent most of his time on the street and I felt that for all practical purposes, Butter was just a tough street spade– — like Malcolm X– — a real tough cat, man.

At that time I was hanging around the folk scene, with the ethnic folks freaking out with “Little Sandy Review,” flipping out with Gary Davis and Lighting Hopkins and folk music. Oh man, everything from Woody Guthrie to the country blues. That’s where I was at. But basically my heart really belonged down there, with blues singing. Because that was like rock and roll but only a million times better. That was the real thing.

When I was around eighteen years old I had been sort of messing around and Paul sort of accepted me. Well, he didn’t really accept me at all, he just sort of thought of as a folky jew boy, because like Paul was there and I was just sort of a white kid hanging around and not really playing the shit right, but Paul was there man. I guess that was about where the scene was at and I didn’t know many people, I just knew Paul and Nick and Elvin (who was working with Paul at that time) and a few folkies. Then when I was around eighteen this cat, Charlie Musselwhite, came up from Memphis and he dug blues too. He was from an old blues scene at home in Memphis. Mostly it was like Paul’s scene, in which he hung around with Furry Lewis and other old blues singers. I was also pretty much, by this time, pretty blues conscious.

I was managing this elub and every Tuesday night I’d try seriously to have concerts with Muddy Waters and Sleepy John Estes, all the blues singers in Chicago that I could get hold of, that I’d ever met or I tried to get especially the rare cats.

I was around eighteen and got this band together. We played a year with Big Joe Williams. I played plano with them and Charlie played harp. Eventually Joe left and when we worked there, we played nothing but blues.

The band was Charles, and this cat from the Sopwith Camel named Norman Mayall who is from Chicago, yeah… and this bass player who was from a Roy Rogers’ band. Mike Johnson was the name of our lead guitar player. He was sort of a rock player, he sang rock and roll. When we got together we didn’t play nothing but blues and we weren’t real good, but we had a lot of feeling.

After that I left that club and went to another club, after playing there for a year, and gave Butter my gig there. I said, “Listen, my gig’s done there, why don’t you work there?” Butter had a band that had a sound all its own, an out of sight band, the best band to ever come down in that area, tight, tough, blew everybody’s mind. So Butter played there. And right after that, cats started saying that the white groups were really getting down to it, because the rules had been laid down: you had to be as good as the spades in town; you had to be as good as Otis Rush, you had to be as good as Buddy Guy, as good as Freddie King, whatever instrument you played at that time, you had to be as good as they were. And who wanted to be bad on the South Side? Man, you were exposed all over I mean right in that city where you lived, in one night you could hear Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Big Walter, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Lloyd Jones, just dozens of different blues singers, some famous, some not so famous. They were all part of the blues, and you could work with them if you were good enough. If you wanted to gig, that’s where you went and that’s where you worked, and like all these cats, man, these white kids in Boston, like Geoff Muldaur was playing the blues, and in New York Bob Dylan and his cats were playing their thing of the blues.

But like in Chicago they were playing the real blues because that’s where they were working they were working with the cats. Corky Siegal, and Jim Schwall, who are not really good, worked a year in Pepper’s Lounge, one of the funkiest clubs, for a year as a novelty act. Corky played the drums and the piano. Applejack, cats you don’t know about, Chicago Slim, and Steve Miller and all the cats in Steve’s band.

The thing is all the Chicago musicians played the blues and all the other cats were imitators. We were playing right along with them and an imitation just could not do. It had to be the real thing, it had to be right. They had to stand up. It was Buddy Guy playing just two doors down from you. You wanted to burn him if you could, you know, you just wanted to get up there and burn him off the stage. I think it was very healthy.

What professional bands did you play with or sit in with at that time?
Millions of them. It would take a day to give you all the names. I didn’t play with as many as many cats did, because I got my own band. I stayed with them for two years. We were signed John Hammond and we recorded for Columbia. And it was really weird … we looked like the Stones then you know… really long hair…and outlandish clothes… this was years before the Stones and it was never issued. They never issued a fucking track that we cut.

Did you play with about all the the major blues men?
Millions of them, really, millions of blue cats. I played with them, I was helped by them. There are pictures of them on my wall; different cats who are special friends. Like Big Joe Williams, he was like a father, a close friend. With cats like Muddy, man, it’s like seeing your old uncle. Seeing Muddy on the road or at a gig or something, it’s like giging with the whole family or something, with your older brothers and uncles or something like that. It’s a very close thing. The older cats have gotten a lot of work because the younger cats have talked about them, and said “man, you think I’m good, you should hear cats like Little Walter … man that cat can play harp.” That what Butter said.

It’s like me with B. B. They’re at the Fillmore now. Man, they wouldn’t be at the Fillmore if there weren’t cats talking about them. The main reason you talk about them is because you love them. I know I love them. These cats who were so groovy to teach me and they were so groovy because they weren’t satisfied with just the little white boy playing those licks. You had to be good in order for them to dig you. They just weren’t happy, they weren’t grabbed, just to se a white cat playing that music. That wasn’t where it was at. It was when a white cat socked it to them. They’d yell at the right time and say that was the real shit. That’s so good, man!

Do you get educated response from white audiences?
No, man, hell no. White people, are well, yeah I’m getting it now, so many people at the Fillmore and the Avalon have heard B. B. King at the Regal. They’ve heard enough live albums to know what’s happening. But hell man, it’s a call and response thing; you’ve got to know the vernacular. You gotta know what’s going down. In an Indian thing you’ve got to know when a cat played a good way. If you were at a fuck-a-thon, you’d have to know when a good fuck went down to know what’s happening. These kids don’t know; they know a good show, they know when you’re down on your knees because they can see, (he’s down on his knees) so something is happening.

But like when Buddy sings a line man, that just wrenches your heart out, when he bends his voice about ten fucking ways, goes from falsetto to bass, oh man, it just soothes your soul. For the first five years I remember that when I listened to records I didn’t listen to anything but the guitar. I wouldn’t even listen to records with horns on them, and that’s where a lot of kids’ heads are at. They just hear certain things; but to understand the whole vernacular, the whole mystique, the whole thing, that’s a whole different thing.

Do you get good response from black audiences?
I don’t know. We’ve never played for strictly spade audiences. We’re good. We’re a good rock and sock and soul band; we get good responses from almost anybody because we cook real hard, honestly. I think people like to see extravagantly planned plays, like the Who and Jimi. Like passion plays.

Much like the way Buddy sings “I’ve Been Lovin’ You Too Long”?
Yeah, a play, exactly. Very much like James Brown falling to the ground with a cape thrown around his. A revival, a play. People like spectacles. In my opinion one of the most pleasing spectacles is to see a band playing their asses off, hard as they can, you can see them grinning. You can feel it driving you nuts and all that good hard driving energy. That’s why I dig the Young Rascals. And that’s especially what a spade audience thinks.

You said that “there’s no white bullshit with Butterfield.” He’s set apart from all the rest of the white Chicago cats — –why?
It’s amazing. It’s a sociological thing. He did it by so adapting himself to that environment, that he turned over, that he transformed, changed and anything that’s in his background, is completely dissolved, by the earnesty and the complete tough masculinity of the street. The world of the street, that dog eat dog world. He met it on its own terms and that set him apart. Very few other cats have gone through that experience and that’s what set Paul apart. That’s what I noticed about him immediately, he was there.

It’s hard to put into words what the real blues is and what it isn’t. It’s when there’s an absolute confidence about it and you’re not studiously trying to cop something; you’re not listening to a Robert Johnson record and trying to sound like it, you are merely playing the most natural music for you, the music you can play. If Paul opens his mouth to sing it would have to be blues, because that’s his thing. That’s the most natural thing for him to play. It’s like breathing for him. He picked it up fast and just got better and better. And that’s why I say there’s … its a very entertaining sight. That’s why I dig Otis, or the Vanilla Fudge, they work very hard. That’s one thing white people who have seen us really dig: when we are playing good, we play our asses off. And it sounds good. We’re really digging it, and digging it is a neces-no white bullshit. It’s just competely natural. At one time maybe it wasn’t but by completely immersing himself in the environment, and in the competition of the environment, now it is.

How did you come to join his band?
Oh, well, I went to Magoo’s and Butter was going to make a record and he wanted someone to play slide guitar on the record and I could play slide. He brought Paul Rothchild to listen to me and I played on the record.

I didn’t dig Butter, you know. I didn’t like him; he was just too hard a cat for me. But I went to make the record and the record was groovy and we made a bunch more records. One thing led to another and he said “Do you want to join the band?” And it was the best band I’d ever been in. Sammy Lay was the best drummer I ever played with. But whatever I didn’t like about Paul as a person, his musicianship was more than enough to make up for it. He was just so heavy, he was so much. Everything I dug in and about the blues, Paul was. There he was: a white cat as tough as he could be and it was a gas. So we went to Newport right after that and I was going to play with Dylan, you know it was a choice between Dylan and Butter and I chose Butter because that’s where my head was. That kind of music.

Who do you think are the best blues musicians? The top two or three cats?
Ray and B.B. I mean I could name a million cats, but there’s no one better than Ray Charles or B. B. King. They are the last word.

Do you consider yourself primarily a bluesman or a rock and roll star?
In my own head, I’m a bluesman, because that’s what I play the best and that’s what I dig the most and can play the most authoritatively. I think finally, at last, I’ve reached an understanding about and with my guitar. I just know all about it now. I finally know all about it. As a music form and as a social scene, man I just know it, it’s in my heart. But yeah, I am a rock and roll star.

Why did you leave Butterfield?
I flipped out. And like Elvin was uptight. So I left and when I went home, it was even worse. And besides, I wanted to get a band of my own. I had a lot of ideas that are mine. I saw cats like Buddy who is so heavy I was content to do Buddy’s thing. It’s such a pleasure. It was a delight just to play that music. Like I really didn’t know shit from soul music. I didn’t know anything about it. I never even listened to it before. I just dug blues.

You’re of course hip to Aretha. She’s operating in the same area as your band.
I don’t think she is really. She’s more New York than she is Memphis because her records don’t sound like the Memphis sound. They are a little more complex. She’s very gospely. Aretha is the last word. She’s the best female R&B singer. The Supremes have syrupy voices and Martha’s all right … but Aretha will sock it to you; she’s the hardest of them all. She has the most dynamic voice, the most engaging style. She’s sexy, she’s a red hot mama. She’s not slick or anything; She’s just soul. In a way it’s kinda unhealthy, it’s kinda Uncle Tommy. When she sings Dr. Feelgood, that’s where she’s at. While the Supremes are the other thing, you know they’re the urban Negro, airline stewardesses or something like the Kim sisters. So like its a very weird sociological thing.

Soul music is more popular now than it ever was before. Do you think this will be the direction of rock and roll and dominate all styles?
No. Just as important are long head pieces. Soul music is heart music, it’s not head music. Just as happening are Simon and Garfunkel.

Then there’s the hybird. There’s the English soul, you know, Procul Harum with their soulful voices. No, I don’t think it’s going to be the trend; I don’t think it will ever get to the white heart, the big record buyer, the white adolescent heart. He just can’t amplify his movement enough. You know, he can dig it and love it and buy it, and dance to it and boogaloo to it, and shake himself, and come with his girlfriend to it. But that’s not where his head is. Because when he goes to bed, when he or she goes to bed, at night, it’s Herman who she wants to be fucking. Certainly not Sam and Dave or Albert King. And I think that basically that’s where they identify. You know, kids can identify with wild funky shit. They much more readily identify sexually and personally with a white person than like with Otis…

What you’re saying is that it comes down to a racial thing.
I think yeah, it’s definitely a racial thing. I think kids are to the point … like kids around today are very much more enlightened, they smoke pot you know and they’re enlightened to a great deal more sounds, sonority. They can be moved by many other things. It’s musical value; like many kids wouldn’t listen to spade groups a few years ago, “Why listen to a spade group? Let’s go listen to beautiful Frankie Avalon.” Now they’ll listen to a lot of things. I think it’s racial, but America is racial. It’s a basic problem of identification. You must identify with something you can identify with. Kids can identify with the Beatles very easily.

Are bands like yours, Steve’s, and even Paul’s headed in an electronic direction?
They are headed in the direction of the amagamation of the personality between the bands. We’ve all heard the same licks; Steve, me, Paul, the English cats, we’ve all dug the same things, we’ve all dug the same records. If you question me or Steve Miller or Butter, or Eric, we probably all have the same favorite records basically and we’ve dug the same thing. It’s the same influences that have come out.

Each cat has its own way of saying the same things. Whoever has dug more of different type of things, that’s going to be where he’s at. You take a little baby and put him in a white cotton box and he’ll have a very limited horizon. You take someone who’s dug a lot of ways and that’s going to come out in his music. He’s going to come on with a lot more than a cat who’s only been listening to one kind of music. So it’s very hard for me to predict.

There’s a whole host of white soul bands that are completely unheard of. No one has ever heard of them. Like Lane Cochran and the C. C. Riders. Millions of them, all over the south and the mid-west, who play nothing but Top-40 soul music, with horns and singing it just like the record.

Like Mitch Ryder?
Exactly, but heavier than Mitch, way better than Mitch. Years, man, this has been happening in America for years. Bill Haley was one of the first of those type bands, like Joe Turner sort of. Those cats play the same circuit of lounges in Vegas and Miami. I don’t know, I run into them and they play fabulous. Really professional, but they play that Top-40 shit. They stay with whatever is happening at the time because they really don’t have it. I mean, like once in a while you hear a group like the Vanilla Fudge, you know just these guys from New York, who can really follow that New York Italian pattern, you know Dion and the Belmonts or Jay and the Americans, who are Jewish, but fell into that same pattern. Sort of a Four Seasons type of thing but they didn’t. They took after the Rascals, they took a litle of their own personalities.

Do hear much of interest in jazz?
Sort of. I tried. I didn’t dig it. I mean it’s fantastic musicanship, very heavy, but I really don’t dig it that much.

The thing that strikes me is that it’s so “tired.”
Yeah, it’s over. I’m much more folk-oriented —– I want someone to speak to me on clearly definable terms, that I understand with very little oblique shit.

Do you do much song-writing?
Yeah. I write sometimes like Stax songs. I wrote one we did on our album. It’s for Steve Cropper. I do all kinds of song writing.

How did you end up doing the sessions on Highway 61?
Well, I met Dylan at this funny little club called the Bear in Chicago just after his first album came out. The liner notes described him as a real hot shot, you know, a real great guitar player. And I heard the album and it sounded just shitty. He came to Chicago and I welcomed the opportunity to go down there and cut him. So I went to see him in the afternoon to talk to him and he was really nice. He was just so nice. I saw him at a few parties and then out of the clear blue sky, he called me on the phone to cut a record which was “Like a Rolling Stone.” So I bought a Fender, a really good guitar for the first time in my life, without a case, a Telecaster, And that’s how. He called me up.

And then?
Then I went with Butter and it was over until the next session. Dylan is very weird about loyalty you know. Like he sort of felt I belonged with him and I did too. But I didn’t. He’s a very weird cat. Albert manages both of us. Like when I played with Bob, I didn’t know anything about that kind of music. But I think I could play with a him a lot better now.

In This Article: Coverwall, Mike Bloomfield


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