The Death Whisperer Series

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Michael Bloomfield & Rocky Gully Shiraz Viognier

[Some of the text below is excerpted from Michael Bloomfield’s Official Biography Page]

Friday and thus ends another hectic week. Had a business trip to Philadelphia this week. At this rate, I’ll make United Premier Executive (>50,000 miles) in eight months. Tonight I’m featuring one of my original blues heros. Michael Bloomfield was born July 28, 1943, in Chicago, Illinois, my hometown. An indifferent student and self-described social outcast, Bloomfield immersed himself in the multi- cultural music world that existed in Chicago in the 1950s.

He got his first guitar at age 13. Initially attracted to the roots-rock sound of Elvis Presley and Scotty Moore, Bloomfield soon discovered the electrified big-city blues music indigenous to Chicago. At the age of 14 the exuberant guitar wunderkind began to visit the blues clubs on Chicago’s South Side with friend Roy Ruby in search of his new heroes: players such as Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Howling Wolf, and Magic Sam. Not content with viewing the scene from the audience, Bloomfield was known to leap onto the stage, asking if he could sit in as he simultaneously plugged in his guitar and began playing riffs.

Bloomfield was quickly accepted on the South Side, as much for his ability as for the audiences' appreciation of the novelty of seeing a young white player in a part of town where few whites were seen. Bloomfield soon discovered a group of like-minded outcasts. Young white players such as Paul Butterfield, Nick Gravenites, Charlie Musselwhite, and Elvin Bishop were also establishing themselves as fans who could hold their own with established bluesmen, many of whom were old enough to be their fathers.

Bloomfield's guitar work as a session player caught the ear of legendary CBS producer and talent scout John Hammond Sr., who flew to Chicago and immediately signed him to a recording contract. However CBS was unsure of exactly how to promote their new artist, declining to release any of the tracks recorded by Bloomfield's band, which included harp player Charlie Musselwhite.

With a contract but not much else, Bloomfield returned to playing clubs around Chicago until he was approached by Paul Rothchild, the producer of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band albums. Bloomfield was recruited to play slide guitar and piano on early recordings. The addition of Bloomfield to the Butterfield Band provided Paul Butterfield with a musician of equal caliber – Paul and Michael inspired and challenged each other as they traded riffs and musical ideas, one
establishing a pattern and the other following it, extending it, and handing it back.

Bloomfield left the Butterfield Blues Band in early 1967 anxious to lead his own band. That band, The Electric Flag, included Bloomfield's old friends from Chicago, organist Barry Goldberg and singer/songwriter Nick Gravenites, as well as bass player Harvey Brooks and drummer Buddy Miles. The band was well received at its official debut at the Monterey Pop Festival but quickly fell apart due to drugs, egos, and poor management.
Bloomfield, weary of the road, suffering from insomnia, and uncomfortable in the role of guitar superstar, returned to San Francisco to score movies, produce other artists, and play studio sessions. One of those sessions was a day of jamming in the studio with keyboardist Al Kooper. Super Session, the resultant release, with Bloomfield on side one and guitarist Stephen Stills on side two, once again thrust Bloomfield into the spotlight. Kooper's production and the improvisational nature of the recording session captured the quintessential Bloomfield sound: the fast flurries of notes, the incredible string bending, the precise attack, and his masterful use of tension and release.

By the late seventies Bloomfield's continuing drug and health problems caused erratic behavior and missed gigs, alienating a number of his old associates. Bloomfield continued playing with other musicians, including Dave Shorey and Jonathan Cramer. On November 15, 1980, Bloomfield joined Bob Dylan on stage at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco and jammed on "Like A Rolling Stone," the song they had recorded together 15 years earlier.

Michael Bloomfield was found dead in his car of a drug overdose in San Francisco, California on February 15, 1981. So, listen and enjoy some of the music from a blues guitarist who was way ahead of his time.

I’m going to pair Mike Bloomfield with a 2008 Rocky Gully Shiraz Viognier Frankland Estate ($16.00) The wine is deep ruby colored with dark fruits, violet, and licorice on the nose. It has a candied berry quality emerging as it aerates. In fact, it smells and tastes like a Rhone, subtle and complex, with floral-accented flavors of black raspberry, minerals and black pepper. Not quite as lush as many Australian red, and that’s a good thing. Finishes with a good peppery cut and a lingering floral quality. This is an excellent value and perfect for unwinding from the week with the music of a blues classic, Mike Bloomfield. Enjoy!


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