Saturday, January 7, 2012

Michael Bloomfield with Nick Gravenites and friends - Live At Bill Graham's Fillmore West (1969)

Michael Bloomfield was a uniquely gifted guitarist in the '60s and '70s, coming out of the Chicago blues revival scene, who nevertheless managed to avoid the spotlight, ensuring that he would not become a household name. He played behind Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival when the folk bard who was the voice of a generation grabbed an electric guitar and hailed (to mixed reactions) the revolution of electric rock music. Yet Bloomfield's name is all but forgotten, because he never played in a superstar rock band, or put out a lasting record, or cut a hit pop song. He was more authentic to the blues than perhaps many of his contemporaries who preferred a rougher, more rocking approach to blues revival, but his talent as a guitar virtuoso, particularly in the context of playing a soulful blues lead, is self-evident - the only problem is that few get the chance to hear him.

I discovered Michael Bloomfield years ago while I was a radio DJ delving into the hidden treasures of the classic rock era, and once wrote a comprehensive Amazon guide to help people discover this forgotten legend. I dedicated one of my radio shows to Bloomfield and the many musicians he played with, and in the process of researching for that show, I scoured Bloomfield's recorded history. It's a shame, but it's true that Bloomfield's genius as a guitar player was hard to capture on record, whatever the reason. But one of the greatest recorded live albums in Bloomfield's discography was this show at the Fillmore West, from 1969. I'm only getting my hands on it now because it's only recently been released on CD. At the time of researching for my radio show, I had to resort to tracking down a vinyl copy of the LP - and I remember sitting in an office in the library on campus that my friend was working at, using their device to record the LP to digital format, so I could play those tracks more easily on my radio show (and to listen to in the future).

A few of the live tracks recorded did not end up on the original Fillmore West LP, and those were released by request on Nick Gravenites (a singer and friend of Michael Bloomfield, who appears at this concert)'s album titled My Labors. The new CD release of Fillmore West attempts to combine those tracks with the original LP's tracklist, but unfortunately falls short of being comprehensive by excluding the (rather long) Wintry Country Side, instead adding (quite unnecessarily) a track from a different live album from a different tour (the song Mary Ann from The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper). It's a shame they couldn't fit that one last track on there, because now you'll still need to pick up My Labors if you want the whole concert (and Wintry Country Side, while slow to start, is a real burner). The only other complaint I have is that the false start leading into It Takes Time has been removed. I understand this can be viewed as a mistake, but I'm used to hearing that song with the false start (the band kicks into the song, stops after just a few notes, then starts right over from the beginning), and frankly I think it's a rather charming start to the song.

But that's a minor complaint, and even the exclusion of one track doesn't mar my enthusiasm for finally being able to have the remaining tracks (not released on My Labors) from this concert on CD, and on a CD that is, if not comprehensive, now the definitive version of one of the greatest recorded concerts representing Michael Bloomfield's elusive legacy.

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