Posts Tagged ‘Paul Butterfield Blues Band

06
Apr
09

From the Vaults: Hidden Treasure, No. 2

After writing about Martha Velez’s 1968 release Fiends & Angels, I realized there are a number of albums that qualify as either era-defining or being highly influencial despite not having gained widespread recognition. These records weren’t huge sellers on first release but still made an impact, mostly with musicians, and all stand up today.

full-moon-albumThe self-titled album Full Moon from 1971 fits into this category. Three of its members came from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, drummer Phillip Wilson and tenor saxman Gene Dinwiddie (billed as Brother Gene Dinwiddie throughout the album’s credits), both of whom joined Butterfield around 1967 for The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw, and Buzz Feiten, who joined Butter a little later in ’68 replacing guitarist Elvin Bishop. Feiten, who did a stint with the Rascals after Butterfield, was one of the most unusual additions to Butterfield’s band, younger than most of the other players, precocious, almost punk for 1968. He brought a different sound and style and great versatility to the band with his piercing Fender Strat, cut more from a soul vein than blues.

They joined forces in 1971 with keyboardist Neil Larsen, from Florida, who later in the ’70s would record a string of exemplary jazz-fusion albums and also delve into pop rock with Feiten in 1980 as the Larsen-Feiten Band, and bassist Freddie Beckmeier. Over the years, Larsen and Feiten have also become legendary session players who have worked on hundreds of albums and with a who’s who of the music industry.

The resulting album, produced by Alan Douglas (yes, that Alan Douglas apparently, famous or perhaps infamous as onetime keeper of the Jimi Hendrix archive) was far from a blues-rock workout. It incorporated elements of soul, R&B and early jazz fusion built on strong songwriting from all members. Vocals were shared and more than capable and the playing a combination of forward-moving jazz, rock and soul with proficient and inspired soloing.

Bassist extraordinaire Dave Holland (Miles Davis’ In  A Silent Way) played on one of the original cuts and wrote and played on a bonus track, Three Step Dance, from a Japanese CD import release from 2000, produced and mixed by Feiten. Other guests include trumpet player Randy Brecker, percussionists Airto Moreira and Ray Baretto and background singers Robin Clark and Tasha Thomas.

The album opens with the band composition The Heavy Shuffle’s On, a rollicking, funky and mostly instrumental track that features Feiten on typically inventive solos. Feiten is always melodic in his approach and this cut finds him expressive and concise, using a wah-wah for his second chorus. The unison group vocals remind one in style of Butterfield’s Love March from Keep On Moving (1969), an album on which Feiten played.

Feiten has two songs both cut from the same cloth, To Know and Need Your Love, the first a funky moderate tempo love song, sung by Wilson. The tune, which features the background singers prominently, including Feiten in the chorus, was the album’s single. Feiten also contributes a tasteful solo with a squeaky clean, Strat tone. Need Your Love juxtaposes a free-time chorus embellished with the backup singers’ rich harmonies, and an uptempo funk/soul verse on which Feiten takes a vocal turn. Beckmeier and Wilson’s soulful interplay in the verse helps lay down a smooth, danceable groove. No solos in this radio-friendly take.

Feiten also co-wrote the album’s closer with Wilson, Selfish People, another moderate groove that builds with intensity behind Wilson’s driving rhythm. The sound of this cut is expansive and contemplative, developing slowly with an extended intro that lasts more than three minutes and features intricate stylings of Larsen’s keyboards with Dinwiddie’s soprano sax and Feiten on acoustic guitar. You can hear shades of future Steely Dan in the changes. Feiten’s solo on the tag is one of his best on the record.

Among an album of highlights, Dinwiddie contributes perhaps the peak with Take This Winter Out Of My Mind, cut in an infectious,  funk groove with a rousing, catchy chorus. Dinwiddie delivers a heartfelt vocal as well as mandolin over a tune with perhaps the deepest lyrical content on the album. Larsen solos on electric piano, followed by a double Feiten lead, two guitars panned extreme left and right. Clark and Thomas are stellar on vocal support.

Not to give them short shrift, perhaps the two most interesting tracks are Larsen’s instrumentals, Malibu, on which Holland plays, and Midnight Pass. Both would be perfectly at home on one of Larsen’s later fusion albums, particularly Jungle Fever, which probably deserves a place in this vault of its own. Larsen’s tunes are cool jazz with almost always a latin flavor, built on irresistible and beautifully constructed melodies.

The Malibu melody is played in unison on flute (Dinwiddie), guitar and organ and has a light but penetrating feel. Feiten and Larsen each take solo turns, with Larsen on electric piano. Midnight Pass is latin-infused with the melody played on guitar, sax and organ. Again Larsen goes to electric piano for his solo and is followed by Feiten, who as you can see really dominates the album in solo time. But that’s a joy. It’s one of the best examples of his prodigious talent and as he says in the 2000 notes “probably the most important period in my own musical development.” Dinwiddie’s tenor also gets a workout on this track. The solos throughout the original record are always understated but still give each player enough room for creativity, nothing extended.

The bonus track on the CD release is straight jazz with long, extended solos. You can see why it wasn’t used, if it was even intended, for this album. But it’s a nice addition nonetheless with outstanding playing. There is tension and immediacy that distances itself from the other tracks and gives it a feel in line with what Weather Report became known for. This is also one of Douglas’ best production jobs among many very good ones that predate his Hendrix involvement, which had mixed results.

I had this album for years on reel-to-reel tape, a copy I made with my trusty TEAC four-track simul-synch deck from a friend’s vinyl copy. I was estatic in 2000 when it became available and quite willing to pay $30 on the Amazon Markeplace for the Japanese import, knowing many Japanese discs go for much higher. Sadly, it’s already out of print and is fetching from $40-$60 on the Marketplace now. It’s one of my favorites and would be worth every penny at these prices.

As for a vinyl copy, I couldn’t find a single listing on popsike or eBay. Yet Tim Neely’s American Records Guide lists its value at $15. Your best bet might be record fairs, some of which still come to Connecticut periodically, but you might have to shell out more than $15.

I pull this album out every so often and never tire of it. Listening again as I write this piece, it still sounds so fresh and relevant. Strong songwriting, quality vocals and inventive playing that sounds far ahead of its time.

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11
Mar
09

Concerts Vol. 1

The first in a series that will focus on concerts I’ve seen and serve as companion pieces to the Connecticut rock ‘n roll scene posts I started with Connecticut’s Own and Pulse, Part 2.

butter-1I’ve been to quite a few concerts over the years, many influential, some inspiring. The earliest big venue shows were in the fall of 1965, both at the New Haven Arena. In early November, it was the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones on second guitar in the wake of their summer mega-hit Satisfaction. The Stones sounded and looked great, but it was a relatively sedate performance compared with ones for which the band became infamous. A side note on the Stones show is that the first time they were booked for the Arena, the summer of ’64, the show was actually canceled because of insufficient ticket sales. Amazing. The second show, the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson on bass, on Thanksgiving Day. The Boys wore yellow short-sleeved oxford shirts with gray slacks, not their customary black-and-white and white khakis (I guess because it was a holiday) and with Brian in the fold sounded like angels. Two rather different groups but both rode the singles charts and that’s what drove the music industry at the time.

But the earliest show that made a huge impression on me was in a much smaller venue, the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1967. The headliner was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. But let’s back up a little.

I had been playing bass since 1964 in a couple of garage bands, most notably the Vanguards with Gary Gerard and Peter Neri, whom I would later play with in Bram Rigg Set and Pulse. I also played with and learned quite a bit from the Aiardo brothers, Tony and Peter, from North Haven who played first as the Highlights and later as New England Jam. They played everthing from weddings to proms to clubs such as the House of Zodiac on Route 34 on the West Haven/New Haven line. They were schooled more than most musicians in the area and worked constantly. I’ll never forget a few years later when working with them again temporarily, we played a wedding in the afternoon, a dinner-dance in the early evening and an after-prom into the early hours. This was pretty typical and I learned a great deal from both of them, particularly Peter, who was a brilliant guitarist and was my second bass teacher.

Still as late as spring 1966, I had never heard of Butterfield and found out about him through an unlikely source. I had a very unorthodox chemistry teacher at North Haven High, Peter Kelman, who was young, probably about 23, innovative and interested in a lot more than teaching his students chemistry. He had us do open-ended, special projects once a month that had nothing to do with the subject he taught.

When he found out I was interested in music and was a bass player, he asked me if I’d ever heard anything by Charlie Mingus or the Butterfield Blues Band. I said no, and he told me I should check them out right away. A trip to Cutler’s Music on Broadway in New Haven yielded Blues & Roots by Mingus and the first self-titled Butterfield Blues Band album, with Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop on guitars. I listened to both religiously. Around the same time, I started picking up the Village Voice and by the late fall I noticed Butterfield was scheduled to play the Cafe Au Go Go in the Village.

That was it, I decided I was going. Without my parents knowing where I was headed, I took the family’s blue Chevy Biscayne and along with a friend, Holly Lovig, we headed for Greenwich Village. I knew my way to the West Side Highway, from family trips, and it was fairly easy getting to the village from 14th St. We found the club on Bleeker St., paid for tickets that were probably less than six bucks total and walked down the flight of stairs to the underground club that was no more than a long narrow room with a stage on the left in the center, tables on each side. The stage faced the right wall, so there was only one line of tables directly opposite it. We wound up on the far side of the stage. Alcohol was not served at the club, only large fruit drinks and a large bowl of snacks, potato chips and pretzels.

The opening acts were Richie Havens and Steve Miller, both of whom we had never heard of. Havens was actually well-known in the Village but wouldn’t attract wider interest until his performance at Woodstock near the end of the decade. Miller, I had no idea where he was from.

Havens was startling. I’d never seen anyone quite like him with his intensity, furious open-tuned strumming, slight lisp and unique interpretations of songs such as Dylan’s Just Like A Woman. By the end of his set, he was drenched in sweat and had also played High Flyin’ Bird, from Mixed Bag, an album I later bought.

Miller was an enigma. First his band came out and played a couple of bluesy numbers and sounded good. I would learn later that the band included Boz Scaggs on guitar and Ben Sidran on keyboards, two outstanding musicians who would later produce interesting solo catalogues of their own.

But then Miller came out and it looked like this guy thought he was Elvis Presley or something. I didn’t take to his posturing and sort of I’m a star with my outrageous stage presence attitude. I was unimpressed. I don’t have anything against Miller particularly and later appreciated, though never loved, some of his ’70s tunes. But that night, he just didn’t make it.

Then came Butterfield and I’d never seen anything like it. These guys were so competent, tight, powerful and playing a different brand of the blues, electrified but tasteful. I have often felt this band, which although sometimes labeled a white blues band was always integrated, never got as much credit as it deserved for being the major influence on the American blues and rock scene. Live, they were something else.

Being a bass player, I appreciated Jerome Arnold and their new drummer Billy Davenport, who had replaced Sam Lay following the first album. But what stood out were Bloomfield, who was facing directly toward the back of the club opposite us, playing a gold top Les Paul and the sound of Butterfield’s harmonica, which was gigantic. It was so big, it sounded like a horn, like a sax or something. It was commanding. Bishop was solid on mostly rhythm guitar, but his time would come later.

They played Born In Chicago, Shake Your Money-Maker, Look Over Yonders Wall and Mystery Train  from their first album, but the most interesting material was from the second, East-West, released in August. Work Song, which had been in their repertoire for a while was an instrumental workout for all the solists, including Bishop, and crescendoed to an intense call-and-answer among all four players, Butter, Bloomfield, Bishop and keyboardist Mark Naftalin.

butter-2The highlight, though, was another instrumental, the album’s title cut East-West, a piece that had Indian influences before many groups started incorporating them. It was played modally rather than over a series of chord changes and was longer than the 13-minute album track. Bloomfield took it down to a whisper twice after the other soloists and built it to a chaotic, wailing wall of sound. Bloomfield’s sound was something in between the woman tone made popular by English guitarists Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, who were starting to push amplification, and a reverb-drenched quality reminiscent of the Chicago sound. It was more of a screaming tone. Although I’ve always liked his playing and held great admiration for him, he was not among my top favorites in the long run. But on this night he was on fire and his creativity and intensity during this phase of the band has always stayed with me. I felt as good as his playing was with Butterfield, he reached a high as someone who fit into an ensemble perfectly with his own band the Electric Flag, which was never quite captured faithfully in the studio the way it sounded live.

There is an album on Winner Records that’s still available called East-West Live, produced by Naftalin from recordings he made of nightclub performances with a portable tape recorder. It has three versions of the piece showing the development of the Bloomfield composition from early 1966 to winter 1967 .

I would see Butterfield many times over the next few years and almost every time the makeup of his band would change. I went to see him at the Au Go Go around Thanksgiving break 1967 with Bishop now the centerpiece and Bugsy Maugh on bass, Phil Wilson, drums, Naftalin and a horn section of David Sanborn, alto sax, Gene Dinwiddie, tenor and Keith Johnson, trumpet. Later in Boston that winter I caught him at the Pyschedelic Supermarket, essentially an underground garage, the Back Bay Theatre and that summer at Oakdale in Wallingford with about the same band. They played Oakdale the next summer, Bishop gone by this time, replaced by a young, precocious Buzzy Feiten. Despite the personnel changes, each time the band didn’t disappoint.

That first time though was quite an experience for a high school senior. I’ll never forget the ride home, which was in pea soup fog most of the way, arriving at about 3 a.m. I don’t really understand how I got away with that, taking the car to New York, getting back so late and never being questioned, but somehow I did. It certainly would have been worth it no matter what.

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10
Feb
09

Concert from another time

I went over to the refurbished Waterbury Palace Sunday to see the Derek Trucks Band. The concert had a vibe that can only be described as straight from the ’60s. That’s what I said to my son, Matthew, who is 11, in between one of the songs of the approximately one-hour, 45-minute set. I told him if he ever wanted to know what it was like to be at a late ’60s concert, this was it.

That appears to be one of the things Trucks and his capable group of musicians intends to achieve each night as they start a long tour of the States this month in support of their recently released album Already Free.

dtrucks3The setting was perfect for it. The Palace is a proscenium theater, with its newly reupholstered red velvet seats, in all its original ornate glory, particularly the design and decor of the ceiling,walls and balcony of the hall. The light show, projected from the back of the stage, provided stunning yet subtle atmospherics, and the band played a bluesy roots style of music with world and jazz shadings that put the emphasis on inprovisational playing, everything that turned the music and show business in general on its ear from about 1966 to 1969. Probably most important the audience sat and listened to the music for about 90 percent of the show, with the exception of several standing ovations and the encore, unlike the mindless standing throughout an entire concert you find at venues such as The Meadows and even the Oakdale Theater.

The performance was low-key as far as stage presence with very little chatter in between songs, but it was absolutely incendiary during the 12 tunes, many drawn from Trucks’ six studio albums.

Trucks plays slide guitar, with chords mixed in, about 80 percent of the time and he is a master of the technique, perhaps the greatest of his time, along with his friend and collaborator Doyle Bramhall II. In a type of playing that would seemingly have limited technical options available, Trucks, who plays without a pick, never lacks for creativity, using the slide in expressive and unique ways, always balancing melodic development with raging fire.

When he does take it off and plays single string solos as he did on two numbers, he shows just as much improvisational skill and inspiration. In the middle of the set, the band played Alan Toussaint’s Get Out Of My Life, Woman, made popular in the ’60s by the great Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and later John Coltrane’s interpretation of My Favorite Things, both extended versions that saw Trucks soloing single string style with the first perhaps the most interesting and moving solo of the night.

The rest of Trucks band is stellar, including Kori Burbridge, equally adept on an array of keyboards, including Hammond B-3 and clavinet, and flute; Todd Smallie, bass; Yonrico Scott, drums; Mike Mattison, lead vocals; and Count M’Butu, percussion. Several of Burbridge’s solos on keys and his answer backs with Trucks on two tunes were inventive and soulful. His flute playing is at once precise, flowing and technically adept.

The band included their Dylan cover of Down In The Flood from Already Free as the second song of the set, fueled by Trucks’ driving slide rhythm and two songs later played the Eastern flavored Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni, both of which featured melodic lines and solos with strong Indian influences.

Meet Me At The Bottom, a John Lee Hooker song with a riff similar to Rollin’ And Tumblin’, highlighted a lower volume, two-song segment in which both Mattison and Trucks sat at the front of the stage. They closed the main set with a ripping version of Sleepy Johns Estes’ Leavin’ Trunk, made popular by Taj Mahal on his first album in the ’60s, and the encore was the title tune from Soul Serenade.

The evening was sheer pleasure as we were transported back to a time when music, performance and creativity were the order of the day. Nice to be reminded of it.

The set list:

I Know

Down In The Flood

Crow Jane

Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni

Get Out Of My Life, Woman

Already Free

Meet Me At The Bottom

Blind, Crippled & Crazy

My Favorite Things

We’re A Winner

Leavin’ Trunk

Soul Serenade

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