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Interview by DJ Johnson (Originally appeared in Cosmik Debris, July, 1996)

Winner Producing Company owner Mark Naftalin has had quite a life, thus far. In the mid 60s, he was the keyboard player for The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, one of the most important groups of the era. Their collective talent for improvisation gave birth to some amazing music, including their signature work, "East West," a piece that continuously evolved and grew in live performance. In the years that followed his departure from the band, Naftalin built an impressive discography of session work. In fact, his discography reads like a who's who of the blues, including recordings with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Otis Spann, Percy Mayfield, Brewer & Shipley, Lowell Fulson, and John Lee Hooker--and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Naftalin has worked tirelessly for the San Francisco blues community, through his radio show, his live concert broadcasts and his work arranging festivals.

We spent about a month having the following conversation a little bit at a time, and it was a most enjoyable month.

Cosmik: Because of performers like yourself who brought blues to the white audiences in the 60s, there's a fairly decent level of understanding and appreciation of the blues among whites today. But that wasn't the case at all before Butterfield Blues Band. How did a young white kid growing up in Minnesota happen to discover the blues?

Naftalin: I was turned on to blues by a friend whose parents had some Leadbelly records. This would have been in about 1954, when I was ten. That was the first blues I heard. My friend, whose name is Steve Thomes, went on to build an incisive blues collection, mainly 45's, and I got the benefits. His family also had a Jimmy Yancey LP, which really caught my ear. After "What'd I Say" I started studying Ray Charles, which gave me a sense of gospel and jazz along with blues. There were other kids at our school who were pursuing the music, including Dave "Snaker" Ray (later of Koerner, Ray & Glover), Barry Hansen (now better known as Dr. Demento), and blues chronicler Arne Brogger.

Cosmik: That was quite a school! So did you become a record collector yourself?

Naftalin: Well, I always gathered records with the devotion of a collector, based on my pursuit of the music as a musician, but I never had a sizeable collection till after I came off the road with the Butterfield Band. Then I started collecting in the tried-and-true way -- second-hand-store schnorring, used record stores, cut-out bins, what have you. I have thousands of LP's and 45's, and a few 78's. In addition to blues and R&B I have a good gospel collection, quite a lot of C&W, and a fair amount of jazz and classical as well as folk music from here and there. Now, I'm not a big-time collector. I don't buy, sell or trade records as commodities, or participate in auctions or anything like that. I just collect music I like so that I can enjoy it and study it and share it with my radio listeners. It was because I already had a decent library that I could jump right in and start producing my "Blues Power Hour" as soon as the opportunity arose, and then take it from station to station. [Ed. note: "Mark Naftalin's Blues Power Hour" is now in its thirteenth year on San Francisco's KALW, where it airs Mondays at 9 p.m. The show has also been on KTIM (San Rafael) and on KFOG (San Francisco).]

Cosmik: Do you still collect?

Naftalin: I've been on the air for over a decade now, so these days I mostly collect promo CD's. I sometimes cast a wistful glance at a Goodwill store as I hurry by, but I rarely allow myself the time to hunker over a bin. You know -- busy, busy, busy.

Cosmik: Why did you choose to go to school in Chicago?

Naftalin: I applied to several colleges. The University of Chicago was the one that accepted me. Looking back, I'm glad things worked out that way.

Cosmik: Did you immerse yourself in the music scene there?

Naftalin: I was studying music seriously. That's an immersion. I wasn't on the club scene, though, if that's what you mean. I went to clubs from time to time, but didn't start playing in clubs till I joined the Butterfield Band in 1965.

Cosmik: Did you find it hard to be taken seriously as a blues musician at first?

Naftalin: No, because I was playing with the Butterfield Blues Band, and we got a lot of approval from a new audience that wasn't dealing in purism. Jerome Arnold, Sam Lay and Billy Davenport were road-seasoned blues musicians. If Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield were deemed to be less authentic because of not being black, they nevertheless had the approval of, and working relationships with, some of the true greats. People like Little Walter and Big Joe Williams and Muddy Waters and Otis Spann. So there was plenty of seriousness going around, and some of it spilled over onto me.

Cosmik: What was your first break in the music business?

Naftalin: Being hired by Paul Butterfield to play in his band.

Cosmik: How did you hook up with them?

[Pictured: Paul Butterfield]

Naftalin: I knew Elvin and Paul from Chicago. They had heard me play, when I jammed along with them at the University of Chicago "Twist Parties." In fact, I had sat in with them for a couple of sets at the Cafe Au Go Go that summer. 1965. I played a little acoustic piano that sat beside the stage, forlorn of amplification. As inaudible as I was in that maelstrom, it was thrilling to be part of the vibration. I joined the band during the course of a recording session in New York City. This was in early September. I started out the session sitting in on organ. As the session continued, they kept me on organ, and sometime during the session Paul invited me to join the band. Most of the songs on the first Butterfield Band album are from that session. I played with the band at the Philadelphia Folk Festival that weekend and shortly thereafter went back to Chicago with them.

[Pictured: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Mark Naftalin in 2nd from the left.]

Cosmik: In a band like that, where you have virtuosity all around, what was the most inspiring thing for you to get behind as a player? Was it the harp playing that moved you the most, or the guitar, or something else?

Naftalin: Paul's playing sometimes gave me the deepest feeling. Sometimes he played one note and tore me up. But as for inspiration, I got a lot of that from every musician in the band.

Cosmik: What was different about playing with Mike Bloomfield as compared to playing with other guitarists?

Naftalin: Sometimes circumstances allow musicians to collaborate over a period of time and to become close. My bond with Mike was like what you have with a childhood friend. We had a kind of a family feeling going for years, and this was part of the music. I have the same kind of empathy with Ron Thompson, and sometimes the music we make together really reminds me of some of the stuff I use to do with Mike. Same kind of excitement. One of my disappointments is that Ron and Mike didn't have a chance to know one another better. I've also had good collaborations with Bobby Murray, whom I worked with for years, and, more recently, Jimmy Vivino, who sometimes evokes Mike. These are all brilliant guitar players, in my opinion, all easy and very enjoyable to work with. Where Mike stood apart was in his originality and in his unpredictable flashes of super-brilliance.

[Pictured: Michael Bloomfield]

Cosmik: When I interviewed Teisco Del Rey last month, he had a lot to say about the Butterfield Blues Band, and about Bloomfield. One thing he said really struck me. He said "...I'm not sure there would have been a Hendrix without a Bloomfield." How do you feel about that?

Naftalin: Does he mean in terms of audience acceptance? Could have a point there. So far as musical styles go, I think both Mike and Jimi Hendrix had their own thing before they ever even heard of each other. I remember being in the Village with Mike, getting ready to go onstage at the Cafe Au Go Go, when Mike told me he had just seen a guitarist called Jimi James at another club. He said Jimi James was a better guitar player than he, Mike, was. I expressed doubt. He assured me this was definitely the case.

Cosmik: Did he feel a sense of competition with Jimi, then?

Naftalin: That's a good question. Not that I know of. If he did, he didn't express it by trying to play Hendrix better than Hendrix. I just think Jimi really knocked him out.

Cosmik: I think Elvin Bishop gets lost in the history a bit because he played in the same band as Bloomfield. What can you tell us about Elvin as a player?

Naftalin: Well, with a strong stylist like Elvin, I believe the music speaks for itself. To answer your question, though, my perception is that while Mike may have distracted attention from Elvin by soaring over the top, Elvin's guitar parts were the center of the Butterfield Blues Band sound, the basic identifying element, as much or more than the harp. And this was true from the band's earliest days, through the Bloomfield era, into the horn era, as long as Elvin was with the group. Elvin plays with a lot of power and a lot of emotion, and it's a communicating emotion. I especially admire his sound on slide. Very beautiful, in my opinion. I don't suppose it's my job to hand out merit badges for funkiness, but, if it were, I'd make sure Elvin got one. To my ears, Elvin and Mike together were a wonderful string section.

Cosmik: Another thing Teisco said was 'What blues band today would have the balls to do a 13-minute extended improvisation, essentially Raga, like "East-West?"' Were you aware at the time that you were taking big risks, or were you concerned about that at all?

Naftalin: "East-West" was popular. Playing it didn't seem like a risk. Whether or not the record company thought putting out a song of that length was risky I don't know. Thirteen minutes was long for one song on a rock or blues record at that time, but not jazz.

Cosmik: But wasn't the majority of your audience coming from the rock or blues side of the street?

Naftalin: They were ready.

Cosmik: The story goes that "East-West" took on a life of its own and just kept evolving from performance to performance. What kind of changes did it ultimately go through?

Naftalin: For one thing, the song grew longer. As it reached full flower we played it for an hour or more. The song was a platform for a lot of experimentation. There were also certain structural elements that shaped the performance. Michael would periodically introduce a simple melodic passage which would then be ensemble-ized and become the starting point for a development and, usually, for some kind of energetic build-up. And some of these melodies became thematic. Over the fifteen months or so that we played "East-West" a lot of things happened. A few of them are captured on the "East-West Live" album, which is our next release on Winner, due out September 3 [1996]. The album consists of three live versions of "East-West" and as you listen to them in sequence you get a sense of how fast things were changing in those days. The third version, recorded about a year after the first, is much freer as a collective improvisation. On the other hand, some of Mike's most orbital playing is on the first version. The first version has four sections and is twelve minutes long. The third version, which is close to half an hour long, has only three sections, but the sections themselves are more developed; there are sections within sections. On the first version, Paul plays a beautiful, peaceful solo at the end. The other versions end much more climactically and, on the third version, Paul doesn't play a solo per se, but contributes a lot of impressionistic stuff as part of the ensemble. Billy Davenport, the drummer, is the one who held this piece together, in my opinion. He carried the thing with power and control, from the beginning. Listening now, he just sounds amazing. A bona fide monster. We were really lucky to have Billy in the group.

Cosmik: When you listen to the Butterfield records today, what do you notice that you didn't back then?

Naftalin: When I listen now I'm very struck by how we played together. But it's not so much what I notice as it is how I hear the music now, namely as a professional musician of decades' experience, whose training is mostly about understanding and feeling music and musicians. And so I feel all my former bandmates, and I love us all for the way we worked together and for having expressed ourselves to the world when we were young.

Cosmik: Describe your first meeting with Bill Graham for us.

Naftalin: I know he was around the first night we played in San Francisco, but I don't remember the exact moment of meeting Bill, or whether it was that night. He and Chet Helms were partners on that show. Then ensued the famous incident where Bill hooked up with Albert Grossman, the Butterfield Band's manager, and made a deal for booking the band without participation from Chet. So from then on we played only for Bill. I liked Bill, although I found him a shade on the intense side. Back in those early Fillmore days, he and I had a jocular running argument revolving around his contention that I didn't appreciate the contribution of a promoter to a situation.

Cosmik: And where did he get that notion?

Naftalin: I guess my position was that he should acknowledge that it was the bands who brought in the people. At that time we were just a couple of guys with authority problems jousting. As years passed and my activities broadened I developed a better appreciation of the promoter's role. When we set up our non-profit corporation, the Blue Monday Foundation, Bill lent his name as board chairman and gave us some good moral support.

Cosmik: What was it like playing the Fillmore? Was there as much of a sense of mythological awe as we attach to it today?

Naftalin: Playing at the Fillmore was a good experience. It was comfortable. We shared the stage with wonderful artists. Blues legends like Muddy Waters or Albert King or Big Mama Thornton and jazz people like Rhasaan Roland Kirk or Charles Lloyd. Shortlived as it was, it was a beautiful scene, and we were part of it. I don't think you can have a contemporaneous myth, though. I think a myth has to brew for awhile.

Cosmik: Okay, if the sense of myth hadn't brewed yet, then was there a sense of scene? All that atmosphere happening in the Bay Area, around the Fillmore, the comradery? Was there a sense of being part of something very big?

Naftalin: There was a tremendous communal feeling for awhile. The San Francisco scene was a spark, but the feeling was everywhere.

Cosmik: When and why did you leave the Butterfield Band?

Naftalin: In March of 1968, for various personal reasons, including the fact that I was concerned about my musical goals and I wanted to take some time to work on my piano playing.

Cosmik: Did you suggest to Butterfield that you'd like to play a lot of piano on future releases, or did you just figure it wouldn't fit?

Naftalin: This wasn't a bone of contention, nor were there any bones of contention. It's just that we didn't have acoustic pianos available on our gigs, so I played electric piano and organ pretty much all the time and I was starting to feel acoustic piano-deprived.

Cosmik: Acoustic piano was your first love? Is it still?

Naftalin: I consider piano my main instrument, but the love is in the music, not in the instrument. Professionally, piano is the instrument I use most. For solo gigs, I always play acoustic. When I play with bands, I still use electric or electronic keyboards most of the time. Currently it's a Roland 350, which has 88 keys, like a real piano. For those who might be interested, I use the acoustic piano tone, both of the electric piano tones and, for funkifying, the clavinet tone. I pretty much always use tremolo on the electric piano tones and chrous on the clav. From time to time, not nearly as often as I'd like, I use my B-3 [Hammond organ]. Playing electric or electronic keyboards is a related, but much different, skill and craft from playing acoustic.

Cosmik: Did Paul and the others understand when you left? Did you remain friends?

Naftalin: Yes.

Cosmik: Where did you go from there?

Naftalin: The band was in LA at the time I left the group. I went directly to the Bay Area where I spent the summer working with Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth on the album called "Living With The Animals." I played keyboards on the album and was also involved as an arranger and co-producer. Later that year I went to New York with Michael Bloomfield to make the James Cotton album "Cotton In Your Ears." Michael played on the album, too, as well as co-producing with Elliot Mazer. Fathead Newman was on bari. Stood right beside me and thrilled me. From there we went to Muscle Shoals for the Otis Rush album "Mourning In The Morning." Nick Gravenites was Mike's co-producer on that one and the other musicians included Duane Allman and Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Barry Beckett on keyboards and Roger Hawkins on drums. And Jerry Jemmott on bass. These were some of the musicians that were making Aretha Franklin's hits at the time, and it was really a pleasure to meet them and to play with them and to work in the studio where they made those classic records.

Cosmik: Around what time did you become a busy session player?

Naftalin: I don't think I've ever been busy in the way that busy session players are busy. But there were some years in the early 'seventies when an appreciable portion of my income came from recording.

Cosmik: What recordings did you do for other people at that time that you're the most proud of today?

Naftalin: I like the Cotton and Otis Rush albums I mentioned. Also the Otis Rush album "Right Place Wrong Time" that Nick produced in San Francisco. That one's out on Hightone now, on CD. I'm especially proud of the song called "Kik Hit 4 Hit Kix U" on John Lee Hooker's "Endless Boogie" album. On that one I play guitar and the song builds on my guitar part. I was just noodling around during a lull in the session and the other musicians started to respond to what I was doing and the music fell together. John Lee started singing and playing and when all was said and done it turned out it was all on tape. Nice when it happens like that. And of course I'm proud of "One Toke Over The Line" by Brewer & Shipley, which was also produced by Nick Gravenites and was a top-ten hit nationally. I played piano on that one.

Cosmik: Did you ever think of seriously pursuing guitar?

Naftalin: My pursuit is serious. I've been working on guitar just as long as I have on piano. I play blues on guitar. The guitar part I played on the John Lee Hooker record was serious enough to be the heart of a John Lee Hooker song. But, you know, I work with such fine guitarists. And so I usually stick with keyboards. But you never know what the future holds.

Cosmik: Do you ever pick up a guitar or a bass these days?

Naftalin: I keep an acoustic guitar and an upright bass at hand at all times. When piano players come over I like to play upright or accordion.

Cosmik: Are there a lot of stellar jam sessions with people who just drop in?

Naftalin: We play from time to time. Around festival time we always have some rehearsing going on and a turkey smoking out back. Over the years there's been some soul-stirring singing in our living room. Percy Mayfield, Buddy Ace, Frankie Lee, Maurice McKinnies, Pee Wee Crayton, Mable John, Carla Thomas, Irma Thomas, Roy Brown, Nappy Brown, Charles Brown, Charles Houff -- you probably haven't heard of him but to me he was one of the most moving singers of all. Lowell Fulson and I have played acoustic duets here. We've done a couple of gigs like that, too.

Cosmik: Your discography reads like a Who's Who of high quality blues and boogie, but there are a few oddities, as well, and I'd like to ask you about them. David Soul? From Starsky & Hutch, right?

Naftalin: I over-dubbed on one song, or played on the basic track, I'm not sure. The connection was through Andy Kulberg, who was the producer or musical director of the record and was hooked up with Mr. Soul because he, Andy, wrote music for the Starsky & Hutch TV show. When the next pressing of this album came out, the song I played on was replaced with another. Thus, on my discography, the mysterious legend "first pressing only."

Cosmik: One that I didn't see on your discography but that I had heard you toured with was David Cassidy. When was that?

Naftalin: 1972. A good friend of mine, Steve Alsberg, was part of David Cassidy's management and he brought me in when the organ player's job came open. It was good journeyman musician work and a nice bunch of folks to travel with. Good musicians, too. Kim Carnes was one of the backup singers. I actually did one session, just a track, for David Cassidy as well. I don't think it ever came out. The oddest thing about that gig was that, after I came in the band, David Cassidy adopted the practice of moving his musical director off the piano bench and bringing me from behind the organ over to the piano so that I could play piano on one tune while he strapped on his guitar and did his blues thing.

Cosmik: Are there any others in the "slightly odd" category?

Naftalin: None to compete with that one.

Cosmik: You knew Janis Joplin, and as I understand it, you turned down a gig as her musical director. Leader of her band. Why did you turn that down?

Naftalin: The offer came from her to me. It wasn't discussed by business people. I probably declined because of other involvements.

Cosmik: Were there other offers like that?

Naftalin: I had met Steve Stills in the Village during that summer before I got in the Butterfield Band. At that time I was looking for work as a bass player and we fooled around a little with me on bass. A year or so later, when I was touring with the Butterfield Band, Steve showed up where we were playing in Huntington Beach and, as we walked out on the pier, he asked me if I would join the Buffalo Springfield as a bass player. I was very flattered, but wanted to stay with the group I was with. I can't imagine what could have enticed me away from the Butterfield Band at that point.

Cosmik: Okay, let's move forward in time now to after Butterfield. You moved to the Bay Area, and you got very involved in the blues scene there. First of all, how did you get involved in the festivals?

Naftalin: I was involved with the San Francisco Blues Festival in the late 'seventies and early 'eighties, sort of as the house pianist, backing up people like Lowell Fulson, Roy Brown, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Rogers. Some of those sets were released on a three-album series of LP's on Solid Smoke. At a certain point I came to feel that there was room for more festival-type activity in the Bay Area, which at that time had a very active blues scene. So I got together with the Marin County Board of Supervisors and persuaded them to give us a modest budget for a festival to be held at the county fair. Our champion on the board was Barbara Boxer, who is now a U.S. Senator from California. This year's [1996] festival is our sixteenth annual. All but two of them have been under the auspices of the Marin County Fair. I got involved with the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1981 when I took a revue there and opened up the Blues Afternoon on the main stage. The next year, 1982, Jimmy Lyons, the late founder and director of the festival, asked me to program about half of the afternoon. I went on from there to program all the music on both stages and was given the title Associate Producer of the Blues Afternoon. I worked with Jimmy until 1992. We developed the garden stage into a full-fledged festival within a festival, bringing many of the names from the main stage to the garden stage, either with their bands or in cameo with our band. One of the best things we did at Monterey -- this was on the main stage -- was a tribute to John Lee Hooker which culminated with John Lee singing a duet with Etta James, and with John Lee and Ron Thompson on guitars, Charlie Musselwhite on harp and Katie Webster on piano. And I was on organ. I'll always be grateful to Jimmy Lyons for the creative opportunities he gave me.

Cosmik: How did the radio concert series come to be?

Naftalin: I started a weekly blues show in 1979. We had a show almost every week for four years straight at the Sleeping Lady Cafe in Fairfax, California. Then we moved to Uncle Charlie's, in Corte Madera, which is also in Marin County, for another half year. Both those clubs are gone now. In 1982 we started broadcasting the first hour of the show, which was called "Mark Naftalin's Blue Monday Party" over KTIM-FM, San Rafael. We had eighty-some broadcasts altogether over nineteen months. We went off the air when the station was taken over by a new owner.

Cosmik: Who were some of the people who played in the "house band" that did those gigs?

[Photo: Ron Thompson]

Naftalin: Two very notable guitarists, Bobby Murray and Ron Thompson. Henry Oden, who spent years with Joe Louis Walker in the meantime, was our original bassist. When Percy was around Henry always played upright. Another good bass player who did a lot of shows with us was Ted Wysinger. Gary Silva was our drummer for years, as long as we were at the Sleeping Lady. After we moved to Uncle Charlie's the rhythm section was Kelvin Dixon on drums and Leonard Gill, who had been with B.B. King as a rhythm guitarist, on bass. And we had two good tenor players, Bobbie Webb and Julien Vaught. Julien was with the Flamingo's -- remember "I've Only Got Eyes For You? -- way back when. He still tours with them from time to time. Anyway, we have so far released two CD's on Winner from the "Blue Monday Party" archives, "Percy Mayfield Live" and Ron Thompson's "Just Like A Devil."

Cosmik: Being a Tower Of Power fan, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Rocco Prestia played bass on one track of the Percy Mayfield CD. Was he a frequent drop-in, or was that a one shot deal?

Naftalin: I got to know Rocco because he was tight with Bobby [Murray, guitarist]. He played with our Blue Monday band for two months in 1983, right after we moved to Uncle Charlie's. Rocco was outstanding. He left to go to Vegas with Lola Falana.

Cosmik: Were there other shows in your radio series that you'd like to put out on CD?

Naftalin: Not necessarily whole shows. There's a lot to work with there, and how it will be formed will emerge as the long-range plan unfolds.

[Photo: Percy Mayfield]

Cosmik: Now we'll get to someone I know was very special to you. Tell us how you first got to know Percy Mayfield, and what he was like, both as an artist and a human being.

Naftalin: I got to know Percy when I started bringing him to the Bay Area for our "Blue Monday Party" weekly blues shows. He made six or seven appearances there and four at the Marin County Blues Festival. And he worked with our revue around the area. I believe most people who knew Percy thought of him as the most beautiful person they'd ever met. He used to say, "Kings are born, not made." And when he was around, no one doubted. He had style in everything: songwriting, singing, walking, talking, being. He was the deepest writer and the most satisfying singer. I measure his kindness by the gift he gave me, making me an honorary Mayfield and introducing me to audiences as his son, Mark Naftalin Mayfield. We reached out to Percy and gave him a new platform and a new audience during his last years. And he gave us the makings of "Percy Mayfield Live," our greatest source of pride.

Cosmik: The "Percy Mayfield Live" CD your label put out is just so close to perfection . . . What can you tell us about the experience of recording those shows with him?

Naftalin: Well, thank you for the compliment. What comes to mind is the way, when we knew Percy was about to come on stage, the band would slip into a certain feeling. Like mother's milk, as Percy would say. When Percy came to town he stayed in our homes and was part of our lives, and we spent many nights until dawn with him, making music and picking up on his philosophy.

Cosmik: I haven't heard every Percy Mayfield recording, but I'd say what sets "Percy Mayfield Live" apart from those I've heard is the warmth that comes through from Percy himself. It may be the only recording that documents that side of Percy so completely.

Naftalin: For one thing, it's his only extensive live recording. And it was recorded in an extraordinarily warm situation. I mean between Percy and both the band and the audience. Everybody loved him. And I believe that radiates from the music.

Cosmik: Let's talk about Winner Producing Company, which I assume by the name is more than a label. When did you start the company and why?

Naftalin: Our main business is Winner Records. We also have a publishing company, Pencil Man Music. We've been in business since 1988. Our goals are to continue building our catalog with the same kind of important recordings that we've been bringing out from our existing library, and to develop full-fledged status as a company, with significant cash flow, so that we can initiate a line of new recordings.

Cosmik: What is your current project for the label?

Naftalin: Our next CD, scheduled for release on September 3 [1996], is "East-West Live" by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. This album consists of three versions of "East-West," total time 56 minutes, all recorded live in clubs, from the same sources as our last release, "Strawberry Jam." These recordings are from my personal collection and have not been available to the public before in any form. Other than the edited studio version, these are the only known recordings of "East-West," and the only examples of how the song actually sounded as presented to audiences. We will be making a pre-release offer on this CD as we did with the last release. To be on the list for that [or to be notified of any future Winner releases], people can contact us at 1-203-259-7576, or through the webpage at http://www.bluespower.com, or by e-mail at wpc@bluespower.com.

Cosmik: Do you have anything planned beyond that, or will you just play it by ear?

Naftalin: We have an album of duets by Michael Bloomfield and me which we hope to release. These are previously unissued studio recordings from 1971. We also have another Percy Mayfield album, based on his own tape archives, which includes some songs not elsewhere recorded. And, as I mentioned, new recordings of original music.

Cosmik: When you say new recordings of original music, do you mean by artists you plan to sign in the future, or do you mean by the people you're already working with?

Naftalin: I mean, first, my own music and the music of the people closest to me, like Ron Thompson. From there, we'll have to see what develops.

Cosmik: What do you think of the blues scene these days?

Naftalin: Blues is more prominent now, in the last few years, than it was for a long time. It seemed like blues almost died during the disco era. Back then a prominent San Francisco music journalist asked me why I wanted to play what he referred to as "arcane, retrograde music." In those days, the San Francisco Blues Festival was struggling and there weren't many others. Now the San Francisco Blues Festival is a bigtime event and there are scores of blues festivals around the country and abroad and bunches of blues CD's coming out every month from both new and veteran artists. So far as I know, this is the most fertile time period in the history of music for the issuing and reissuing of blues. There's even a vogue for bluesy backgrounds in radio and TV commercials. So grab a harp and join the fun.

Cosmik: When we were talking the other day, somebody phoned you to ask if you wanted to show up at a club to jam. Ron Thompson, I think. How often do you get out and play live these days?

Naftalin: I've been out sitting in with Ron about four or five times in the last couple of months. As busy as I am with the record company, I don't hustle gigs as hard as I used to, but I take them as they come. Last weekend I played at Eli's in Oakland with Steve Gannon's band, with Ms. Dee on vocals. She's a good entertainer and a really good singer. Coming up this weekend I'm opening the show for Junior Wells at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. I'll do that one solo. Then in two weeks we've got the Marin County Blues Festival. I'll play with a bunch of folks there. I play solo at Books Revisited in downtown San Rafael, the town I live in, the first Friday of every month. I keep my own piano in there. On my next engagement there, July fifth, I'll have Billy Davenport with me. I haven't been doing so many gigs as a bandleader recently as I was for a long time, but that may revive down the line. This fall I'll be taking part in a Butterfield tribute with Nick Gravenites and Gary Smith and Mark Ford. That will be a free concert associated with this year's San Francisco Blues Festival. I played at last year's Chicago Blues Festival with Tracy Nelson and Al Kooper and Maria Muldaur. When I'm in the New York City area I play every Thursday night with Jimmy Vivino's band at the Downtime in Manhattan. Long story short...I'm still working. And all my dates are on my calendar of events, which is on our webpage.

Cosmik: Your career has obviously been packed with great moments, but if you had to single out one pure shining moment--one moment where you felt like it couldn't get any better--what would it be?

Naftalin: So many moments to remember. There were lots of ecstatic moments during a certain period with the Butterfield Band. From the festival and R&B revue era a special one that comes to mind is a set we did with Carla Thomas at the Marin County Blues Festival in '85. Her singing was so spiritual, and beautiful beyond imagining. The whole place was in a trance. The last time we played with Percy was the most emotion I've ever felt in one place at one time. And I remember as I was being asked for a second encore by a sold-out Memorial Auditorium at Stanford -- I was playing solo, opening for Leo Kottke -- asking myself, for a classic instant amid the tumult, "Am I Bob Dylan?"

Cosmik: So after more than 30 years in the blues, do you have any regrets?

Naftalin: Too soon for regrets.

© 1996 Cosmik Debris

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