Michael Bloomfield – Remembered
Michael Bloomfield, born this day in 1943, was one of the first American guitar heroes.
Of course, there were others before him; Les Paul, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, but as integral as the guitar was to their appeal, Berry and Diddley were known for their songs. Paul performed under his own name, and with this wife, Mary Ford.
Bloomfield was a backing musician, the guitarist playing in support of someone else; playing on Bob Dylan’s seminal “Highway 61 Revisited” and a member of the band when he “went electric” that night in Newport; and yet his playing was so distinct that people wanted to know who he was.
On the two LPs that he cut with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he was a member of an ensemble, which was how he preferred it.
He championed the older musicians, first as a booker for clubs like the Fickle Pickle in Chicago before he had begun recording, and later, when he was himself a headliner, with promoters such as Bill Graham.
Bloomfield’s playing is best captured in a live setting; he seemed to need the freedom to explore; the energy of an audience responding in the moment, and the give and take of his fellow musicians to push himself to ever greater heights.
Two of Bloomfield’s inspirations on guitar were T-Bone Walker and Albert King. Here, he pays homage to each with his cover of an Albert King original that Walker also performed and that King would transform when revisiting the number in concert years after recording the studio original.
King recorded this original while recording for the Bobbin label in St. Louis, in 1961. King had been with the label since 1959 and when the single was leased to the comparatively larger King label, it received national release and went to number fourteen on the R & B charts.
Albert King: guitar & vocal /
Ike Turner: piano /
Lee Otis Wright: bass / Kenny Birdell Rice: drums /
Harold White: tenor saxophone / Freddie Robinette: baritone saxophone /*
Recording date: unknown
Released, A-side, King single November 1961
Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong (Albert King) (2:57)
An excellent arrangement, previewing King’s future sound, highlighting his stinging guitar as the drummer adds tension with shifting tempos. Beneath this, the horns moan as the pianist darts among the other instruments like a barroom Iago seeding doubts and spreading inuendoe with his musical commentary.
T-Bone Walker, who wasn’t known for performing many covers, performed a version of King’s song for a television show broadcast in Germany during the first American Folk Blues Festival in October of 1962.
T-Bone Walker: guitar & vocal /
Memphis Slim: piano /
Willie Dixon: bass / Jump Jackson: drums
Recorded at Grober Kursaal, Baden-Baden Germany for Sudwestfunk (SWF)
October 04, 1962
Broadcast on “Jazz Gehort & Gesehen”
Available on: The American Folk Blues Festival 1962 – 1969 Volume 1 (Hip-O 2003)
Intro (0:23) / Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong (Albert King) (4:26)
Walker opens with a minute and half intro that is a master class in the “big city blues” that he represents. With expert backing by his accompanists, they thrill through understatement, dazzling the listener with the confidence and ease which with they perform. This is Walker at his best.
In the six years between this performance and King’s live version, the world had changed dramatically. And music had changed along with it.
With Bloomfield’s help, King was now performing for mainly white, rock-oriented audiences; they wanted to hear guitar and he gave it to them.
Albert King: guitar & vocal /
Willie James Exon: guitar / James Washington: organ /
James Pointer: bass / Theotis Morgan: drums
Recorded at the Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
June 26, 1968
Available on: Wednesday Night in San Francisco (Stax 1990)
Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong (8:24)
The opening is the same fast thirteen seconds as hear on the studio original, but after that King slows things down and digs deep, squeezing every once of emotion out of the strings, building to a titanic break lasting over four and a half minutes.
He steps back in to deliver the final verse and concludes with another two minutes of flirting, teasing guitar before bringing it all to a powerful climax.
If Bloomfield was not in the audience that night, he undoubtedly saw King perform the number live on other occasions. It seems doubtful that he ever got to see Walker perform the number.
Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper
Mike Bloomfield: guitar & vocal /
Al Kooper: organ / Paul Harris: piano /
Jerry Jemmott: bass / Johnny Cresci: drums
Recorded at the Fillmore East, New York City, NY
December 13, 1968
Available on: Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes (Sony Legacy 2003)
Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong (Albert King) (8:41)
Bloomfield kicks off the number with a relaxed two-minute intro that in it’s tone reminds one of Albert King, but in it’s harmonics tips its hat to Walker.
His vocal is not as steady as the one found on “The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper”, but I prefer his playing here and (aside from the drumming), the way that the band passes the break around between them.
Bloomfield kicks it off with some powerful playing effortlessly creating a huge soundscape before Kooper brings things back to human scale with the organ. Paul Harris then invites everyone back to the bar where Bloomfield regales us all again with another great story and the number ends with everyone clamoring to buy the next round.
Bloomfield’s time with us was painfully, too short, but the memories of all those whose lives he touched and the music that he left behind, will live forever.
*The original post had Ike Turner listed as “possibly” the pianist on the session (Little) Johnnie Johnson (who would become Chuck Berry’s main musical collaborator) usually sat on the piano stool during King’s Bobbin sessions; and also listed a second “possible” drummer for the session – a phone conversation on September 06, 2018 with Kenny Birdell Rice, who toured and was the only drummer to play on King’s Bobbin recordings clarified that information for me and I am happy to correct it.