Two for Tuesday: Paul Butterfield

Paul Butterfield was born in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, right near the University of Chicago. He attended the U of C Lab School and studied classical flute under the Chicago Symphony’s Walfrid Kujala (whose son Steve went to school with me and who is a smooth jazz flautist), and developed a love for the blues harmonica and for the great tradition of Chicago blues. At the University of Chicago, he met guitarist Elvin Bishop and the two of them would hang out at the South Side clubs, meeting bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay, who left the band of Howlin’ Wolf to hook on with Paul and Elvin. They formed a quartet, the Butterfield Blues Band, and eventually added guitarist Mike Bloomfield and keyboardist Mark Naftalin.

They played the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, which was quite a shock to those accustomed to the quieter acoustic instruments, and backed Bob Dylan in his first electric performance. Later that year, Elektra Records, with whom they had signed a few years earlier, released their eponymous first album (from which the first song, “Born in Chicago,” was taken). Up until that point, Elektra had been a folk music label, and they lacked the facilities to properly record the band, so the album was issued with a note on the back to “play it at the highest possible volume.” Lay fell ill and was replaced by Billy Davenport for the band’s second album, East/West. In addition to the blues numbers, the band included a cover of the Monkees’ “Mary, Mary” and two instrumentals, Nat Adderly’s “Work Song” and the title song, a thirteen-minute Dorian-mode excursion featuring solos by the “Three B’s” (Butterfield, Bloomfield and Bishop).

Bloomfield, Arnold and Davenport left the band after that, with Bloomfield forming The Electric Flag with Nick Gravenites and drummer Buddy Miles. Butterfield added a horn section of saxophonists David Sanborn and Gene Dinwiddie and trumpeter Keith Johnson and released The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw in 1967. His music changed focus from straight-ahead blues to more rhythm and blues and “blue-eyed soul”; you can hear the newer influences in the second selection, “One More Heartache,” written by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and originally recorded by Marvin Gaye. This was the band that played at Woodstock, although their performance wasn’t captured in the film.

After a couple more albums, Butterfield disbanded the group and moved to Woodstock, NY, where he formed Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, featuring Amos Garrett and Geoff Muldaur on guitars, Ronnie Barron on piano, Billy Rich on bass and Chris Parker on drums. That group recorded two albums, the eponymous first and It All Comes Back in 1972 and 1973, respectively. He recorded a few albums with members of The Band and played at the “Last Waltz” concert. His last album, The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again, was released in 1986.

Paul died of peritonitis brought on by drinking and drug abuse in 1987. He was 44 years old.

Much more of his music is available on YouTube and at Play it loud.