Michael Bloomfield (July 28, 1943 – February 15, 1981) was an American musician, guitarist, and composer, born in Chicago, Illinois, who became one of the first popular music superstars of the 1960s to earn his reputation almost entirely on his instrumental prowess, since he rarely sang before 1969 and 1970. Respected for his fluid guitar playing, Bloomfield knew and played with many of Chicago's blues legends even before he achieved his own fame, and was one of the primary influences on the mid-to-late 1960s revival of classic Chicago and other styles of blues music. In 2003 he was ranked at number 22 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and 42nd in 2011 by the same magazine. He was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 2012 and with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Bloomfield was born into a wealthy Jewish-American family on the North Side of Chicago but preferred music to the family catering equipment business, becoming a blues devotee as a teenager and spending time at Chicago's South Side blues clubs, playing guitar with some black bluesmen (Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell, Little Brother Montgomery). Bloomfield's family eventually moved to suburban Glencoe, Illinois, where Bloomfield attended New Trier High School for two years before being expelled. He attended Cornwall Academy in Massachusetts for one year before returning to Chicago where he spent his last year at the local YMCA school.
The young guitarist's talent "was instantly obvious to his mentors," wrote Al Kooper, Bloomfield's later collaborator and close friend, in a 2001 article. "They knew this was not just another white boy; this was someone who truly understood what the blues were all about." Among his early supporters were B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy. Michael used to say, 'It's a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country. Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering's the mutual fulcrum for the blues'."
During those haunts, he met Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop, ran his own small blues club, the Fickle Pickle, and was discovered by legendary Columbia Records producer/scout John Hammond, who signed him to the label at a time when the label had had no recent association with blues.
Bloomfield recorded a few sessions for Columbia in 1964 (which weren't released until after his death), but ended up joining the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which included Bishop and Howlin' Wolf rhythm section alumni Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold.
Their exuberant, electric Chicago blues inspired a generation of white bluesmen, with Bloomfield's work on the band's self-titled debut, and the subsequent record East-West, bringing wide acclaim to the young guitarist. Especially popular was "East-West's" thirteen-minute title track, an instrumental combining elements of blues, jazz, psychedelic rock, and the classical Indian raga. Bloomfield's innovative solos were at the forefront of the ground-breaking piece. He had been inspired to create "East-West" after an all-night LSD trip according to one legend, but a subsequent anthology of the Butterfield band included a booklet saying Bloomfield had also been influenced by John Coltrane and other blues-friendly free-style jazz musicians, plus traditional Indian and Eastern music in creating the piece. (The original title for the piece was "The Raga.")
Bloomfield was also a session musician, gaining wide recognition for his work with Bob Dylan during his first explorations into electric music. Bloomfield's sound was a major part of Dylan's change of style, especially on Highway 61 Revisited; his guitar style melded the bluesinfluence with rock and folk. Al Kooper has since revealed – in the booklet accompanying the posthumous Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964–1969 – that Dylan had invited Bloomfield to play with him permanently but that Bloomfield rejected the invitation in order to continue playing the blues with the Butterfield band. But Bloomfield and fellow Butterfield members Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, backing Dylan for his controversial first live electric performance.
Rock critic Dave Marsh, in Rock and Roll Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles of All Time, claimed Bloomfield to have been the lead guitarist for Mitch Ryder's hit "Devil with the Blue Dress." However, Marsh's claim is disputed by Bloomfield collaborator Barry Goldberg, who played keyboards on that track. For the online bio, "The Bloomfield Notes" (#6), Barry states that Mike played on the following recording after "Devil", and "Sock it to Me", another track mistakenly credited to Bloomfield.
Bloomfield tired of the Butterfield Band's rigorous touring schedule and, relocating to San Francisco, sought to create his own group. Bloomfield left to form the short-lived Electric Flag in 1967 with two longtime Chicago cohorts, organist Barry Goldberg and vocalist Nick Gravenites. The band was intended to feature "American music," a hybrid of blues, soul music, country, rock, and folk, and incorporated an expanded lineup complete with a horn section. The inclusion of drummer Buddy Miles, whom he hired away from Wilson Pickett's touring band, gave Bloomfield license to explore soul and R&B. The Electric Flag debuted at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and issued an album, A Long Time Comin', in April 1968 on Columbia Records. Critics complimented the group's distinctive, intriguing sound but found the record itself somewhat uneven. By that time, however, the band was already disintegrating; rivalries between members, shortsighted management, and heroin abuse all took their toll. Shortly after the release of that album, Bloomfield left his own band, with Gravenites, Goldberg, and bassist Harvey Brooks following.
Released in 2002, "Groovin' Is Easy", contains the following 9 songs; "Spotlight", "I Was Robbed Last Night", "I Found Out", "Never Be Lonely Again","Losing Game", "My Baby Wants To Test Me","I Should Have Left Her","You Don't Realize" and "Groovin' Is Easy".
Bloomfield also made an impact through his work with Al Kooper, with whom he had played with Stephen Stills, on the album Super Session in 1968. The direct impetus for the record, according to Kooper, was the twosome's having been part of Grape Jam, an improvisational addendum to Moby Grape's Wow earlier in the year.
"Why not do an entire jam album together?" Kooper remembered in 1998, writing the booklet notes for the Bloomfield anthology Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964-1969. "At the time, most jazz albums were made using this modus operandi: pick a leader or two co-leaders, hire appropriate sidemen, pick some tunes, make some up and record an entire album on the fly in one or two days. Why not try and legitimize rock by adhering to these standards? In addition, as a fan, I was dissatisfied with Bloomfield's recorded studio output up until then. It seemed that his studio work was inhibited and reined in, compared to his incendiary live performances. Could I put him in a studio setting where he could feel free to just burn like he did in live performances?"
The result was Super Session, a jam album that spotlighted Bloomfield's guitar skills on one side; Bloomfield's chronic insomnia caused him to repair to his San Francisco home, prompting Kooper to invite Stephen Stills to complete the album. It received excellent reviews and became the best-selling album of Bloomfield's career; its success led to a live sequel, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, recorded over three nights at Fillmore West in September 1968.
Bloomfield continued with solo, session and back-up work from 1969 to 1980, releasing his first solo work It's Not Killing Me in 1969. He recorded an album called Try It Before You Buy It which Columbia declined to release a year later. Bloomfield also helped Janis Joplin put her Kozmic Blues Band (for the album of the same name) together in 1969, co-wrote "Work Me, Lord" for the album, and played the guitar solo on Joplin's blues composition "One Good Man." Columbia also released another 1969 album, a live concert jam, Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, including former Butterfield bandmate Mark Naftalin, former Electric Flag bandmates Marcus Doubleday and Snooky Flowers, and a guest appearance by Taj Mahal; and, re-uniting with former bandmates Paul Butterfield and Sam Lay for the Chess Records all-star set, Fathers and Sons, featuring Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, also the same year. Bloomfield also composed and recorded the soundtrack for the film, Medium Cool by his cousin, Haskell Wexler set during the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.
For a time, however, Bloomfield gave up playing because of his heroin addiction:
“..and I put the guitar down – didn't touch it.. Shooting junk made everything else unimportant, null and void, nolo contendre. My playing fell apart. I just didn't want to play.”
During the late 1970s, Bloomfield recorded for several smaller labels, including Takoma Records. Through Guitar Player magazine he also put out an instructional album with a vast array of blues guitar styles, titled If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em as You Please. Bloomfield also performed with John Cale on Cale's soundtrack to the film Caged Heat in 1975.
In 1973, Bloomfield teamed with Dr. John and John Hammond, Jr. for an album called Triumvirate, Bloomfield's final album under his Columbia contract. In 1974 Bloomfield hooked up with a failed supergroup called KGB, from the initials of Ray Kennedy (co-writer of "Sail On, Sailor"), Barry Goldberg on keyboards and Bloomfield on guitar. The band had a rhythm section of Ric Grech on bass and Carmine Appice on drums. Grech and Bloomfield immediately quit after its release, stating they never had faith in the project. The album was not well received, but it did contain the standout track "Sail On, Sailor". Its authorship was credited only to "Wilson-Kennedy", and had a bluesy, darker feel, along with Ray Kennedy's original cocaine related lyrics. Through the 1970s, Bloomfield seemed satisfied to play in local San Francisco Bay Area clubs, sitting in with other bands. During 1979–1981 Bloomfield performed often with the King Perkoff Band, often introducing them as his own "Michael Bloomfield and Friends" outfit. Bloomfield recorded "Hustlin' Queen", written by John Isabeau and Perkoff in 1979. Bloomfield had planned a tour to Sweden to complete an album of his favorites, including "Hustlin' Queen". Aside from a triumphant return to the stage sitting in with Bob Dylan at the Warfield in 1980 his rock star days were behind him.