Paul Butterfield - vocals, harmonica; Mike Bloomfield - guitar, vocals; Elvin Bishop - guitar, vocals; Mark Naftalin - keyboards; Jerome Arnold - bass; Billy Davenport - drums
Back in the days when Clapton, Beck and Page were still playing relatively primitive three-chord blues-rock, and the Grateful Dead were just beginning to electrify their jug band cover material, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was performing and composing electric blues based music that was perhaps the most complex and adventurous in the country. Bill Graham invited the band to play the Fillmore Auditorium numerous times, and the group soon became one of the most popular in San Francisco, having a profound effect on the local musicians and, inevitably, "The San Francisco Sound" itself. The group's pervasive influence can clearly be heard on early live recordings by the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, in addition to countless others. It would take these younger bands years (and a significant quantity of mind-expanding drug) before they could even begin to match the originality and artistic complexity of this group; and when they finally did so, it was by building and expanding upon the pioneering explorations that this band had helped establish.
The group was also one of the earliest bi-racial bands, featuring a rhythm section of Howlin' Wolf Band vets backing four younger, white students of the blues. The pupils, however, were not only extremely gifted, but also had accumulated years of experience in the smoky blues haunts of Chicago. Although deeply rooted in the blues genre, it was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, along with guitarist Mike Bloomfield's work with Bob Dylan the previous year, who opened the floodgates for much of what became "rock music."
The material performed during this set is all notable, played by this historic original lineup at the peak of their powers. Butterfield's harmonica playing is so unique and inspired, and his vocals so utterly idiomatic, that comparison are meaningless. At this point in time, Mike Bloomfield was entering the most intense and eloquent phase of his career, and it's an understatement to say his playing packs a serious wallop.
This set captures the group performing material from their debut album, such as "Baby, Please Don't Go" and "Born In Chicago," but also contains a significant amount of material that was never released on a studio album. Fans of the band's debut LP will be delighted to hear the group performing songs like "Dropping Out," "My Babe" and the classic slow blues number, "Willow Tree." Bloomfield even takes a lead vocal on "Kansas City," a song that Jorma Kaukonen was also performing with Jefferson Airplane at this time.
The group also performs exemplary live versions of two tracks from their classic East-West LP: "Drifting," which would remain in Butterfield's repertoire for years to come, and the unquestionable highlight of this set (and possibly the entire night), "Work Song." This jazzy blues instrumental, originally recorded by Cannonball Adderly (and composed by his brother Nat Adderly) raises sonic levels of intensity to new heights. Much like the classic title track to that LP, this song is the band at their most adventurous. The three way dialogue between the primary soloists - Bishop, Bloomfield and Butterfield - is nothing short of astounding. "Work Song" contains the approach and execution that inspired so many San Francisco musicians and broke down so many musical barriers. This set-closing performance transcends genre or categorization, and taken in context of the times, remains one of the true groundbreaking performances of 1966.
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