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Michael Bernard Bloomfield (July 28, 1943 — February 15, 1981), an American musician, guitarist, and composer, born in Chicago, Illinois, became one of the first popular music superstars of the 1960s to earn his reputation entirely on his instrumental prowess. Respected for his fluid guitar playing, Bloomfield, who knew and played with many of Chicago's blues legends even before he achieved his own fame, was one of the primary influences on the mid-to-late 1960s revival of classic Chicago and other styles of blues music. In 2003 he was ranked at number 22 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
The young guitarist's talent "was instantly obvious to his mentors,"
wrote Al Kooper, Bloomfield's later collaborator and close friend, in a
2001 article. "They knew this was not just another white boy; this was
someone who truly understood what the blues were all about." Among
his early supporters were B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and
Guy. Michael used to say, 'It's a natural. Black people suffer
externally in this country. Jewish people suffer internally. The
suffering's the mutual fulcrum for the blues'."
Their exuberant, electric Chicago Blues inspired a generation of white bluesmen, with Bloomfield's work on the the band's self-titled debut, and the subsequent record East-West, bringing wide acclaim to the young guitarist. Especially popular was "East-West's" thirteen-minute title track, an instrumental combining elements of blues, jazz, psychedelic rock, and the classical Indian raga. Bloomfield's innovative solos were at the forefront of the ground-breaking piece. He had been inspired to create "East-West" after an all-night LSD trip according to one legend, but a subsequent anthology of the Butterfield band included a booklet saying Bloomfield had also been influenced by John Coltrane and other blues-friendly free-style jazz musicians in creating the piece.
Bloomfield was also a session musician, gaining wide recognition for his work with Bob Dylan during his first explorations into electric music. Bloomfield's sound was a major part of Dylan's change of style, especially on Highway 61 Revisited; his guitar style melded the blues influence with rock and folk. Al Kooper has since revealed - in the booklet accompanying the posthumous Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964-1969 - that Dylan had invited Bloomfield to play with him permanently but that Bloomfield rejected the invitation in order to continue playing the blues with the Butterfield band. But Bloomfield and fellow Butterfield members Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, backing Dylan for his controversial first live electric performance.
Rock critic Dave Marsh, in Rock and Roll Soul: The 1001 Greatest
Singles of All Time, has also revealed Bloomfield to have been the lead
guitarist for Mitch Ryder's hit "Devil With The Blue Dress." However,
Marsh's claim is disputed by Bloomfield collaborator
Barry Goldberg, who
played keyboards on that track. For the online bio, "The Bloomfield
Notes" (#6), Barry states that Mike played on the following recording
after "Devil", and "Sock it to Me", another track mistakenly credited to
"Why not do an entire jam album together?" Kooper remembered in 2001. "At the time, most jazz albums were made using this modus operandi: pick a leader or two co-leaders, hire appropriate sidemen, pick some tunes, make some up and record an entire album on the fly in one or two days. Why not try and legitimize rock by adhering to these standards? In addition, as a fan, I was dissatisfied with Bloomfield's recorded studio output up until then. It seemed that his studio work was inhibited and reigned in, compared to his incendiary live performances. Could I put him in a studio setting where he could feel free to just burn like he did in live performances?"
The result was a jam album that spotlighted Bloomfield's guitar
skills on one side; Bloomfield's chronic insomnia caused him to repair
to his San Francisco home, prompting Kooper to invite Stephen Stills to
complete the album. It received excellent reviews and became the
best-selling album of Bloomfield's career; its success led to a live
sequel, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and
Al Kooper, recorded
over three nights at Fillmore West in September 1968.
For a time, however, Bloomfield gave up playing because of his heroin addiction:
“ ..and I put the guitar down- didn't touch it.. Shooting junk made everything else unimportant, null and void, nolo contendre. My playing fell apart. I just didn't want to play. ”
During the late 1970s, Bloomfield recorded for several smaller labels, including Takoma. Through Guitar Player magazine he also put out an instructional album with a vast array of blues guitar styles, titled If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em as You Please. Bloomfield also performed with John Cale on Cale's soundtrack to the film Caged Heat in 1975.
Through the 1970s, Bloomfield seemed satisfied to play in local San Francisco Bay Area clubs, either sitting in with other bands or using his own "Michael Bloomfield and Friends" outfit. But his best performing days were behind him and most of the decade was spent battling drugs and his own deep insecurities.
In 1974 Bloomfield hooked up with a failed supergroup called KGB, from the initials of Ray Kennedy (co-writer of "Sail On, Sailor"), Barry Goldberg on keyboards and Bloomfield on guitar. The band had a rhythm section of Rick Grech on bass & Carmine Appice on drums. Grech and Bloomfield immediately quit after its release, stating they never had faith in the project. The album was not well received, but it did contain the standout track "Sail On, Sailor". Its authorship was credited only to "Wilson-Kennedy", and had a bluesy, darker feel, along with Ray Kennedy's original cocaine related lyrics.
A revealing look at his decline can be heard in the tapes circulated for Chet Helms' (of The Family Dog) Tribal Stomp held at Berkeley's Greek Theatre in 1978. The original Butterfield Blues Band reunited for this show and Bloomfield was featured in several solos. However, his guitar is out of tune at times and he simply misses licks he could have hit in his earlier days. For comparison, seek out concert recording from the Fillmore West with the Electric Flag, when he was in his prime. Bloomfield also was apparently suffering from arthritis in his hands in his last few years and that may have been a telling factor in both the decline of his playing and his mental attitude towards performing.
On February 15 1981 Bloomfield was found dead in San Francisco in his parked car. According to his friends, the size of the heroin dose that killed him meant that he probably did not drive to this spot and overdose, rather that the lethal dose had been administered somewhere else and he had been driven to this spot to avoid complications for his drug-ingesting cohorts. The official cause of death was ruled an accidental drug overdose.