November Feature: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Nov 1, 2012

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was one of the key blues groups of the '60s and important players in the blues revival of the era. Inspired by the classic blues of their home base of Chicago, the band would add rock and other elements to create its own dynamic and influential sound.

Butterfield and Elvin Bishop were the core of the group, two pals who spent their time hanging out in south side blues clubs. With members of Howlin' Wolf's band, Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay, they put together their first group in the early '60s. With the addition of Mike Bloomfield (and later Mark Naftalin), they were signed to Elektra Records and (minus Butterfield) backed Bob Dylan at his famed (and controversial) "electric" performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.That same year they released their self-titled debut. They followed with the powerful East-West album that showed the band's ease with incorporating rock, Indian, jazz and psychedelic influences into the blues.

However, the original band's days were short lived, with Bloomfield the first to depart, followed by Bishop and Naftalin. Butterfield would go on to form Better Days (which, at various points, included Amos Garrett, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, and Merl Saunders) and later appeared in the Band's Last Waltz and worked with the Band's Rick Danko and Levon Helm. Bloomfield was briefly part of Electric Flag and the Super Session (with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills) and did some solo recordings. Both passed away from drug and related health problems in the '80s.

Naftalin had a successful career as a studio musician and continues to this day to do a popular blues radio show on the West Coast. Bishop had a successful solo career in country rock and in more recent years has done a series of strong albums that returned him to his blues roots. Lay, who appeared on scores of records for Chess before joining the Butterfield band, would later work with Siegal-Schwall, do solo recordings, and be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, the Jazz Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, and the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Despite the brief time it was in existence, the Butterfield Blues Band (and its various members) played a major role in introducing the blues to new audiences in the '60s and added new elements to the music. The group is among this year's list of possible nominees for the Rock Hall of Fame. Throughout November, Crossroads highlights music from the Butterfield Blues Band, along with the various spinoff groups, projects and related players that would follow.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band at Monterey in 1967 with "Driftin' Blues":

The Elvin Bishop Group with a live version of "The Sky Is Crying":

Mike Bloomfield with Muddy Waters on Soundstage in 1974 doing "Long Distance":

The Sam Lay Blues Band performing at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival: