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Paul Butterfield (1942-1987)

Paul Butterfield

Born in Chicago

Paul Butterfield (December 17, 1942 – May 4, 1987) was an American blues harmonica player and singer, and one of the earliest Caucasian exponents of the Chicago-originated electric blues style. Paul Butterfield, a lawyer’s son, was born and grew up in Chicago. After studying classical flute as a teen, he developed a love for the blues harmonica, and hooked up with white, blues-loving, University of Chicago physics student Elvin Bishop. The two started hanging around great black blues players like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Junior Wells. Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop soon formed a band with Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay (both of Howlin' Wolf's band). In 1963, a watershed event in introducing blues to white America occurred when this racially mixed ensemble was made the house band at the Chicago blues club Big John’s. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was signed to Elektra Records after adding Michael Bloomfield as lead guitarist. Their original debut album was scrapped, then re-recorded after the addition of organist Mark Naftalin. Finally, their self-titled debut, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was released in 1965. It had an immediate impact, serving as a wakeup call for a generation of musicians. Soon after the release of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sam Lay became sick and Billy Davenport took over on drums. The Butterfield Band's second album, East-West reflected the music scene's interest in sitar great Ravi Shankar and other Eastern musicians. It was also critically acclaimed. These two albums are essential from a music-history perspective. With the release of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, in an instant, the image of blues as "old time music" was gone. Butterfield's band introduced modern Chicago-style blues to mainstream white audiences. After 1968's release In My Own Dream, both Elvin Bishop and Mark Naftalin left at the end of the year. Billy Davenport and new guitarist Buzzy Feiten joined the band on its 1969 release Keep On Moving which was received coolly by the music press. Though the Butterfield band was floundering commercially, it was still popular enough to play at the Woodstock Festival — although their performance was not included in the resulting Woodstock film. In 1969 Paul Butterfield also took part in an all-star blues jam with Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Michael Bloomfield, Sam Lay, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Buddy Miles, which was recorded and released as Fathers and Sons. After the releases of Live and Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smiling in 1970, Butterfield broke up the band and returned to Woodstock, NY. He formed a new group including guitarist Amos Garrett, Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur, pianist Ronnie Barron and bassist Billy Rich and named it Better Days. This group released Paul Butterfield's Better Days and It All Comes Back in 1972 and 1973, respectively. Though both were far from commercial successes, both albums were received well by critics. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw Paul Butterfield as a solo act and a session musician doing television appearances every now and then and releasing a couple of albums to a small and devoted cult following. Paul Butterfield died in 1987 from a drug and alcohol overdose. (quoted from

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