Number 2 (Summer 1994)
Contributing Editor Neal McGarity recently had the opportunity to speak with Charlie Musselwhite, a contemporary and bandmate of Mike's in the early 1960s. Musselwhite's latest Alligator release, In My Time, has received critical and popular acclaim.
Neal: You moved to Chicago in 1962 from Memphis. What are your memories of those days?
Charlie: In those days there weren't that many harmonica players -- but there were lots of guitar players, so it was easier to get work as a harmonica player. When I first got to town, every once in a while people in the clubs would refer to me as Paul. It didn't take long to realize there was some guy named Paul about my age playing good harmonica. Butterfield and I became friends, but I think he was not completely happy with the idea of me being a harmonica player.
Neal: Are you pleased with the way your CD re-releases have been handled?
Charlie: Yes, it's nice, I didn't even know anybody'd be interested in that stuff. This fall Vanguard is issuing I don't know what you'd call it, a "Best of Musselwhite." It's gonna have some stuff on there that's never been released, including an old acetate I have that's kind of scratchy but the music's so good they're gonna put it on there anyway, with me and Magic Sam and Shakey Jake, that's really tough, it's all the way down.
Neal: Some recordings you did with John Hammond in 1964 are about to be released on a new Michael Bloomfield compilation, Essential Blues 1964-1969. Did you know about that?
Charlie: No, I don't remember doing any...oh, you mean John Hammond, Sr. Right, I remember that, in Chicago. We had another session in New York, too. I just remembered that. Butterfield was there, not playing, but he was in the studio hanging out.
Neal: What are your memories of those sessions?
Charlie: Well my remembrance of that, I hope I'm wrong, is that it was pretty sloppy. Mike never wanted to rehearse, and even when you did rehearse he kept changing it all the time so it was gonna be different next time anyway, and it was just really chaos.
Neal: What are some of your memories of Mike?
Charlie: I have great memories of Mike. He sure turned a lot of people on to blues. He really loved blues, there's no doubt about that; he was just a fanatic about it. And he was one of the funniest people I ever knew. The two of us would just be in tears laughing, just gasping for breath, your ribs about to break. But he could be different and strange. His mind was so...he couldn't relax. That was his problem in a nutshell. A doctor could probably go on for hours about what his problem was, I don't know, but I know that he couldn't settle down, he couldn't sleep. Life was real hard for Mike.
Neal: There were a number of questions surrounding his death. He appeared to have cleaned up his life.
Charlie: I never heard that. He died at somebody's house and they put him in his car and moved the car so they wouldn't be connected with the death. The local fire department was always getting called to his house for overdose situations there. He had some real demons chasing him. Mike was not a real happy person. I think he could've...I wish he would've hung around a little longer. I think he was getting some great ideas that he never got to do.
Four new CDs featuring Michael Bloomfield have recently been released.
Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man! Essential Blues 1964-1969 on the SONY/LEGACY label is an intelligently assembled compilation that features five unreleased demos plus three songs that were previously unavailable on CD. The sound quality is excellent. This CD is a good starting point. Let's hope there are plans for additional CDs which will include other unreleased recordings, more songs from It's Not Killing Me and Live At The Fillmore West, and tracks from My Labors (by Nick Gravenites) and the Bloomfield LP.
If You Love These Blues, Play `Em As You Please and Bloomfield/Harris which were re-issued under the title True Soul Brother on CD by the French Sky Ranch label have been licensed to the Laserlight label. They have been issued on two separate discs, The Root Of Blues and The Gospel Of Blues. "Blue Ghost Blues," from If You Love These Blues... is not on either disc. It is on the Sky Ranch release. Missing from all the CDs are Mike's spoken comments, about each song, which were included on the original LP release of If You Love These Blues..., and a solo Woody Harris performance from the Bloomfield/Harris LP.
This issue's most unexpected re-release is Barry Goldberg And Friends Live, licensed from Buddah and distributed by the Canadian label Unidisc. It is a CD re-issue of the 1976 Buddah LP Barry Goldberg And Friends Recorded Live, which included the Bloomfield tracks from the Record Man LP Barry Goldberg and Friends, plus a previously unreleased live version of Mike singing "That's Alright Mama." Sound quality is excellent; Mike's performances are inspired. Be forewarned about some over-dubbed applause and lackluster bass playing.
Elektra Records is compiling a multi-disc Paul Butterfield Blues Band collection. No release date available yet.
Columbia/Legacy Records plans to release The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper domestically. This title is now available only as an import.
Warner Brothers Records has released Gandharva, by Beaver and Kraus. This recording features one track with Michael Bloomfield on lead guitar.
According to the liner notes of the recently released Canned Heat EMI anthology Mike temporarily filled in on guitar after guitarist Henry Vestine quit the band. Mike was asked to join the band permanently but declined and the spot was filled by Harvey Mandel.