Mike BloomfieldMichael 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 yearsBloomfield 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.
DeathThe 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.