Singer and harmonica player Paul Butterfield headed up his Chicago-based Blues Band, accompanied by ace guitarist Mike Bloomfield. They recorded their first album for Elektra in 1965 and spawned a spate of imitators.
Having defined electric blues with the 1965 album, Butterfield’s short-lived original band took another giant step when, inspired by John Coltrane’s Indian raga explorations, the modal jazz of Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue and LSD, Mike Bloomfield led the band into previously unchartered flights of improvisation on the follow-up’s 13-minute title track (East-West), an incandescent turning point in rock and blues history.
Live excursions around the track could last an hour, inspiring West Coast bands such as Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service to move into the lengthy improvisations for which they became renowned.
When Bloomfield left to work with Bob Dylan (after which he formed Electric Flag in 1967), Butterfield’s second guitarist Elvin Bishop stepped into the limelight before he too left to form his own group.
After his band had broken up, Butterfield formed the excellent Better Days but they too split, and Butterfield’s live appearance became increasingly rarer.
Paul Butterfield was found dead in a car in San Francisco on 15 February 1981. He was seated behind the wheel of the Mercedes, with all four doors locked and an empty Valium bottle on the back seat.
The exact circumstances surrounding his death are unclear, although there has been speculation that he actually died at a San Francisco party and was driven to another location in the city.
Guitar, organ, vocals