The Butterfield Blues Band - Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin' (1971)
Released in 1971, Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin' was the last album from The Butterfield Blues Band. As of such it's one of their lesser-known records, though it's certainly a very good one, featuring their R&B / jazz fusion sound in full force. The use of a group of female backing singers (Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Oma Drake and Venette Fields) added a gospel flavour to the mix, and the instrumental abilities of the whole band were on full show throughout (it featured the same lineup that recorded 1970's Live album). The songs were all band originals, with the exception of a great rendition of Henry Glover's classic "Drown In My Own Tears".
By this point Paul Butterfield had tired of the endless touring and changing personnel within the group he had been leading since 1963. He broke up the band, and retired to the communual atmosphere of Woodstock. However it wouldn't be long before he was putting together together a new group...
The Butterfield Blues Band - Keep On Moving (1969)
By the end of 1968 Paul Butterfield was the only original member left of his band, as guitarist Elvin Bishop had left that year, along with keyboard player Mark Naftalin and bassist Bugsy Maugh. Naftalin was replaced by Ted Harris, Maugh by Rod Hicks, and Bishop by a young Howard 'Buzzy' Feiten. They joined Butterfield, drummer Phillip Wilson, and the three-piece horn section of David Sanborn (alto sax), Gene Dinwiddie (tenor sax) and Keith Johnson (trumpet).
Before they recorded together, the new line-up got to play at the Woodstock Festival, although their performance wasn't featured on the resultant film (they did appear on the soundtrack). Their new album came out in October '69, produced by Jerry Ragavoy. It continued in the direction of their last two albums, moving further away from pure blues and into soul territory. The horn section was used to full effect, and Buzzy Feiten proved himself perfectly capable of filling the shoes left by Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. The songwriting was also shared around the band, with two also contributed by Ragavoy, and a couple of covers.
Though it's not generally considered one of the band's best releases (generally the opinion of those who didn't approve of their move away from blues), it's still a fine record.
The Buttefield Blues Band - In My Own Dream (1968)
In My Own Dream was the second album from the new eight-man lineup of The Butterfield Blues Band. Like its predecessor (1967's The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw), it showed them moving away from pure Chicago blues and starting to incorporate more jazz and soul influences in their sound, making full use of their three-piece horn section. It also showed them becoming much more of a group democracy rather than just Paul Butterfield's band, as the vocals were shared around. Butterfield sang lead on three songs, bassist Bugsby Maugh sang on two, drummer Philip Wilson sang on one, and guitarist Elvin Bishop sang on one (his self-penned "Drunk Again"). Maugh also wrote three of the songs. It also featured a guest appearance from Al Kooper, on organ.
The Butterfield Blues Band - The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw (1967)
The Butterfield Blues Band's lead guitarist and star player Mike Bloomfield departed in 1967, tired of the group's rigorous touring schedule and wanting to start his own band. He relocated to San Francisco, and formed The Electric Flag.
This left Elvin Bishop as the Butterfield Band's only guitarist. He rose to the task admirably, as he had always been a first-class blues player, but being in a band alongside Bloomfield had forced him (as it would have done to almost anyone) into the role of 'second guitarist'. But now he was able to show what he was really made of. Bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Billy Davenport had also left, so The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw was the band's first album with the revised line-up of Paul Butterfield (lead vocals/harmonica), Elvin Bishop (guitar/vocals), Mark Naftalin (keyboards), Bugsy Maugh (bass/vocals) and Phil Wilson (drums). The band also added a three-piece horn section consisting of Gene Dinwiddie (tenor sax), David Sanborn (alto sax) and Keith Johnson (trumpet).
With its extensive use of the horn section, the new album moved ever-so-slightly away from Chicago blues and towards an R&B / soul sound, most notable on the opening track, a cover of the Motown tune "One More Heartache" (written by The Miracles, first recorded by Marvin Gaye). They were still undoubtedly a blues band, but were clearly beginning to expand beyond the confines of the genre.
The Butterfield Blues Band - East-West (1966)
The Butterfield Blues Band's second album saw them develop into a true group democracy, after their first album was dominated somewhat by Butterfield. Drummer Sam Lay had by this point been replaced by Billy Davenport, giving them the refreshed lineup of Paul Butterfield (lead vocals/harmonica), Mike Bloomfield (guitar), Elvin Bishop (guitar/vocals), Mark Naftalin (piano, organ), Jerome Arnold (bass) and Billy Davenport (drums). Bishop emerged to play more of an important role than he had on their debut, contributing more guitar solos and singing lead on "Never Say No". Stylistically the album expanded on the Chicago blues sound of the first album to incorporate elements of jazz, most notably on the title track, which also had Bloomfield playing guitar lines inspired by Indian raga music (he wrote the song with band associate Nick Gravenites). With its lengthy improvisational structure, "East-West" can be heard as part of what inspired the West Coast's psychedelic rock revolution around the same time.
Elsewhere the album included covers by artists as diverse as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Allen Toussaint, Nat Adderly and Michael Nesmith.
It was more successful than their first album, reaching #65 on the charts and introducing them to a wider audience, and is generally seen as both the band's and Butterfield's greatest achievement.
The Butterfield Blues Band - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965)
The band's origins can be traced back to frontman Butterfield and guitarist Elvin Bishop, both from Chicago, who developed a love of blues together and began hanging around with black blues musicians such as Muddy Waters and Otis Rush. They soon met up with bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay, both members of Howlin' Wolf's touring band, and they formed a quartet together. Producer Paul Rothchild then persuaded them to hire a young guitarist called Mike Bloomfield, and the band became a quintet. They were signed to Elektra records, but an early attempt at a debut album was scrapped (these tracks were later released as The Original Lost Elektra Sessions). A live album recorded at the Cafe Au Go Go was also discarded.
Eventually their album was successsfully recorded on the third attempt. Keyboard player Mark Naftalin joined half way through the sessions, and appeared on six of the eleven songs. For the most part it consisted of blues covers, with two instrumentals and an original written by Butterfield and Bishop. Drummer Sam Lay also sang on the Muddy Waters classic "I Got My Mojo Working". The first track, "Born In Chicago", was written by band associate Nick Gravenites, and became a signature song of sorts for Butterfield.
Besides being a fantastic Chicago blues album filled with great playing, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is majorly significant for two reasons. Firstly it introduced the guitar playing of Mike Bloomfield, who soon became known as one of the best blues guitarists in America. Secondly the Butterfield Blues Band were one of the first American blues groups to be fronted by a white singer, and in a genre that at the time was almost exclusively black, the importance of this cannot be underestimated.