Home     •       News     •       Biography    •      Music Room       •         Features      •         Discography           •         Artifacts

NEW!

Bloomfield blog

Mike Bloomfield Guitar Techniques

Al Kooper's Birthday Bash

A tab of Mike Bloomfield's solo on "East-West"

Four-part radio program on Mike Bloomfield

Photo courtesy of  Elliott Landy

"Michael Bloomfield: If You Love These Blues," by Jan Mark Wolkin & Bill Keenom

Available at Amazon.com

Michael's Words      •     Photo Gallery      •       Memories       •      Bloomfield Les Paul      •      Guest Book        •      Links       •      Contact Us


Home

News

Biography

Music Room

Features

Discography

Artifacts

Words

Photos

Memories  

Les Paul

Guest Book

Links

Contact Us


 

   Memories

     Did you know Michael Bloomfield?  Do you have a favorite story you'd like to share?  Here's a place for those special memories.  We welcome your contribution(s). Please send your Michael stories HERE. All entries will be reviewed before posting. 


 

  

 

 

Alligator recording artist and Blues Hall of Famer, Joe Louis Walker, blues guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, lived with Michael on Carmelita St. in Mill Valley, California, for several years in the late 60's. Here is his very personal statement about his dear friend.  

 http://www.joelouiswalker.com

JLW and daughter, Berniece, with her godfather, B.B King

   Michael Bloomfield was a lot of things to a lot of people. Blues man, rock icon, folk rock icon, guitar hero - too many things to mention here. But to me, Michael was a friend and mentor. He took me in as a member of his musical family and into his heart and home when I was broke, floating from gig to gig with no prospects. For me, he was a lifeline and for a lot of other people, too. He believed in me at all times even when I didn't believe in myself. He took me and many other struggling musicians under his wing and prepared me for my musical career. He literally changed me forever in so many ways. I leave to others to comment about his music, but in reality if you listen you'll  get it. Without Michael, my career and mainly my life would be radically different. For that I can only say, "wherever you are, Michael, I'll be able to thank you properly when I see you. But I'll never be able to repay you."  JLW


John H. Russell knew Michael briefly in the summer of 1958. They attended camp together at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe, New Mexico, along with Michael's brother, Allen.  

      

 

        The Dude Ranch by John H. Russell

   I met Mike at a dude ranch around 1958. He borrowed an acoustic guitar from a Navaho bus boy one afternoon. We all took turns playing. He beat up on Allen. Later on I challenged Mike to a friendly fight. I was a year older than Allen. We squared off then both decided to forget about it. Minutes later this photo was snapped. I'm the one with the belt buckle. Something spiritual went thru Mike's body when he handled that guitar. I'm grateful to have spent time with him.
 

Michael, saluting the photographer, and Allen, about to throttle his older brother, pose with friends (including John Russell; top left) at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe, New Mexico


George Gruhn is an expert on vintage American guitars and related instruments. He opened Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1970 and has sold guitars to musicians such as Eric Clapton, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Billy Gibbons, Rick Nielsen, John Hiatt, and Hank Williams, Jr. Vintage Guitar magazine described his store as a "landmark," and a mecca "for fans of collectible electric and acoustic guitars." He is also the author of several books on the subject. To learn more about George, visit his website at http://www.gruhn.com

Michael's Impact by George Gruhn

   I started my freshman year at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1963 and graduated from there four years later after which I did graduate work in zoology at Duke. When I first met Bloomfield, he played strictly acoustic blues. He used to hang out and play on the steps in front of the record store (where Big Joe Williams lived) on the near North Side of Chicago. Needless to say, I was at the University of Chicago when Bloomfield first appeared playing electric guitar with the Butterfield band and also when Elvin Bishop joined the band shortly afterwards. I remember vividly well that as soon as Bloomfield started to play a Telecaster the value of vintage Teles went up dramatically and no one was yet looking for a Les Paul. No sooner did Bloomfield play a gold top 1954 Les Paul with a stud mounted bridge than many people abandoned Telecasters and promptly switched to Les Pauls like Mike's. On the rare occasions when I found a slightly later gold top with P-90s, tune-o-matic bridge, and stop tailpiece, it would bring less than one like Mike's and when I found one with sunburst finish and humbucking pickups I was told that the humbucking pickups sounded sickly sweet and syrupy and the tune-o-matic bridges hurt the tone and sustain. I remember very well when Mike was looking for a sunburst Les Paul. He asked me to help him find one. At that time they were very cheap since there was no demand for them yet but since only about 1500 were made and these were scattered worldwide, they were very scarce. I was unable to find one quickly enough and Mike ended up doing a trade with Dan Erlewine to get one. Within two weeks after Mike got his sunburst Les Paul, the same people who told me that the gold top 54 models were better guitars denied ever having thought or said any such thing and were now looking for guitars like Mike's. It is my opinion that Mike did more to introduce the concept of vintage guitars as collectibles than anyone before him. While he never had a hit record, multi-thousands of players were profoundly affected by his music and his preferences in guitars.

   The Butterfield Band was the first band with electric instruments that was engaged to play at the University of Chicago at concerts and festivals sponsored by the Folklore Society. Some of the Folklore Society members of that time will undoubtedly have many memories and comments to offer. It was only after the Folklore Society started featuring the Butterfield Band that they reached out to the black R&B community surrounding the University. Prior to Butterfield they did not book any bands with electric instruments. They considered themselves to be old timey acoustic purists. They started featuring folks like Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Williams, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Little Richard, and other R&B bands very soon after the Butterfield Band became the darling of the university crowd. Had it not been for Bloomfield and Butterfield, I am not certain that the Folklore Society would have ever featured local black R&B players.

 


Jon Monday was V.P. and General Manager of Takoma Records from 1970 to 1979 when Chrysalis Records bought the company from John Fahey. Monday was the only employee they kept and continued as General Manager. He eventually became head of marketing for Chrysalis, working with Blondie, Jethro Tull, Billy Idol, etc. He is currently president of Benchmark Recordings. To learn more about Jon Monday, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Monday

   The Takoma Albums by Jon Monday

   My heart was always with the REAL artists like Mike Bloomfield, John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho, Mike Auldridge, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, etc. I think we put out two or three studio albums of Mike on Takoma before Chrysalis bought the company.

   A guitar shop in Santa Monica called McCabe's booked concerts on the weekend. The Takoma Records offices were two doors down the street. I had the idea to run a video line and microphone cables running from the McCabe's sound booth to our offices, where we could build a 16 track recording studio. We put a security camera in the concert hall and were able to watch on a monitor. It was great that we could do live albums in the comfort of the studio control room. The first album we recorded that way was a concert by Mike Bloomfield.

   There were a couple of memorable things about that night. Mike was in very good form, giving a blues history lesson. His mother, Dorothy, was present for the show.  Mike, thrilled that she was there, introduced me to her backstage. It was a terrific performance - warm, funny and musically great! The tapes sat on the shelf for years, lost in the shuffle between Takoma and Chrysalis. There was a settlement in 2000 between the previous owners of Takoma, that assigned the rights to Benchmark Recordings, and the album was finally released titled 'I'm With You Always'. A good and unusual album for Mike.

   The last album we released on Takoma, under the Chrysalis Records deal, was a sad story. Mike's albums never sold that well, but we highly respected his art and his legacy. At any rate, we had John Van Hamersveld doing our covers (he had done some great poster and album cover art for the Rolling Stones and others). He used a photograph of Mike sitting on the back of a car and the album was titled 'Cruisin’ for a Bruisin'.

The very day the album was released, we got word that Mike was found dead in his car on a street in San Francisco. It was too sad and tragic – and too late to pull the album back, although we thought about it.


Michael Sokol, from western Montana, grew up in Chicago and knew Michael in high school.

Memories of Michael Bloomfield by Michael Sokol

   Fifty years ago in Chicago I met Michael Bloomfield at Central YMCA High School. Central "Y" was located at 19 south LaSalle in the heart of downtown Chicago. This was a school for kids that were different, in retrospect many of us had ADD or were very creative in some way and could not fit in at a regular high school.

   The first time I saw Michael he was playing his guitar and singing some folksong. This was in 1960 or 1961. The next time I saw Michael was the summer of 1966 at Big John's on Wells. It is almost impossible to describe the energy inside that club when Butterfield and Bloomfield were wailing. Yes, I did a joint or two before going in but you could get high just on the raw energy coming from the stage. I will never forget it!
Every time I talked with Michael he was always down to earth and a kind soul. I still listen to his music when I need a jolt of energy.


  

   Michael Herndon, a musician and full-time dentist, released an album, 'The Spirit of the Sun' with Merle Haggard on one track. You can learn more about Michael Herndon at http://michaelwherndon.com/home.htm

The C Bar N Ranch by Michael Herndon

   It was (near as I can remember) 1970 or 71. I was living back in the woods in a Tipi on the C bar N ranch, north of Novato. This was the famed Badell Ranch north of San Francisco that many of the musicians in San Francisco used to go to. Now it is the Rancho Olympali State Park.

   One day as I was getting ready to leave the Tipi for work in Mill Valley, this guy comes riding by on a rented horse (that was the business of the C bar N Ranch). He stopped, noting that I was carrying a
guitar and a banjo, and asked me if he could see the guitar. It was a Martin D-41, one of only 16 made with Brazilian Rosewood. He asked if I could play it and I said of course, and then related that I used to be with Paul Anka and others. So he said the next time he came out he would bring a guitar and we could sit by the Tipi and play a bit. I had no idea who he was at that time.

   Two Saturdays later (the day we planned), he showed up on the horse with a guitar case in his hand. So we talked, laughed, shared a dube and then pulled out the guitars and played. He asked me to play what I wanted to play and he would tag along. I play acoustic guitar fingerstyle and in many different tunings. Well, this guy just knocked me out with what he was doing with my music! It was simply amazing out there in the woods, just the two of us under the oak trees and in front of the Tipi. After a while, I said, "You are so frickin good on that guitar that I might have heard of you?" He laughed and said "some people say I am the best blues guitar player in the world!", chuckling while he said it. Then he said his last name "Bloomfield". I was astonished for I knew of his work with Paul Butterfield and the Super Session album. Well, what the heck, he and I talked a bit more and then played some more. This went on for about 3 hours then he said it was time to go. We talked about doing it again sometime when he was out to ride, but that was the last time I saw him. One of those memories that you pull out every now and then and smile...

   I moved up to Idaho shortly thereafter and later I read that he had died. I was quite bummed but was grateful for that nice guy that showed up with his guitar (I can't recall for sure but I seem to
remember it was a Gibson) and the one time we spent laughing and playing guitars together.

   True story never told to anyone but close music friends until now. I still play. My last record has Merle Haggard singing with me on one of the songs, so I do have some credibility!


   George Spink, a writer and native Chicagoan (now living in Los Angeles), worked at Big John's in the 60's. A music lover his entire life, George has a website dedicated to big jazz bands. http://www.tuxjunction.net/welcome.htm

Big John's by George Spink

    I met Mike Bloomfield in November 1964, when he and his band were playing at Big John's in Chicago. A friend of mine from Northwestern, Pam Teichner, took me to Big John's for the first time because she knew how much I loved music. I had just returned to Chicago after a year of graduate study at Stanford.

   I have never heard anyone play guitar like Michael. I always called him Michael rather than Mike. After a couple of weeks at Big John's that November, Michael took his band to play at Magoo's on the far Northside. I heard him recommend Paul Butterfield and his Band to Bobby Wettlaufer to replace Michael and his band.
Paul and his band turned out to be as amazing as Michael and his band. Both played blues, not traditional blues but urban blues, introducing a whole generation to it. Students from the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Roosevelt, Loyola, DePaul, and Columbia College flocked to Big John's every night.

   In December 1964, Bobby Wettlaufer, knowing I was looking for work, asked me if I would like to work at Big John's as maitre d', ID checker, bouncer, and bartender. Would I?!! I accepted right away. For almost two years, I heard the best blues bands in the world! You can read about my time at Big John's by following this link:  http://www.tuxjunction.net/bluesbigjohns.htm

   In mid-1965, Michael joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Elvin Bishop also playing guitar, Jerome Arnold on bass, Mark Naftalin on keyboards, and Sammy Lay on drums. They created a sensation at the Newport Folk Festival that summer when they performed with Bob Dylan. Many die-hard folk music fans did not like electrified instruments.

   I remember one time Michael and his wife, Susie, invited me to their home for dinner. They lived in an apartment at Carl Sandburg Village, only a couple of blocks from Big John's. Michael and I talked about music. I surprised him when I told him I often went to the Fickle Pickle upstairs on the northeast corner of Dearborn and Division, which he ran a few years earlier. I heard Art Farmer and Benny Golson ("Killer Joe") at the Pickle.

   Michael, Paul and I were about the same age. (I was born in 1940.) I heard all of the blues greats of the time at Big John's. But the band everyone admired the most was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

   I moved to Los Angeles in 1990. For a few years, I took yoga classes at Yoga Works on Montana Street in Santa Monica. One day I was talking with one of the younger instructors before class. He asked me about a book I was carrying about the blues. I mentioned how much I loved the blues. He was a blues fan, too. When I told him about Big John's and mentioned the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he smiled and told me that Michael's mom was in his "East Does It" class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. He told her about me.
A few days later, Mrs. Bloomfield and I had a long, leisurely lunch at a nearby restaurant on Montana Street. She had white, wild curly hair, reminded me of Michael, who had black, wild curly hair. Mrs. Bloomfield was a delight!

   I also met Bruce Springsteen in the early 1990's here in L.A. When I told him about Big John's, he listened so intently. He said that one of the high points of his early career was opening with his E Street Band for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

   I am glad that today, almost 50 years after I first walked into Big John's and heard Michael playing, his music is still revered by so many.


    Douglas Grossman was keyboard player for Cloud, a Boston rock band in the sixties. He now runs an indie record label dedicated to the memory of Otis Spann. http://www.spannrecords.com/artists/

Memory of Mike by Douglas Grossman

   I think it was the winter of 1966. The Butterfield Band was playing a concert at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was an afternoon show and for some reason Billy Davenport, the drummer at the time, failed to show. The promoter of the show knew that I was in the audience with my band. He came out and asked our drummer, Victor McGill, if he could take the drummer seat for the show. How exciting and thrilling! The Butterfield Band was at their peak! They were like gods to us! We were led backstage where Victor was introduced to the band, and it was Mike Bloomfield who literally took Victor under his wing.

   Mike was an amazing, bright and warm spirit. He had the warmest and friendliest smile. He reassured Victor that this was going to be cool and to watch him for all his cues. He could not have been nicer. When the band took the stage I had tears in my eyes - seeing the drummer from our little old rock band on stage with these musical giants. True to his word, Mike guided Victor the entire way. He could not have been more gracious. It was such a thrill to be part of that. I will never forget the warmth and kindness of Mike Bloomfield!


 

   Derrick (Big) Walker plays tenor and alto saxophone, the ten hole diatonic and chromatic harmonica, sings and writes his own songs. He has been teaching classes in blues, rock and country harmonica for over fifteen years. He took lessons from Paul Butterfield, who taught him to sound like himself and "play melodies, not just licks." Derrick has played with Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton, Luther Tucker, Eric Bibb and many more. He also played tenor saxophone and harmonica on Michael's 1981 Takoma release, Cruisin' for a Bruisin'. To learn more about Derrick, visit his website www.blueswalker.com/

 

Meeting Michael by Derrick (Big) Walker

   Being unemployed in a place like Marin County was not easy I can tell you. During the daytime, I would go to the stairs right in the middle of town, where you could see the park and the boats coming over the San Francisco Bay. There I’d play my horn at the same place where I saw the hippies panhandle in the late 60‘s. I would make enough money to get something to eat plus some gas in my car. I’d then drive to one of the clubs in San Francisco or Oakland at night to jam.

   One warm summer day I sat playing one of the few melodies I knew. I was a bit shy and would play with my eyes closed looking only when I heard the sound of coins landing in my sax case. This time was different. When I looked up there stood Bloomers! I quickly closed my eyes again for a long time and kept playing the same melody. I opened my eyes only when I believed he was gone. Oh no, he’s still there, I thought. So I closed them again and played for maybe two minutes or so, but no, he’s still there. So finally I end the tune. He walks part way up the stairs, hands me a twenty and says "not bad".  I was so ashamed. I thought it sounded like shit. He said "Come down to the Sweetwater tonight and sit in with me." Great, I said, I'll see you there! When I got to Sweetwater the band had two sax players. Ben King Perkoff, who I have known for years, played tenor sax. He was and still is my best friend. Hart McNee played baritone sax. I had a blast! The next day Ron Butkovich, the guitarist, called me and asked if I wanted to join in the band.

    This was not the first time I met Bloomers. In fact, the reason Michael stopped when he saw me was that he recognized me from years ago when my friends and I would sneak backstage to as many concerts as we could. We were unstoppable. One time we were backstage at a Steve Miller/Electric Flag concert . I tried to talk to Steve Miller, but he said "piss off, kid", or something like that. Michael waved me over and said "Have a seat." I remember he was so calm, almost majestic. I sat there and didn’t say a word. After some time he looked over at me and said "You look just like Sam Cooke." I smiled, he smiled back. Then he took his guitar and walked to the stage.


   Mike Finnigan is an American keyboard player and vocalist, his specialty being the Hammond organ. Finnigan has toured and sessioned for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Etta James, Buddy Guy, Ringe Starr and many more. He is twice a winner of the W.C. Handy Blues Music Award for his work with Taj Mahal as a member of the Phantom Blues Band.

Meeting Mike by Mike Finnigan

 Here's how I met Mike Bloomfield and this is absolutely true! I had just moved from Wichita, Kansas to San Francisco to play with jazz guitarist, Jerry Hahn, who had formed the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood. It was a cutting edge kinda thing and we were lucky to quickly sign a deal with Columbia Records. I was playing and singing with Jerry and the cats at a bar in San Francisco. A guy was standing on my side of the stage watching me. When we finished our set, I came off the stage and the first thing this guy said as he held out his hand was, "I'm Mike Bloomfield...why ain't you famous?!!!" 


   James Hamilton Shomo and Michael, both the same age, both North Shore brats,  both interested in music, met when Michael attended New Trier High School.  Says Jim, "...but Michael was the giant." 

   Remembering Mike by Jim Hamilton Shomo 

   It's getting on Christmas, Tiger is up to 14 babes, and there is no one on this earth to take the place of Bloomfield. At the Fickle Pickle,  Mike showed me how to play the first 'cool' blues lick I ever learned. He was always very approachable,  but he might not say what you wanted to hear. The Fickle Pickle (made the cover of Time) was a non-alcoholic night spot in the Rush St. area. Mike took it over on some weeknights creating a venue for some really different music on the Near North Side of Chicago. This area became my haunt. I to Loyola Academy then Glenbrook North.  

   I met Mike when he was at New Trier High School. In 1962, the Glenbrook Folk Music Society was to perform there.  We parked in back where  the music room was and while going in with our guitars and banjos, Mike was coming out.  He said "oh, shit".  That's all.  I had to pause to consider the comment a lot of times.  Tears are coming now but they will stop. Not like the the night (my birthday) in 1981 when I got the news he was gone. 

   I had a little band in Taos, New Mexico called the 'The Blues Band' and while gigging at the 'Dramm Shoppe', people told me that Carlos Santana and all kinds of people would try to drag Mike out of his funk.  I guess it was not to be. He was always so kind and friendly and when he played the electric blues, I had to hold my own mouth shut for the awe was so very much. I had a few occasions from '62 to 68' to hang with Mike and yea, he was crazy. It takes one to know one. 

Love to all the crazies.  Chicago James.


    

  Barry "The Fish" Melton, (top right)  guitarist and co-founder of Country Joe and the Fish and The Dinosaurs, continues to play music both as a solo artist and with friends.  Barry practiced law, before retiring in 2009, and was a public defender for Yolo County,California. www.counterculture.net/thefish

Tony Dey, Jay Levy, Barry Melton, Rick Dey

If I'd Listened to Mike Bloomfield, I'd Be Rich and Famous Today by Barry Melton  

   I'm sure you've heard the stories about Michael's incredible intellect, his photographic memory, his voracious appetite for listening to music and the fact that he spent many hours per day reading everything he could get his hands on: All true. But Michael was more than just a run-of-the-mill genius. He not only had an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, music and current events, he was also astute enough to draw conclusions from what he'd listened to and what he read.

   When I signed with Columbia Records in 1971, of all the people I knew, I wanted Michael to produce my first album, 'Melton, Levy & the Dey Bros'. I figured Michael had worked with Columbia for some years, and -- since we were both primarily guitar players (neither of us were known for our singing abilitiesl) -- he would be able to relate to my situation better than most people. And Michael was friends with Rick Dey, who was playing bass with me at the time, so as the enterprise got underway, everything seemed to be falling into place naturally.

   At a relatively early stage in the project -- somewhere in the summer of 1971 -- Michael called me early one morning. "Barry, you've got to come over to my house right away! I've got an idea about your record. We've got to change everything! I'll explain it to you when you get here." I dropped whatever I was doing and drove over to Michael's place (we were both living in Marin County, maybe 20 minutes away from each other).

   When I got to Michael's house, he was completely energized. He looked as if he'd been up all night. "Barry, I've been listening to this totally new music! It's like the blues, but it's not the blues and it's like rock, but it's not rock, either. You've got to listen to it! We've got to change directions, stop what we're doing now and go into a recording studio with the guys who made these records -- it's a whole new kind of music. Well, it's not new really, but nobody seems to know about it outside of Jamaica. It's called 'reggae'. All we have to do is book studio time in Kingston. We'll put together the best musicians in town and we'll fly there immediately and start recording. LISTEN!"

   So I sat down in Michael's living room as he gave me a tour de force of the reggae genre. It was great! So then I asked, "What kind of recording studios do they have down there?" Michael replied, "I think the most we'll be able to get is a 4-track studio but we're not going to be able to get our hands on this kind of music anywhere else." I shook my head and attempted to calm Michael down. "Michael, Columbia just gave me a ton of money to make a state-of-the-art record. State of the art is 16 tracks! How will we be able to justify taking all this money to go to a poor country and use a marginal 4-track recording studio? We'll never get away with it!"

   We argued back and forth and eventually Michael relented. One year later, in 1972, Jimmy Cliff starred in "The Harder They Come," the story of a young man who comes to Kingston to make it in the recording business and dies in a shootout. The film was an almost instant success and its soundtrack was hugely successful, popularizing reggae music and bringing it to a broad-based international audience.

   If I'd listened to Mike Bloomfield, I'd be rich and famous today!


     Harriet Gross, now living in Dallas with her husband, writes a weekly column for the Texas Jewish Post. She also contributes to the Dallas Morning News and other local publications. Harriet does book reviews/leads book club discussions and is currently working on one herself - a book of biographies for the local historical society.  Harriet can be reached at harrietgross@sbcglobal.net

Sunday School by Harriet Gross   

   I knew Mike almost a dozen years before he became "the great white rock guitarist" with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and The Electric Flag. I was Mike's Sunday school teacher in 1957–58, in the ninth grade, at a great Reform temple in north suburban Chicago. North Shore Congregation Israel was located in Glencoe (it's since moved to Highland Park).

   My students there hailed from incredible affluence; when, the first week of class, I gave them an ethics problem involving how to spend a million dollars, I found that I was the only one in the room who didn’t know how to invest it all outside the United States, tax-free. Mike’s folks were rich, but he was not popular with his peers. The boys were out dirt-biking while he stayed holed up in his bedroom, listening to folk music and discovering the wild tunes of the black musicians who pioneered the then-fledgling rock genre. He knew so little about Judaism and hated religious school.

   My husband was a social worker. All Jewish social workers — or so it seemed in the ‘50s — were also folk singers. Jewish social workers’ wives taught religious school to augment the salaries of their pittance-paid spouses. And they sang along. Some of us weren’t bad. My husband and I made it to the informal stages of Chicago’s College of Complexes and Evanston’s No Exit Café. I “contracted” with Mike: If he’d stick out the year and make it through confirmation, I’d take him with us to our favorite venues.

   We kept our bargain. I helped Mike buy his first guitar — the one he was still playing when he died. But I’m getting ahead of my story. He had $500 that he’d won in a poker game with his father and dad’s fellow big-businessmen. That amount bought one heck of a good instrument a half-century ago. His mother pleaded with me. I was the only one who could talk sense to Mike; he should buy a dirt bike. I said it was
his money. She didn’t talk to me any more after that but Mike made it through confirmation!

   After high school, Mike moved to San Francisco where the early rock action was. Dick Christenson, music critic of the late-lamented Chicago Daily News, went out there for the first big concert of its kind, 'The Monterey Pop Festival'. He wrote about the great kid from “home,” also confirming for me that Mike was making magic with that same guitar.

   He didn’t come back much, but Mike had a really important Chicago connection anyway: After the riots at the Democratic National Convention of 1968 — less than a year before Woodstock, and also triggered by a young people’s peace movement, particularly in light of the Vietnam War — he wrote the incredible music for “Medium Cool,” the 1969 film about the city and its political/police fiasco. It’s a theme and a soundtrack of its time — throbbing and thrumming and humming with all the music Chicago, and Mike, had in them. He was then just 26 years old.

   Sadly, it was all downhill from there. Mike became a reclusive abuser of alcohol and drugs. I left Chicago late in 1980, and less than three months later, I picked up the Dallas Morning News and read his obituary. It didn’t say “overdose,” but everyone knew. In the same desk drawer with my essential printer cartridges and other writing-trade tools, I keep that yellowed scrap of paper from Feb. 16, 1981 — the day after Michael Bernard Bloomfield’s exit from this earth.

   Every bit of information anyone could want is at our fingertips today. Google Mike Bloomfield and you can hear some of his astounding music or read a brief, straightforward biography by Barney Quick, published two decades after Mike left us. You can also rent “Medium Cool” — probably not at Blockbuster, but at some place with old films in stock. However, you’ll never know the pudgy, obsessed kid I did, the one who lived for music, and in a way died from it.

   The average American passes away at 75 years, 8 months; the average age of a rock star at death is 36 years, 9 months. Mike was 36 years, 7 months. Just about on target.

   He did call me before that. He told me “I owe you one.” I’ll forever be sorry that I could never collect.
 


   Robin Yeager is Founder, General Partner and Chief Engineer of Tres Virgos Studio in Mill Valley, California.  www.tresvirgosstudio.com

   From "Rolling", the memoirs of Robin Yeager

   In the spring of 1976, I worked a session with Mike at ABC Studios in San Francisco (just before it became David Rubinson's Automat). Mike Fusaro was the engineer that day and Norman Dayron was producing. We cut 2 songs. One was "Sammy Knows How To Party" (Better Than Anyone Can). I don't think many people would remember that session. Those that were there are either living a non-existential exisitence in Nova Scotia or dead! I am reminded daily of this song, when I take my 5 dogs out to pee in the morning. One of them is coincidentally named Sammi. Every morning I sing to her the chorus "Sammi knows how to Potty, Better than anyone can!" 33 years later!! I don't have a recording of that unfortunately (Bloomfield's version that is).

   The second song we recorded was "Why Lord Oh Why" and my friend, Penny Jacob(founding publisher and editor of the Mix Magazine), was asked by Mike to sing it. She did a beautiful job of making this country-esque ballad come to life. Mike turned to us and said "It'd be nice to have a pedal steel on this". Well, it so happened that Asleep At The Wheel was in Studio A doing a live broadcast on KSAN-FM. I told Mike to hang on and ran out of the room to Studio A. The band was in full swing when I approached John McFee playing pedal steel. He was wearing a well-worn straw cowboy hat and mirror aviator shades. He looked up at me with a "What the fuck?" expression. I asked him if he wanted to help out Bloomfield next door on an overdub. He nodded his head yes, unplugged his rig and carried it out the studio door in to Studio B. He cut the overdub in one take and I helped him back into Studio A, plugged in, and the band kept playing never missing a beat!!!

   When Bloomfield came to the original Tres Virgos Studio in Mill Valley to cut "Michael Bloomfield" for Takoma Records, he showed up with Dave Shorey on bass and Bob Jones on drums. He took his black and white strat out of a beat up case. I was appalled at the condition of the strings and the pickups and volume/tone knobs looked rusty. I figured he would at least change the strings before rolling tape, but no. He just wiped 'em down with a rag and laid down the rhythm tracks for 8 songs. Side A: Guitar King, Knockin' Myself Out, My Children My Children, Women Loving Each Other/ Side B: Sloppy Drunk, You Took My Money, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and The Gospel Truth. The studio was so new and I was so green as an engineer that my partner, Allen Rice, took over and I assisted. Norman Dayron produced again. I have a copy of this album sitting next to me. It has never been played. I will transcribe it and make it available to the Mike Bloomfield Website.

   That was the beginning of a long friendship with Dave Shorey. Dave was a creative giant who came into the Tres Virgos life with Mike Bloomfield in 1976. Dave worked in the studio and lived in his car outside the studio for about a year. His songs were recorded by Pete Adams and mixed by me. Pete collaborated on all of the songs and a very young mother/daughter singing duo known as Naomi and Christina, now Wynona (the Judds) did the back up vocals. I remastered these songs in 2008 and sent them to Dave. He was touring under the name Gashouse Dave. I titled the remastered work "Gas Backwards" and sent it to him. He was so grateful but referred to it as "drivel". I listen to this day to those songs. They are haunting, beautiful works that sound quite good and worthy of re-release. We will all miss you, Shorey.

   And we have all missed Bloomfield for a long time now!


   Randy Shay grew up in San Francisco and Marin. He was a teenager when he met Michael. Currently with a band called Spirit of Ojah (http://www.myspace.com/spiritofojah), Randy has played different styles of music all his life. 

  Memories of Mike by Randy Shay

   I first met Mike in the late 60's. A photographer friend of mine invited me to go with him to Mike's house on Carmelita in Mill Valley. There was a large table in the dining room where we all sat around and ate. Mike was living with a black lady named Henri. Ira Kamin was there. Carey Bell, the harp player from Chicago, was there too. We sat around and talked about music but I was mostly speechless due to guitar idol shyness. Mike was a very energetic talker and it was fun to listen to him. After eating we all went to the Fillmore for the gig. Carey Bell jammed with Mike onstage and it was great! It was the first time I was ever backstage at the Fillmore and I loved that. I remember how there was always talk among guitarists about who was better: Mike or Clapton. I was always in the Bloomfield camp. The first Electric Flag album clenched it even though the album with Clapton and John Mayall was great. Mike's solo on 'Another Country' has always been one of my favorites as is the one on 'Mary Ann' with Al Kooper.

   I met Mike again at a mutual friend's house in San Francisco. I remember how he was interested in the diminished chord I was playing on the guitar. I was impressed how he didn't place himself above any of us there.

   I met Mike again at a gig in the early 70's at a college in Stockton. We were backstage with Nick Gravenites and Mark Naftalin. They were playing as a trio. I remember how Mike was interested in old stories about himself because he claimed he couldn't remember stuff about the past.

   The last time I spoke with Mike was at his house next to Tam High in Mill Valley. I gave him a tape of Pygmy music from Africa and he said he would listen to it. I never got the chance to hear how he liked it.


    BOB JONES, pictured here on drums with Michael and 'Gashouse Dave' Shorey, was the 12-string guitarist and vocalist for We 5 (You Were on My Mind). Bob joined 'Mike Bloomfield & Friends' in 1969. He remained a member of the band, as drummer and vocalist, throughout most of the 70's. Bob recorded many albums with Michael including 'Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West'.  To find out more about Bob, visit his website www.bobjonesland.com

 

How I Met Michael by Bob Jones

 

   In the late ‘60s I started playing drums. I had roomed with a really good drummer in We Five, John Chambers, when I still only played guitar. He was one of Jerry Granelli’s best students. I had asked John a lot of questions but I kind of had a feel for funky dance drumming anyway. John and I had a band with Ron Stallings and John Kahn, the “Tits and Ass Rhythm and Blues Band”. Kind of the same technique as naming your band “Free Beer”. Anyway, “T & A Band” for short. When that band broke up John Kahn got me to borrow some drums from John Chambers and come jam at the Heliport in Sausalito. Playing at the Heliport Jams was an Organ player named Chuck. Chuck was a real player from East Bay cover bands. He was “employed” by a north bay psychedelic “band” of “performance artists”. He would have us come up to their ranch and jam there too.

   At this time I had two heroes, Al Jackson ( drummer in Booker T. and the MGs ) and Otis Redding. I tried my best to sound exactly like them both. I studied and learned everything recorded by them. I was a Memphis Soul nut. I was into Delta Blues but not much of a Chicago Blues fan (yet). I had not really become aware of Michael although I had heard East-West. I certainly didn’t know what he looked like. If you played soul music in the San Francisco Bay Area at this time, white people didn’t know what it was you were doing. I regularly got the deer in the headlights reaction from hippies.

   One evening we were playing up at the ranch. As I recall, I had just finished a really good version of “Cigarettes and Coffee” when this guy with a giant fro and an Alfalfa grin sticks his head around the corner and says, “Man, I thought it was Otis Redding in here singing and Al Jackson playing drums. Turns out it was one guy! Man, that was great!” You could have knocked me over with a feather! It was the first time anyone, other than my close musical buddies, had ever figured out what I was doing! Who was this guy?! Wait! He’s got a pick in his mouth and he’s putting on a Les Paul! Oh, oh, now what?! Well, needless to say, the rest of the night was magic. Mike, (who I had no idea was the guy from East-West), proceeded to blow me away with soulful solo after soulful solo. I was in heaven. Either that night, or soon after that, he asked me to play on “Live at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West".

   And that is how I met Michael!

 

 

"Jones, Tune This" by Bob Jones

 

    It would always amaze me to pick up Michael’s guitars and play them. After a set or so of playing leads, they could often be hellishly out of tune! This puzzled me until I realized that, like a good standup bass player, Mike was pulling most of what he played to pitch by ear. He had such good ears and fast hands that he simply adjusted his “pull’ until it was in tune. Occasionally, and especially when he was playing “stride” style, he would have to stop and tune it during the set. If Michael was in his impish mood, he would often yell, “Jones, Tune This”, and hand me the guitar (knowing that I was a guitar player and a Nazi about tuning). I think it entertained him to watch the near-field audience’s reaction to handing the guitar to the drummer to tune. Shocked and puzzled! Also, I probably sometimes made dismayed facial expressions at the state of tuning, further entertaining him. And of course, even though I was a little embarrassed by the position into which I had been placed, I think I enjoyed the skit too. At any rate, I always dutifully tuned it and handed it back to him.

               Michael on acoustic slide guitar

 

       

Michael with his strat

Photos courtesy of Bob Jones

Hey, Can I Play Your Guitar? by Bob Jones

   Often after shows, a guy would come to the foot of the stage and ask to play Mike’s guitar. I would get that inner smile ‘cause I knew what was coming. After a while I would play a game with myself. Since I was pretty sure that this guy played and had a guitar at home, I would guess his string gauge by evaluating his age, clothes, and general demeanor. Since we usually call string sets by their high E string gauge, I would use that. Light gauge strings which are easy to play start at very light ( .008 of an inch ) and progress upward. Most weekend warriors would play around .009 sets. Occasionally a working musician would venture up. He’d be a .010. Almost no one was higher than that. Stevie Ray played heavier gauges but tuned down to make them easier to bend. I was never sure of Mike’s exact gauge, but from tuning them (see “Jones, Tune This” ) I’m sure they were not less than .013 and might even have been more. I could hardly play them and I had strong hands and played all the time. And Mike played these in regular tuning. Non of this wimp assed tuning down! Anyway, Mike would always be super friendly and cooperative and say,”Sure, man” and hand the guy whatever axe he was holding. I’m not sure what these guys expected. Suddenly they were going to sound like Mike? Secrets of the Blues Guitar? What they got was the surprise of their lives. You would hear this “Boink, Doink, Spraak...” and see this look of dismay spread across their faces as they realized that the guitar was strung with CABLES! Like THICK CABLES! Then they would start thinking about the whole step pulls and vibrato they had just witnessed and they would kind of cave in. The bright ones would get that they were facing a whole lot of practice. The not so bright ones would get puzzled and wonder why anyone would do this. I never saw anyone play past three or four notes. Then they would just hand it back, say “Uh....thanks” and walk away.  


 

 

 

 

 

          

 

  

 

   PETER AMFT, personal friend and photographer. Peter's photos can be found on many LP covers, in music magazines, on the cover of Michael's bio "If You Love These Blues" and throughout the book titled "Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues".  His photos were also used on the covers of 2 of Michael's solo LP's, "It's Not Killing Me" and "Living in the Fast Lane". 

Photo by Peter Amft

Meeting Michael by Peter Amft

 

   This was the Fall of 1962. I was walking down Wabash Ave in downtown Chicago, under the dark 'El" tracks. At that point in time,  Lyon & Healy and Steinway and other music stores were all gathered on one short stretch there. I had an Orpheum banjo in its case in my left hand and a Martin priceless vintage D-45 under my right arm in the case and a triple "o" 18 in case in my right hand. Out of the shadows in front of Kroch's and Brentannos book store popped a very hyper Michael Bloomfield. He insisted I come into the store. Mike was manning a small trough full of Folkways and Riverside LP's. I had to go finish my chores and he had to get back to his post. But I agreed to meet him the next day at the corner of Rush and Chicago Ave. He was starting a brand new job in a large LP store there. I did. Mike was behind a large counter in this well- appointed trendy upper class shop waiting on a North Shore young married couple who wanted a copy of "The Sound of Music". But Michael would have none of it. He fairly leaped over the counter and thrust a copy of "Freddie King Goes Surfing" in their startled faces. "THIS is what you want to buy", he bellowed. Mike was fired on the spot! He seem relieved. Filled with enthusiasm for what was ahead in his life, he and I laughed it up and went down the street, arm in arm. Instant buddies! 

 

"Jew Goo" by Peter Amft

   Guitarists always ask me what made Mike so good. It's well they ask
me, as I have met and jammed with everyone from Segovia to Jimi Hendrix, and palled around with Mike at his apartment in Chicago while he would play along with two televisions playing two different channels at the same time. So he could play the Little Rascal's theme song and all the Tom and Jerry riffs mish-moshed together.

   Mike ran off to Mill Valley with my entire stash of Starday bluegrass LP's, and mastered every cut on all that black plastic. Famous for the gunky crap he'd leave encrusted on your fingerboard if you were nuts enough to let him play it, he also broke Muddy's fat low "E: string (on the Mud man's Tele) but he also demolished my Mom's upright
piano....simply by banging on it.

   Born with a true photographic memory, Michael could pull out of the air any
riff he had ever heard - either in a live concert or on recorded LPs. He always had that miserable hunched over old-man's posture, but Michael was strong with a powerful grip. So had Rev. Gary Davis, who lived with me for a memorable week back in '64. The three of us played old camp songs together one afternoon. "Boom, boom, ain't it great to be crazy!"

   Michael Bloomfield lived life to the fullest. I do know he brought an unbridled concentration to every riff he ever recorded. Complete sexual energy poured out of the meaty hands on to the rusted out wire. Like Hendrix, he played a way out of tune guitar and resolved the flats and sharps by pushing and pulling the wires into a jangled intonation. That fucking Les Paul had NOTHING to do with it. That was pure Michael!

 


   John Braheny, (www.johnbraheny.com) songwriter and folk singer in the 60's, was booked by Michael to play some gigs at the Fickle Pickle.  A friendship ensued.  This is  John's story. 

Mike Bloomfield and Me at the Fickle Pickle by John Braheny

 

   The late great guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, used to tell me, “Man you’re the only REAL folksinger I know.” I took it with a grain of salt since I knew a lot of “real folksingers” myself and held many of them in awe at the time. But I fit his romantic image of the folksinger because I didn’t have a car and hitchhiked all over the U.S. and Canada with a sleeping bag and guitar and always had road adventures to tell him about. In addition, I was, at that time, playing a repertoire of mostly traditional songs from old English ballads to blues. Mike was managing a club on Rush Street in Chicago called the Fickle Pickle and booked me to play there several times during the mid 60's. He once booked me as a headliner with Big Joe Williams as my opening act. I said ”Man, I’m embarrassed to have Joe open for me. The guy’s a legend. I should open for HIM!” He explained that he was dedicated to keeping Joe working and he couldn’t book him as a headliner all the time so he needed somebody else from out of town to headline.

   At the time, along with being a sponge for the styles of the local blues artists, like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and others he was also booking those artists all over town. I really liked Mike. He was always enthusiastic and acted like life was racing ahead of him too quickly to catch it. He always seemed like he was in hyper-drive. In fact, whenever I asked him to show me some blues lick on the guitar he seemed incapable of slowing it down enough for me to follow him. I finally gave up. But it was still always a kick to hang with him because he invariably had something new he wanted to turn me on to. Sitting in his apartment one night he turned me on to a comedy album that would become a classic. 'HOW TO SPEAK HIP' with the brilliant Del Close and John Brent of Second City made us laugh til we cried. The record is out of circulation but I hope you get a chance to hear it someday.

   His then wife, Susan, and I had become friends during that time (no romance, just mutually supportive friends) and after their divorce I stayed with her for a couple of days after my own breakup with the girl who inspired one of my first songs, "December Dream". I wrote it in her apartment and it was later recorded by Linda Ronstadt/Stone Poneys and the late Fred Neil.

   I lost touch with Mike after that as he joined Electric Flag, played with Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited and the Newport Folk Festival and moved to San Francisco, but his searching spirit and the fun we shared still lives warmly in my memory.

 


   Horace "Ace on Bass" Cathcart met Michael in their youth and played bass guitar for some of Michael's earliest known gigs. 

   The Early Days by Horace Cathcart

   My name is Horace Ace Cathcart. I was raised in Lake Forest, IL. I was the same age as Michael and we met around 12 years old. He met me playing at some private party along the North Shore area of Chicago. I was the only bass player, at the time on the North Shore, and Michael wanted me to teach him bass. I said that I would teach him what I had learned on guitar and we could play together. I did and we became friends. We started playing together in our early teens around a couple of folk clubs in the Near North side of Chicago. We played at New Trier High, and many private parties around the North Shore. When we graduated high school, in 1961, we went our separate ways. I went to California for about one year and was with the band called The Jesters. I came back in the fall of 1962 and hooked back up with Michael and started playing at the Fickle Pickle on Rush Street. We did some blues shows there and did a couple of road trips with Washboard Sam, Big Joe Williams, and Sunnyland Slim. One of the shows I recollect was when we went to a college in Iowa, and did two blues shows, one on a Saturday night and the next one on Sunday morning. We had a hell of a crowd. Mike and I recorded several tracks on Argo label, part of Marshall Chess record companies. We backed up Dean DeWolf at the Fickle Pickle, and some of his recordings. I remember Mike and me sitting in with the “Battle of the Kings” (Albert King, Freddie King, BB King and Bobbie King) on the July 4th weekend in 1963. That was a blast. We did some clubs around Chicago and the suburbs playing blues. The artists at that time were Paul Zupec? on organ, Danny Woods on drums and Mike and I. I do not know what happened to Danny and Paul.
 

   In March of 1963 I received my invitation to join the draft. Three months later I was gone into the Marine Corps, and spent the next 3 and ½ years in Nam, with the U.S. Marine Corps band, playing upright bass, keyboard, tuba, and glockenspiel, touring the Far East. I was discharged in 1968 and ran into Michael doing a concert in San Bernardino, CA. After the concert I gave him a ride to the LA Airport, and we had small talk on the way. He was really paranoid about all of the cops outside the auditorium and all he did was grab his guitar, and we left. I did not realize the ramifications of heroin at the time. This is the last time I saw Michael before his death. I was living in Los Angeles and he was in Mill Valley. I was not into the rock music at the time, because I did not know what it was. I basically went into a shell, and tried to get back to the music I was in when I was in LA in 1961, the old rock and roll. It did not really work out. I left LA in 1975 and went to Portland, OR. And got married. It did not work out and so I left in 1982 and went to Alaska for ten years. I met my current wife in 1990, and relocated to the Seattle area in 1992, and this is where I currently reside.