Mike Bloomfield

Michael Bernard Bloomfield (July 28, 1943 – February 15, 1981) was an American 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. Respected for his guitar playing, Bloomfield knew and played with many of Chicago's blues musicians before achieving his own fame and was instrumental in popularizing blues music in the mid-1960s. He was ranked No. 22 on Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" in 2003 and No. 42 by the same magazine in 2011. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2012 and, as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Early years

Bloomfield was born into a wealthy Chicago Jewish-American family. Bloomfield's father, Harold Bloomfield, was born in Chicago in 1914. After pursuing business ventures in California during the 1920s, he returned to the city in the early 1930s. Harold Bloomfield began manufacturing restaurant supplies, and by the latter part of the decade his company, Bloomfield Industries, was making pie cases, kitchen utensils, salt and pepper shakers, and sugar pourers. By the early 1940s Bloomfield Industries had acquired more manufacturing and warehouse space. The company expanded during World War II by manufacturing supplies needed for the war effort. Working with his brother, Daniel, and his father, Samuel, Harold Bloomfield built up Bloomfield Industries into a thriving business. Michael Bloomfield's mother was born Dorothy Klein in Chicago in 1918 and married Harold Bloomfield in 1940. She came from an artistic, musical family, and worked as an actor and a model before marrying Bloomfield.

Bloomfield's family lived in various locations around Chicago before settling at 424 West Melrose Street on the North Side. When he was twelve his family moved to suburban Glencoe, Illinois, where he attended New Trier High School for two years. During this time, he began playing in local bands, and Bloomfield put together a group called the Hurricanes, named after Ohio rock band Johnny and the Hurricanes. New Trier High School expelled Bloomfield after his band performed a raucous rock and roll song at a 1959 school gathering. He attended Cornwall Academy in Massachusetts for one year and then returned to Chicago, where he spent his last year of education at a local YMCA school, Central YMCA High School.

Bloomfield had attended a 1957 Chicago performance by blues singer Josh White, and began spending time in Chicago's South Side blues clubs and playing guitar with such black bluesmen as Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell, and Little Brother Montgomery. He first sat in with a black blues band in 1959, when he performed with Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson at a Chicago club called the Place. He performed with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and many other Chicago blues performers during the early 1960s.

Writing in 2001, keyboardist, songwriter and record producer Al Kooper said Bloomfield's talent "was instantly obvious to his mentors. 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.'" }}

He recorded his second solo album, Try It Before You Buy It, in 1973. Columbia rejected it; the complete version of the record would not appear until 1990. Also in 1973, he cut Triumvirate with Dr. John and guitarist and singer John Hammond Jr. In 1974, he rejoined the Electric Flag for an album titled The Band Kept Playing. In 1975 he recorded an album with the group KGB. The group's name is an acronym of the initials of singer and songwriter Ray Kennedy, Barry Goldberg and Bloomfield. The band also included Ric Grech and drummer Carmine Appice. Grech and Bloomfield quit shortly after its release. As the record hit stores in 1976, Bloomfield told journalists that the group had been an ill-conceived moneymaking project. The album was not well received by critics, but it did contain the standout track "Sail On, Sailor". Its authorship was credited to "Wilson-Kennedy", and had a bluesy, darker feel, along with Ray Kennedy's original cocaine-related lyrics. In the same year, he performed with John Cale on Cale's soundtrack for the film Caged Heat. In 1976 he recorded an instructional album for guitarists, If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em as You Please, which was financed through Guitar Player magazine.

In the 1970s Bloomfield played in local San Francisco Bay area clubs, including the Keystone Korner, and sat in with other bands. In 1977, Bloomfield was selected by Andy Warhol to do the soundtrack for the pop artist's last film, Andy Warhol's Bad (also known as BAD). An unreleased single, "Andy's Bad", was also produced for the project. During 1979–1981 he performed often with the King Perkoff Band, sometimes introducing them as the "Michael Bloomfield and Friends" outfit. Bloomfield recorded "Hustlin' Queen", written by John Isabeau and Perkoff in 1979. He toured Italy and Sweden with guitarist Woody Harris and cellist Maggie Edmondson in the summer of 1980. He sat in with Bob Dylan at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre on November 15, 1980. Bloomfield played on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar". He continued to play live dates, and his performance at San Francisco State College on February 7, 1981, would be his final appearance.

Although Bloomfield came from a wealthy family, he never inherited a large lump sum. He received annual income from a trust that had been set up by his paternal grandfather, which gave him $50,000 each year.


The exact events and circumstances that led to Bloomfield's death are not clear. What is known is that he was found dead in his car on February 15, 1981. He was seated behind the wheel of his Mercedes, with all four doors locked. The only details (from unnamed sources) relate that Bloomfield died at a San Francisco party and was driven to another location in the city by two men who were present at the party. Bloomfield's last album, Cruisin' for a Bruisin', was released the day his death was announced. His remains are interred in a crypt at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, near Los Angeles.


Bloomfield's musical influences include Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, B.B. King, Big Joe Williams, Otis Rush, Albert King, Freddie King and Ray Charles.

Bloomfield originally used a Fender Telecaster, though he had also used a Fender Duo-Sonic while recording for Columbia following his 1964 signing to the label. During his tenure with the Butterfield Blues Band he used that Tele on the first Butterfield Album and on their earliest tours in fall of 1965. By November he had swapped that guitar with International Submarine Band guitarist John Nuese for Nuese's 1954 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop model, which he used for some of the East-West sessions and which he acquired in Boston.

In 1967, Bloomfield swapped the Goldtop with his friend repairman/musician Dan Erlewine for Dan's 1959 Les Paul Standard and $100. The Les Paul Standard had proven unpopular in the late 1950s because it was deemed too heavy and too expensive by rock and roll guitarists. Gibson discontinued manufacturing the model in 1960. Bloomfield used the Les Paul Standard in the Electric Flag and on the Super Session album and concerts. He later switched between the Les Paul and the Telecaster, but his use of the Les Paul inspired other guitarists to use the model and spurred Gibson to reintroduce the Les Paul Standard in 1968.

Bloomfield eventually lost the guitar in Canada; Wolkin and Keenom's biography revealed that a club owner kept the guitar as partial compensation after Bloomfield cut short a round of appearances. This turned out to be accurate and the gig in question was at the Cave in Vancouver, booked from Tue. Nov. 12th 1974, for five days, until Sat. the 16th. The band played the first night but the next day, Bloomfield boarded a plane and flew home to San Francisco with virtually no notice to the club, hotel, or band members; his friend Mark Naftalin found a note on a torn piece of paper in the hotel room that read, "bye bye, sorry". Bloomfield's two guitars had been left at the club and were retained by club owner Stan Grozina, who wanted compensation for lost revenues.

Unlike contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, Bloomfield rarely experimented with feedback and distortion, preferring a loud yet clean, almost chiming sound with a healthy amount of reverb and vibrato; this approach would strongly influence Jerry Garcia, who segued from a career in acoustic-based music to electric rock at the height of the Butterfield Band's influence in 1965. One of his amplifiers of choice was a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb. His solos, like those of most blues guitarists, were based in the minor pentatonic scale and the blues scale. However, his liberal use of chromatic notes within the pentatonic framework and his periodic lines based on Indian and Eastern modes allowed a considerable degree of fluidity in his solos.

Gibson has since released a Michael Bloomfield Les Paul—replicating his 1959 Standard—in recognition of his impact on the blues genre, his role in the revived production of the guitar, and his influence on many other guitarists. Because the actual guitar had been unaccounted for so many years, Gibson relied on hundreds of photographs provided by Bloomfield's family to reproduce the guitar. The model comes in two configurations—a clean Vintage Original Specifications (VOS) version, with only Bloomfield's mismatched volume and tone control knobs, missing toggle switch cover, and kidney-shaped tuners replacing the Gibson originals indicating its inspiration and a faithful, process-aged reproduction of the guitar as it was when Bloomfield played it last, complete with the finish smudge below the bridge and various nicks and smudges elsewhere around the body.

His influence among contemporary guitarists continues to be widely felt, primarily in the techniques of vibrato, natural sustain, and economy of notes. Guitarists such as Joe Bonamassa, Arlen Roth, Carlos Santana, Slash, Jimmy Vivino, Chuck Hammer, Eric Johnson, Elliot Easton, Robben Ford, John Scofield, Jimmy Herring, Phil Keaggy, and G.E. Smith remain essentially influenced by Bloomfield's early recorded work.

Selected discography

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

  • The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965)
  • East-West (1966)
  • The Original Lost Elektra Sessions (unreleased recordings from 1965)
  • East-West Live (three live versions of the track 'East-West', recorded 1966–1967)

    The Electric Flag

  • The Trip (1967)
  • A Long Time Comin' (1968)
  • The Band Kept Playing (1974)
  • Groovin' Is Easy (Released 2002)


  • It's Not Killing Me (1969)
  • Try It Before You Buy It (1973) (Unreleased until 1990. Additional recordings from these sessions were released on "Bloomfield: A Retrospective" in 1983)
  • If You Love These Blues, Play 'Em as You Please (1976; reissued on CD with Bloomfield-Harris)
  • Andy's Bad (1977; unreleased title soundtrack to Andy Warhol's Bad)
  • Analine (1977)
  • Michael Bloomfield (1978)
  • Count Talent and the Originals (1978)
  • Between a Hard Place and the Ground (1979)
  • Bloomfield-Harris (1979)
  • Cruisin' for a Bruisin (1981)


  • Blueskvarter (recorded 1964, released 2007), many Swedish CDs, recordings on Swedish radio. Bloomfield plays guitar with Little Brother Montgomery, Sunnyland Slim, Yank Rachell, Eddie Boyd and others.
  • Super Session, Bloomfield, Kooper and Stills (1968). This album has since been remastered, with new editions featuring several Bloomfield performances not included on the original album, including "Blues for Nothing" and "Fat Gray Cloud."
  • The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1968)
  • Fillmore East: Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield. The Lost Concert Tapes 12/13/68 (recorded 1968, released 2003)
  • Two Jews Blues (1969), with Barry Goldberg (uncredited because of contractual constraints)
  • My Labors (1969), with Nick Gravenites
  • Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West (1969), with Nick Gravenites, Taj Mahal, Mark Naftalin. Some of the performances at the same concerts that yielded this album were included on My Labors. Those performances, except for "Winter Country Blues," are now part Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West 1969, released in 2009 and credited to Michael Bloomfield with Nick Gravenites and Friends.
  • Medium Cool (1969), original film soundtrack featuring Bloomfield and others
  • Steelyard Blues (1973), original film soundtrack, with Nick Gravenites and others
  • Mill Valley Bunch – Casting Pearls (1973), with Bill Vitt, Nick Gravenites and others
  • Triumvirate (1973), with John Hammond and Dr. John
  • KGB (1976), Ray Kennedy (vocals), Barry Goldberg (keyboards), Mike Bloomfield (guitar), Ric Grech (bass), Carmine Appice (drums)

    Selected session work

  • Highway 61 RevisitedBob Dylan (1965)
  • Album - Peter, Paul and Mary (1965)
  • Chicago Loop (1966)
  • Cherry Red - Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson (BluesWay, 1967)
  • "Carry On"/"Ronnie Siegel from Avenue L" 45 - Barry Goldberg, with Frank Zappa, guitar, produced by Tom Wilson
  • Grape JamMoby Grape (1968) – Played Piano
  • Living with the AnimalsMother Earth (1968); credited as "Makal Blumfeld" due to contractual constraints.
  • Dues to Pay - Wayne Talbert & the Melting Pot (1968)
  • Lord Have Mercy on My Funky Soul -Wayne Talbert (1969)
  • Fathers and SonsMuddy Waters (1969)
  • I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!Janis Joplin (1969)
  • WeedsBrewer & Shipley (1969)
  • Moogie Woogie - The Zeet Band (1970)
  • Sam Lay in BlueslandSam Lay (1970)
  • GandharvaBeaver & Krause (1971)
  • Brand NewWoody Herman and His Orchestra (1971)

    Posthumous releases

  • Living in the Fast Lane (1981)
  • Bloomfield: A Retrospective (1983)
  • I'm with You Always (Live recordings from McCabe's Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, CA; 1977)
  • Between the Hard Place and the Ground (Different to the original 70s LP – containing further selections from McCabe's Guitar Shop)
  • Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964–1969, an anthology that includes five songs from Bloomfield's original 1964 Columbia sessions.
  • Live at the Old Waldorf (Recorded live in 1976 and 1977 by producer Norman Dayron at the Old Waldorf nightclub)
  • Barry Goldberg & Friends – Live (Features Mike on guitar on most tracks)
  • Michael Bloomfield, Harvey Mandel, Barry Goldberg & Friends (with Eddie Hoh on drums) – Solid Blues, ed . 1995 (St.Clair Entertainment Group Inc.)
  • The Holy Kingdom: Music of the Gospel 1998 Mike Bloomfield Performed 2 songs; "Wings Of An Angel" and "You Must Have Seen Jesus". Other Artists on the Album included The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama, The Cavaliers and The Swan Silvertones.
  • If You Love These Blues by Wolkin & Keenom (Miller Freeman Books, 2000) contains a CD of 1964 recordings made by Norman Dayron
  • From His Head to His Heart to His Hands: An Audio-Visual Scrapbook (2014); a Columbia Legacy career retrospective, produced by Al Kooper, including tapes from Bloomfield's original audition for John Hammond at Columbia Records in 1964, previously unissued live performances, and a DVD that includes the documentary film Sweet Blues: A Film About Mike Bloomfield, directed by Bob Sarles and produced and edited by Bob Sarles and Christina Keating. The film premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2013.