A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia: Now Available!

This is truly exciting: as of today, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is on sale at Amazon.com, and from many other fine booksellers.

If you're in two minds about buying one, go to a bookstore, find a copy, and hold it in your hands for a few seconds. Feel the heft of it. See the way Bob's face shines in different ways as it catches the light. Look at the cool CD-ROM, tucked inside the back of the book. (No, you may not steal it.) Flick through the pages and marvel at the lovely text design and the charming selection of photographs. And then read an entry - any entry. You won't be disappointed. To help you on your way, here's the entry on Mike Bloomfield. Enjoy...


Bloomfield, Mike [1944 - 1981]

Michael Bloomfield was born in Chicago on July 28, 1944, hung around the city’s blues clubs from a very young age and by the time he hit adulthood was already one of the great white blues guitarists and one of the earliest blues-rock virtuosos: an influence on all the rest and a pioneer of the extended solo. He learnt from, and sat in with, many blues greats, including BIG JOE WILLIAMS, who once tried to stab him. His short memoir, Me and Big Joe, 1980, describes not only Williams himself but also going with him to visit Tampa Red, SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, Tommy McClennan, Kokomo Arnold and others.

Bloomfield joined the PAUL BUTTERFIELD Blues Band in late 1964 (in time to play much-admired solos on their 1965 debut album) and increasingly influenced the adventurousness of the group’s subsequent work, flying off in exploratory ways while relying on the Chicago blues-band anchor of Butterfield and his rhythm section. He brought an Indian influence into the group’s second album, East-West, after exploring Indian music on a series of acid trips.

His intermittent relationship with Bob Dylan began, as for so many musicians Dylan has locked onto down the years, with a phone call out of the blue. Would he like to fly to New York and play on this song? There was one style guideline laid down by Dylan: ‘None of that B.B. King shit’: and however you feel about B.B. King, you know what Dylan meant. He wanted the pioneering rock-blues side of Bloomfield, and he got it. Bloomfield took the flight, his guitar on the seat next to him; he didn’t own a guitar-case. The sessions began on June 15, 1965. They started with ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’, didn’t get the take they wanted, moved on to the more obscure ‘Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence’ (the third take of which was issued in 1991 on the Bootleg Series Vols. 1–3), and then, without success, tried ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Next day they went back to it, and the session’s fifth take was it.

A few weeks later, with AL KOOPER, BARRY GOLDBERG, JEROME ARNOLD and SAM LAY, Mike Bloomfield was up there with Dylan facing the partially hostile crowd at the NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL, and back in the studio four days after that, cutting more of Highway 61 Revisited. On July 29, they pinned down ‘Tombstone Blues’, ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ and the ‘Positively 4th Street’ single. July 30 secured ‘From a Buick 6’ and the version of ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?’ that, also labeled ‘Positively 4th Street’, was issued by mistake. On August 2, the highly productive penultimate day, they cut the album’s title track, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ and ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’.

Bloomfield bowed out and went back to his other life. He left the Paul Butterfield Blues Band early in 1967 and on the West Coast formed the Electric Flag, with his old friends Nick Gravenites and Barry Goldberg, plus Buddy Miles on drums and a brass section. Their first recordings were for the soundtrack of the cult film The Trip, followed by a first album, A Long Time Comin’, in spring 1968. Mike Bloomfield left the group that summer, before Buddy Miles prompted them to make a second album (The Electric Flag). The group disbanded in 1969.

Bloomfield had moved on to join Stephen Stills and Al Kooper for an album on which they’re billed as, er, Stills-Kooper-Bloomfield. Supersession includes a very odd treatment of ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’, typifying in its strain after effect that period immediately after the heyday of Angst Bards, when, as this album’s title implies, rock groups suddenly produced superstars: a new term, then, signifying a new breed of people so stratospheric that they could hardly play their instruments at all any more. Quitting their original successful groups, they tried to join forces, generally for one-off gigs in front of massive rock-festival audiences; but excesses of money, alcohol, drugs and ego made it impossible for these titans even to speak to each other, much less work productively. Kooper and Bloomfield were not in the same league, superstar-wise, as Stephen Stills, and perhaps their lesser status is what keeps their collaboration from falling apart altogether.

Bloomfield managed a series of solo albums, uninhibited by the fact that he didn’t know what he wanted to say and was lost outside the framing of a band. In 1973 another not-very-supergroup was attempted, joining Bloomfield with Dr. John and JOHN HAMMOND JR., calling itself Triumvirate and redirecting Bloomfield back towards the blues. It was no success at all. In 1974 Bloomfield contributed to an Electric Flag reunion album produced by JERRY WEXLER, The Band Kept Playing. It didn’t.

He also wrote for ‘underground’ movies other than The Trip, and made appearances in several too. He wrote all the original music for that important 1960s independent film Medium Cool, directed and written by Haskell Wexler in 1969. He appears as himself in Bongo Wolf ’s Revenge, 1970, directed by WARHOL hanger-on Tom Baker, and wrote its original music, and gets credits as musician and lyricist on 1973’s archetypal 1970s movie Steelyard Blues, directed by Alan Myerson and starring Donald Sutherland, Peter Boyle and Jane Fonda. In 1977 he wrote the music for Andy Warhol’s Bad, directed by Jed Johnson.

A decent sampler of Bloomfield’s real work in the 1960s is the compilation Don’t Say That I Ain’t Your Man: Essential Blues 1964–1969. His 1970s solo albums include Try It Before You Buy (1973) and Analine (1977). The same year’s If You Love These Blues, Play ’Em as You Please attracted more attention but by this time Bloomfield was a long-term heroin user and hostile to the idea of touring (though in summer 1980 he toured Italy with classical guitarist Woody Harris and cellist Maggie Edmondson). By the late 1970s much of his modest income was earned from creating the music scores for porn movies, a gig that had been at its best in the much-praised semi-overground porn of Sodom and Gomorrah, made by the Mitchell Brothers in 1975.

Fifteen years after their historic 1965 collaboration, when Dylan was playing 12 nights at the Fox-Warfield in San Francisco in November 1980, mounting a series of golden concerts that marked his first semi-return to the secular world after the adamantly all-gospel tours of 1979 and spring 1980, he went round one day to Mike Bloomfield’s house, not knowing in what condition he’d find the guitarist, and had to climb in through a window to get to see him. They talked, Dylan urging Bloomfield to come to one of the concerts and play with him again. A couple of nights later (on November 15), friends took Bloomfield along, though he was so sceptical of Dylan’s really wanting him to play that he wore his slippers. But Dylan called him on stage, giving him time to adjust to the rather scary situation and much reassurance, by offering the audience a long, affectionate and generous speech on who Mike Bloomfield was. Then they did ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, with Bloomfield delivering a biting, triumphant guitar-part, matched by a second contribution towards the end of the concert, on a glittering, epic ride through ‘Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar’.

Three months later to the day, Mike Bloomfield took a drug overdose and was found dead in his car. He was 36.

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