Classics: October 2023

Michael Bloomfield 1963 Fender Stratocaster
Classics: October 2023
The Strat bears serial number L-13266 on its neck plate, “2 Oct 63” on the neck, and “11/63” on the body. The case has strips of duct tape on which is written, “Bloomfield” and “3,” along with a bumper sticker from Flapjack Canyon, a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

Antonio Mazzara’s passion for music started at age 10, when he started playing a nylon-string classical guitar before moving up to a sunburst ’72 Strat and a ’68 Princeton Reverb to learn licks from favorite songs. While he never gigged, Mazzara has always loved guitars and the music of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Michael Bloomfield, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, Mark Knopfler, and others.

In late 1988, Mazzara got a call from a friend named Dennis Eveland, offering a once-in-a-lifetime deal. A salesman at Freedom Guitars’ Hollywood store, Eveland needed quick cash and had talked himself into parting with a Stratocaster that once belonged to Bloomfield, his personal guitar hero. Though the price brought him pause, Mazzara ponied up $6,500 so he could add the Strat to his collection of old Fenders, Gretsches, and Gibsons.

The guitar had fallen into Eveland’s hands the day after Bloomfield’s passing in February of 1981; needing cash to return a few of his client’s performance advances, Bloomfield’s manager called Freedom, acting on a tip that Eveland was a Bloomfield fan and would be very interested. Though me didn’t have the money, Eveland quickly talked his boss (shop owner Ed Bowen) into a loan so he could become the guitar’s devoted keeper.

Bloomfield, of course, is considered the first “guitar god” thanks to his work on a Telecaster for the 1965 debut album by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Just after the Butterfield sessions, he also played on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and was part of the singer/songwriter’s famous performance at the Newport Folk Festival that July.

“The folkies at Newport knew that Michael was a hot ticket, guitar-wise, having heard him with Butter and Bob,” said David Dann, author of Michael Bloomfield: An American Guitarist.

“But it really wasn’t until the first Butterfield album came out that the general listening public took notice; Highway 61 was controversial because it was electric, and though Michael’s solos may not have been earth-shattering, they were a definite departure from Bruce Langhorne’s tasteful noodlings on Dylan’s previous release – raw, loud, and occasionally even intrusive. It was pure greaser rock-and-roll – the distinction Dylan was looking for. But it wasn’t until Butterfield’s first release that people began to talk about Michael.”

A few months after Newport, Bloomfield ran into John Nuese, a guitarist friend who was forming a band with Gram Parsons set on becoming part of the emerging country-rock scene. For it, he needed a guitar more appropriate than his old Les Paul goldtop. Bloomfield, also interested in changing his sound, offered his Tele in trade.

After playing the goldtop barely more than a year, Bloomfield – who’d become enamored with Les Paul Standards after noodling on John Sebastian’s while in New York for an Epic Records demo session in March of ’65 – started the hunt for a Standard of his own; his friend (and VG contributor) Dan Erlewine, had a ’59 and reluctantly agreed to a swap. With each guitar change along the way, Bloomfield made waves in the market, and his playing a ’59 Standard is a major factor in ’Bursts becoming a foremost collectible; in an interview with VG in 2001, pioneering dealer/VG consulting editor George Gruhn said, “Prior to Bloomfield, vintage acoustic guitars were collectible, but electrics were not. He, more than any other person, changed musicians’ views regarding electric-guitar tone during the mid ’60s. The tens of thousands of musicians he influenced changed the marketplace immeasurably.”

The Strat had been converted by a previous owner to a 12-string, and was later returned to six-string configuration. The holes on the headstock (below) are more apparent than those filled-in between the bridge and body end.

In 1968, Super Session, an impromptu jam album Bloomfield recorded with Al Kooper, Electric Flag keyboardist Barry Goldberg, and Flag bassist Harvey Brooks, became a surprise hit. Dann recalls that Bloomfield – uncomfortable with his growing celebrity and the demands of the music industry – reacted by going into semi-retirement.

“Also, because he had begun using heroin while with the Electric Flag, he wanted to remove himself from the temptation,” Dann noted. “So he took an apartment in Lagunitas, a rural town 60 miles north of San Francisco.”

After several months away from the scene, he’d cleaned up enough to return to the Bay Area, though he had still little interest in playing out.

“He spent much of his time at home in Mill Valley, watching TV and reading,” Dann noted. “When he needed money or the spirit moved him, he’d play the occasional gig near his home in Marin County.

Bloomfield with the Strat on the back of Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’, released after his death in 1981.

“By ’72, he was venturing further thanks to help from Toby Byron, a fan, producer, and friend who offered to find gigs for his band, Michael Bloomfield and Friends. They played regularly around California and toured the Midwest and Eastern U.S.”

After famously abandoning the ’Burst and a hand-painted blue-swirl Telecaster in a Vancouver nightclub in ’74 (booked for a five-night run, Bloomfield bailed after the first night and went home, leaving behind his band and gear), Dann says he started playing a Telecaster and this Strat regularly at small venues like the Old Waldorf in San Francisco and the Bottom Line in New York City, up until ’79.

“Though he was using Fenders, he also was briefly a Gibson/Epiphone endorser, and was shown on the April ’79 cover of Guitar Player with a Les Paul Custom, a guitar he particularly disliked.”

In the final months of his life, Dann added, Bloomfield played mostly acoustic on a cutaway flat-top made in Mill Valley by Ove Veggerby, rigged with a DeArmond pickup taped in place. On at least one gig, he had a J-200. His set was mostly traditional blues, ragtime, and gospel, usually solo on guitar but also on piano in a duo with guitarist Woody Harris.

While the Strat’s original finish was black, prior to Bloomfield’s possession it had been converted to a 12-string, then back to six. And history doesn’t tell us exactly why – perhaps to better cover the repaired holes resulting from the modifications – but Bloomfield oversprayed it with black model-car paint. One apocryphal story has it that Electric Flag bandmate Buddy Miles gave the Strat to Bloomfield, perhaps after getting it from Hendrix during their time in Band of Gypsys.

“I’ve never heard that,” said Dann. “And I suspect that, like so many stories around Michael’s instruments, it’s just that – a nice story.”

For more on Michael Bloomfield and his guitars, see John Picard’s “A Sunburst Mystery: What Really Happened to Mike Bloomfield’s Missing Guitar?” (VG, June ’11), Dan Forte’s “Michael Bloomfield: Igniting the Blues” (May ’14), and “Michael Bloomfield’s ’63 Telecaster: This Guitar Killed Folk!” (October ’15). Also fascinating is the corresponding VG Youtube video produced by John Peden and featuring G.E. Smith playing the latter. It has been viewed more than 2.3 million times. David Dann runs the comprehensive website

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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