“Michael Bloomfield: From His Head to His Heart to His Hands” CD/DVD Review


MBloomfield

One glorious aspect of ’60s-born music is the immense scope of its grandeur. If Jimi Hendrix had been the only incredible guitarist of the era, that would have been enough. But even beyond the many other superstar pickers from Clapton to Page were lesser known lights with their own claim to greatness, if not commercial success.

Michael Bloomfield was one such light, who shined briefly but brightly from the mid-’60s into the ’70s, before he died at 37 in 1981 from a drug overdose.  And now his legacy lives on with the lavish box set From His Head to His Heart to His Hands, new from Sony Legacy Tuesday.

Its three CDs feature 46 tracks from Bloomfield’s solo and group work, many of them previously unreleased. An almost one-hour DVD also tells his story, though Sweet Blues: A Film About Michael Bloomfield has precious little archival footage of his performances.

My own first infatuation with Bloomfield’s fierce blues-rock playing came with his membership in the Electric Flag, which he joined in ’67 after a stint in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Combining horns and psychedelia with blues-rock, the large, ambitious group predated the horn-heavy Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

That sound started with the rush of the first track of the Flag’s A Long Time Comin’ album with the raucously war-mocking Killing Floor, featured in the box set along with the fervent blues of  the disc’s Texas.

Through it all, Bloomfield’s manic licks were all the kick I needed to embrace this gutsy but short-lived band, which played the landmark Monterey Pop Festival but, like Moby Grape, didn’t really benefit from the exposure. (They weren’t in the initial film, for one thing.)

Yet even before that, Bloomfield had performed with Bob Dylan’s newly electric band, and afterward, he cut Super Session with Al Kooper (who produced and created this boxed set) and Stephen Stills, and it was the best-selling disc of his career. But Bloomfield’s career was saddled by his dislike of touring and his taste for drugs, and he largely did session work while falling into obscurity in the ’70s.

Yet his licks live on with this set, whose newly released live tracks are some of its best, including Santana Clause performed at Fillmore East and the Electric Flag’s Susie’s Shuffle and Just a Little Something.

There was nothing little about Bloomfield’s talent, as the accompanying documentary vividly shows. It’s a bit disconcerting that several interviewees, such a promoter Bill Graham, are long-dead, but that doesn’t dilute the meaning of their message: Michael Bloomfield was one of the great guitarists of a great era. As Eric Clapton said, he was “music on two legs.”

— Bruce Westbrook

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