When the late Mike Bloomfield burst onto the guitar scene in 1965 – on the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s self-titled debut and Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan – it was like nothing anyone had ever heard before. He had a hipness that set him apart from the blues players, a grittiness that the rockers lacked. With Butterfield’s follow-up, 1966’s East-West, he reached his zenith, stretching the blues to horizons few have explored let alone reached to this day.
Prior to joining harpist Butterfield, Bloomfield recorded an album for Columbia, produced by John Hammond, Sr., in December 1964, and supplemented by three tracks produced by Bob Morgan three months later. Mysteriously it has remained on the shelf for 35 years, until this release, as part of Sundazed’s 180-gram vinyl-only series. But while this illuminates a missing piece of the Bloomfield (and blues revival) puzzle, it’s not particularly remarkable or revelatory.
Blues icon Charlie Musselwhite, who was the band’s harmonica player, has described the sessions as chaotic, with no rehearsals. And, while there are some noteworthy moments in the set, there is none of the spark that marked the early Butterfield band, nor the imagination of Musselwhite’s subsequent solo debut. As a bandleader he doesn’t exhibit a lot of vision (the repertoire is fairly rote blues), and he was never a strong lead vocalist; he was at his best pushing another strong personality, and being pushed back. The album’s mix doesn’t help matters – with Bloomfield’s guitar so far out front that the band is barely audible.
The strongest cuts are the title track (in the “Rock Me Baby” mode) and the alternate take of the Big Bill Broonzy boogie “I Feel So Good” (which is miscredited to Magic Sam – what qualifies as an “alternate” take on a never-released album is another matter). On the slow blues “The First Year I Was Married,” Bloomer switches from straight guitar to Muddy Waters-styled slide in the blink of an eye. There are signs of an identity developing, albeit with a lot of rough edges, but Bloomfield seems to be playing a lot without saying very much.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.