Wednesday, March 07, 2007
When I was 16 years old, I called up about a dozen of my musician friends and asked if they wanted to drive up to the Fillmore with me and see if we could sit in. Michael Bloomfield, Steven Stills and Al Kooper were playing together, billed as "Supersession." Every one of my friends said no, that I was crazy. It would never happen. Until I called my last friend, who was older than me and had actually moved out of his parents' house and was living with a girl, said, "Oh man, that sounds great. Hold on a minute," whereupon he spoke to his girlfriend about it and came back to the phone and said to me "Hey, I think I'm just gonna stay in tonight." Needless to say that one phone call is the reason I didn't marry until my early thirties.... At least I can try, I said to myself. It probably won't happen but tomorrow at least I can say that I tried. So I asked my folks, who were always supportive and trusting of my musical endeavors, for the keys to the car and drove the thirty miles up to the Fillmore. I went in and walked up to the stage, pulled on Mike Bloomfield's pant leg, looked up at him and said, " Hey man, I play drums, can I sit in?" Well I was 16 but looked 12 and I fully expected him to either kick me in the face or say "Go away kid!" But instead he said, "Well the drummer's a really nice guy, let me ask him." Uh-oh. Hey, wait a minute, I thought. I was just going to try. Oh no! Well he comes back and says, "Yeah, it's cool, you can play." Oh shit. Then it hits me. I'm going to play with Michael Bloomfield, Steven Stills, and Al Kooper, on the sand stage that I'd seen with Cream, The Yardbirds, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, and BB King? Well, I played but I swear to this day I don't remember one note, not one moment of the jam. That's how scared I was. So we finished playing and now I'm backstage hanging out with the other musicians. Am I cool or what?
HARVEY BROOKS BASSMASTER-INTERVIEW ! LINKS
AL KOOPER INTERVIEW LINKS
JOE LOUIS WALKER - INTERVIEW LINKS
RANDY CALIFORNIA - INTERVIEW LINKS
RECOLLECTIONS BY ART THIEME
[g]An Evening With John Lee Hooker & Mike Bloomfield:[/g]Me and Don Wilson (the cover artist on Robert Johnson's second LP of reissues released on Columbia) were standing by the curb somewhere around where Rush St. and State St. come together in Chicago--near a below ground folk club called the Fickle Pickle. A car screeched to a stop right where we were standing. It was Bloomfield, manic and excited, and he yelled something like, "Come on, John Lee Hooker is in town for one night." We headed out to a dance hall somewhere on the West side of town on W. Roosevelt Road (12th St.) Up a long steep flight of stairs was a really basic large space where things were happening. John Lee was doing his thing, folks were dancing and drinking and, as the night wore on, somehow, John Lee heard that his harp player was getting more money than he was because he was also taking tickets at the door there. John Lee was pissed and held a one-man work stoppage; said he wouldn't play until he was given more money for the gig. As a result, Mike was asked to play some. (It seemed that he was well known in that dancehall.)Well, he did that--and everyone loved him. Folks didn't want him to stop, but Mr. Hooker thought twice about his one-man strike in the light of this new scab labor. He made it known that he wanted to be back on that stage!! Mike moved graciously away and John Lee continued right from where he left off, I think. But it's hard to say because everything John Lee Hooker does sounds alike---at least it does to me--anyhow.
I don't think the problem with the pay went anywhere after that. All seemed forgotten---and/or forgiven.
Several years later after the Electric Flag and other ventures I had to write the obituary for Mike Bloomfield in Come For To Sing magazine. It was one of the hardest writing jobs I ever did. All I really remember about it was how damn mad I was with Mike---for, seemingly, tossing it all away. Same with Butterfield and so many others. Just a huge damn waste.
Still, it's fun remembering this and writing it out. I can almost smell that place...
BLOOMFIELD 1968 INTERVIEW (Extract)
RS : How did you get involve with the blues ? What was happening then in Chicago from which so much new blues talent come ?
MB : Well, I'll tell you a little bit about the Chicago blues scene, the white chicago blues scene. The Whole story as best as I can remember it. now what originally went down, the first cats I knew on the scene-they were several areas, where there were people interrested in blues in Chicago-the collectors, and the records cats, the historians and the discoverers who somewhere in their life realized that they where living in a city that was fraught with the real shit - All the whole cats on the records that had moved out to the Pigeonfoot, Georgia - and had ended up in Chicago. And I was one of those cats, like Bob Kessler and Pete Welding. There were a whole lot of people. And then there were cats around who where folkies, who put blues among other esoteric, ethnic folk music.
RS : Was Charles Keil one of those cats ?
MB : Charlie Keil, yeah, Charles was one of those cats. And then there were a very few cats who dug blues because they were living in that neighborhood and there were nothing but spades around and they dug hanging out in the bars. And there were a few cats like that. The first cat on the scene that I picked up on - the old grandaddy of the white Chicago blues scene - was Nick the Greek Gravenites. Nick was from the the West side man, a very tough Polak neighborhood, like they were smoking reefers. And the next cat down there on the really tough scene was Butterfield and like Butterfield want to play harp. And he went down there when he was a young man, right down on the street which was the hardest fucking scene in the world, the baddest, filled with bad motherfuckers. He went down there. Butterfield when down there with his harp and sucked up to Junior Wells, and cotton, and Little Walter. After a bit Butterfield got better than them. At that time Butterfield was going to the University of Chicago, but he spent most of his time on the street and I felt that for all practical purposes, Butterfield was just a tough street spade - like Malcom X - a real tough cat, Man. At that time I was hanging around the folk scene, with the ethnic folks freaking out with "Little Sandy review", flipping out with Rev. Gary Davis & Lightnin' Hopkins and folk music. Oh man, everything from Woody Guthrie to the country blues. That's where I was at. But basically my heart really belonged down there, with blues singing. Because that was like rock & roll but only a million times better. That was the real thing. When I was around eighteen years old I had been sort of messing around and Butterfield sort of accepted me at all, he just sort of thought of as a folky jew boy, because like Butterfield was there and I was just sort of a white kid hanging around and not really playing the shit right, but Butterfield was there man. I guess that was about where the scene was at and I didn't know many people. I just knew Butterfield & Nick Gravenites & Elvin Bishop (who was working already with Paul at the time) and a few folkies. Then when I was around eighteen this cat, Charlie Musselwhte, came up from Memphis and he dug the blues too. He was from an old blues scene at home in Memphis. Mostly it was like Butterfield scene, in which he hung around with Furry Lewis & other old blues singers. I was also pretty much by this time, pretty blues conscious. I was managing this club and every tuesday night I'd try seriously to have concerts with Muddy Waters and Sleepy John Estes, all the blues singers in Chicago that I could get hold of, that I'd ever met or tried to meet. I tried to get especially the rare cats. I was around eighteen and got this band together. We played a year with Big Joe Williams. I played piano with them and Charlie Musselwhite play harp. Eventually Joe Left and when we worked there, we played nothing but blues. The band was Musselwhite, and this cat from the Sopwith Camel named Norman Mayall who is from Chicago, yeah...and this bass player who was from Roy Rogers's band. Mike Johnson was the name of our lead guitar player. He was sort of a rock player, he sang rock & roll. When we got together we didn't play nothing but blues and we weren't real good, but we had a lot of feeling. After that I left that club and went to another club, after playing there for a year, and gave Butterfield my gig there. I said, "listen, my gig's done there, why don't you work there ?" Butterfield had a band that had a sound all its own, an out of sight band, the best band to ever come down in that area, tight, tough, blew everybody's mind. So Butterfield played there. And right after that, cats started saying that the white groups were really getting down to it, because the rules had been laid down: you had to be as good as the spades in town; you had to be as good as Otis Rush, you had to be as good as Buddy Guy, as good as Freddy King, whatever instrument you played at that time, you had to be as good as they were. And who wants to be bad on the South Side ? Man, you were exposed all over I mean right in that city where you lived, in one night you could hear Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Big Joe Williams, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Lloyd Jones, just dozens of different blues singers, some famous, some not so famous. They were all part of the blues, and in New York Bob Dylan & his cats were playing their thing on the blues. But like Chicago they were playing the real blues because that's where they were working; they whey were working with the cats. Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall, who are not really good, worked a year in the Pepper's Lounge, one of the funkiest clubs, for a year as a novelty act. Corky played the drums and the piano. Applejack cats you don't know about, Chicago Slim, and Steve Miller and all the cat's in Steve Band. The thing is all the Chicago musiciens played the blues and all the other cats were imitators. We were playing right along with them and an imitation just could not do. It had to be the real thing, it had to be right. They had to stand up. Is was Buddy Guy playing just two doors down from you. You wanted to burn him if you could, you know, you just wanted to get up there and burn him off the stage. I think it was really Healthy.
RS : What professional bands did you play with or sit in with at that time ?
MB : Millions of them. It would take a day to give you all the names. I didn't play with as many as many cats did, because I got my own band. I stayed with them for two years. We were signed John Hammond and we recorded for Columbia Records. And it was really weird...we looked like the Stones then you know...really long hair...and outlandish clothes... this was year before the Stones and it was never issued. They never issued a fucking track that we cut.
RS : Did you play with about all the major blues men ?
MB : Millions of them, really, millions of Blue cats. I played with them, I was helped by them. There are pictures of them on my wall; different cats who are special friends. like Big Joe Williams, he was like a father, a close friend. With cats like Muddy, Man, it's like seeing your old uncle. Seeing Muddy on the road or at gig or something, it's like gigging with the whole family or something, with your older brothers and uncles or something like that. It's a very close thing. The Older cats have gotten a lot of work because the younger cats have talked about them and said "man, you think I'm Good, you should hear cats like Little Walter...man that cat can play harp" That what Butterfield said. It's like me with B.B. King. They're at the Fillmore now. Man, they wouldn't be at the fillmore if there weren't cats talking about them. The main reason you talk about them is because you love them. I know I love them. These cats who where so groovy to teach me and they were so groovy because they weren't satisfeid with just the little white boy playing those licks. You had to be good in order for them to dig you. They just weren't happy, they weren't grabbed, just to see a white cat playing that music. That wasn't where it was at. It was when a white cat socked it to them. They'd yell at the right time and say that was the real shit. That's so good man !