The Rolling Stone Interview: Mike Bloomfield
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.
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