Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who are your musical influences?

Michael was influenced by 0f variety of sources. As a little kid, Tubby The Tuba, Peter And The Wolf, Bozo Under The Sea. Later The Hit parade, Broadway Musicals, and contemporary radio. When he discovered the blues he sought out traditional players like Tampa Red, Lightin' Hopkins, Blind Blake, Tommy MacLennan, Big Joe Williams to name just a few. Modern blues players would include Josh White, Guitar Slim, J.B. Lenoir, Junior Parker, B.B. King, Ry Cooder,Roy Buchanan, Otis Rush, Eric Clapton, Junior Wells, James Cotton, and so many more.

Michael began his guitar lessons with our mothers beautician Tony Carmen and then sat at the feet of the greatest blues players in Chigago and later was carried to the legendary players of the past through Big Joe Williams.

So who are your influences and what in the blues spoke to you?

12 comments:

EBM said...

Allen:

I am very cut my teeth on the New York music scene in the late 60's and early 70's, the Fillmore East, the Schaefer Music Festival, all those great clubs in the village, on Long Island and around the NY area.

An older friend turned me onto Butterfield which lead me to Michael, Michael and his contemporaries were the path back to their roots as well.

To me, the blues is primal, it touches a deep root, it's unpretentious and real. I still listen and I still play almost every day.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Eric

Allen Bloomfield said...

Dear Eric,
Going to clubs and hearing live music is the best. I am reminded of Michael describing his first trip down to the south side of Chicago to see Muddy waters at 16 years of age. As they approached the club Michael heard that slid guitar and said he was all a quiver, like a dog in heat. They wouldn't let them in because they were underage, but they stood outside with their noses pressed to the glass. After the set Muddy came out and thanked them and Michael shook his hand which he described as the size of both of his, engulfed in the masters working surfaces.

Thank you for responding,
Allen Bloomfield

Pat said...

Hi Allen,

I have been a huge fan of Mike and his music since the late 60s when I first became aware of his work. I started playing at the age of 14 in the mid 60s. I remember playing my LPs of Hendrix trying to copy his licks on an old beat up nylon string acoustic until my fingers bled (or my mother yelled to give it a rest!). I then discovered the Blues Project and all the great stuff Danny Kalb was playing. So of course I started trying to copy his stuff note for note (again to my mother's consternation!). I wore out a lot of LPs in those days. It got a little easier when I borrowed a steel string acoustic from a friend. The blues bends were a lot easier than on nylon. In trying to remember when I first heard about Mike it must have been the summer of '67. I remember going to a Murray the K concert at RKO in NYC. What a line-up: Blues Project, The Who, Cream (my first Clapton experience), Wilson Pickett, others. I remember my friend, who had already gone electric with an old beat up Hagstrom, telling me that if I thought Clapton was good I should listen to this guy Bloomfield (whom he had just discovered). So I got the 1st Butterfield album. I was blown away!! So I begged my parents for an electric. We were kind of on the edge financially back then but nonetheless they surpised me with a brand new Gibson SG Special, Cherry red, as a high school graduation present (man I wish I hadn't traded that one in on a Martin acoustic ca. 1970 - what was I thinking?!). Any way, a dream come true, although it wasn't until a few months later that I was able to scrape together some of my own earnings from a summer life guard job to get a Fender Deluxe Reverb to play through. I would listen to Mike's stuff and try to copy it note for note (what a mountain that was to climb!!!). I can't tell you how much I learned musically by listening to him and trying to copy it. I actually had East-West down note for note at one point. But of course it took years and years after that to begin to master some of Mike's unique intonation. In fact even today I'm still trying to capture some of the incredible tone he was able to get. These days I'm using a '61 re-issue SG Custom (still partial to Gibson) and an '87 American Standard black Strat - looks a lot like the one Mike played for a while (Mesa Boogy Heartbreaker amp). I guess at some point I'll need to break down and get a Cherry Burst like the one he played at Monterey and a Super Reverb (I think he played that amp?). Maybe then I can get a little closer to "The tone". I have gathered all of the available bootleg video of Mike that is out there but am starved for more. Question: Is it true that Mike had some problems with arthritis in his fingers toward the end? Thanks for listening to my rambling.

Mike's biggest fan,

Pat

Allen Bloomfield said...

Dear Pat,
Ramble on brother. I love to learn of your progressions and guitars. God your enthusiasm is terrific. So michael, Eric Clapton,
Wilson Pickett,and I am sure many others inspired your playing. How significant was the right guitar at the right time? For example I love shooting pocket billiards. I bought a Willie Hoppe cue and then another and they felt great, the shaft moved like a piston, finding the balance at the butt felt like a glove, they did enhance my game in the beginning but eventually my old habits returned and had to be overcome. Is that what you found?

As for Michael having arthritis, I really don't know. He played right handed although he was a lefty. He had a ganglion cyst on his right hand, which was operated on for that condition but in most cases they are relatively harmless. As one ages arthritis appears especially where there is consistent friction in a specific area. My guess is that this might have been a nuisance, not debilitating.
Good luck, and thank you very your appreciation of Michael.
Sincerely,
Allen Bloomfield

Pat said...

Allen,
Thanks for your reply. Re. the right guitar at the right time, I found that when I got my first (SG Special) electric it opened up a whole new world. For one thing there was so much more room for expression vs. the Martin acoustic. It forced me to play in a different whole new way. As for the cue stick analogy I never found that I went back to old ways or lost the touch. I think it was more related to being in or out of the 'zone'. There have always been times when I feel like I am in a slump. At those times I just put down the axe for a week or so and when I come back it's usually fresh again most of the time. But man oh man, when you are in that zone there is nothing like it. Everyhting flows like you are channeling some mystic power. You almost feel like someone else is in your body and you are a spectator listening to the music flow freely from some other place. It's those times (of which there are too few) that keep me going, even when it all feels and sounds flat. Actually I think all musicians experience this. In listeing to all of Michael's music there are definitely times (but very few) when I can hear and sense that he's not feeling it 100%. But the times when he is feeling it you can tell and it's smokin. He's in the zone. On songs like Albert's shuffle and Mary Ann he's definitely there. I guess the question is can you train yourself to be totally immersed every time (Tiger Woods seems to be able to do it in his sport). Remember when Michael answered the question of why he was so good with 'because I practice a lot'. I think there is a lot to that. But I also think there is some sort of Zen quality that needs to be tapped into as well. In any case, I ramble on again. Here's to Michael and all of the great joy he brought to so many of us with his playing. May we experience just a fraction of what he achieved in some of our own playing.
Cheers and best wishes,
Pat

Allen Bloomfield said...

Hi Pat,
I absolutely understand what you mean by being in the zone. I once asked Michael if he ever experienced just watching his hands as if they moved on their own accord. He said on way to few occasions he experienced this but as soon as he claimed it, it was over. I read that Mozart was once asked where does the music come from. He replied that after a good meal, and a brandy he would take a stroll into the night and from a still mind would arise complete and singular the whole concerto as one sound. He would then go home and transcribe what he had heard. Michael Angelo would go to the marble quarries at sunset and select his stone. He described the right stone as being almost transparent. The form was contained in the marble and he just removed the excess.
I believe that Leonardo Da Vinci's multi genius as depicted in his art which so very much reflects the perfection in nature, was his ability to keep out of the way and allow the creative impulse to flow unimpeded through him. Under those unique conditions his true contribution came forth. As in the teachings of Zen, Eugen Herrigl wrote, in, Zen In The Art Of Archery the Master Archer extends his consciousness so that the target and his Self are one. In Order to illustrate this, in a totally darken hall, some forty yards away is a small target. The Master then let's fly several arrows all landing within the center of the target. I think Pat when ones attention is completely given to the string touching the fret or the ink flowing on to the paper perfection arises. Sorry I am going on so long but I really feel deeply about what you have observed. As to Michael's practice, he loved the opportunity to give expression through his guitar. From early on he entertained himself for hours on end with his guitar. He would watch TV and just play run after run on an unplugged Les Paul. Michael found comfort and companionship by playing by himself. Between playing and reading he discovered some real happiness.
Thanks for your reply,
Allen Bloomfield

Kevin said...

Allen:
I started off listening to hard rock/heavy metal back in the 1980s. I first tried playing the drums but then gravitated towards the guitar. I tried playing a lot of the stuff that was hot at the time, but, I don't know. I started listening to Cream and liked the phrasing Clapton had and, growing up in Texas, got my taste of the blues from listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. I first heard of Michael when I saw an article on him in a guitar mag I had. I didn't really get to listen to him until about 13 years ago when I'd moved to Marin County and a friend gave me the Butterfield Band albums. I was hooked! Yes, in answering your question to my comment in your first post, I have part of "If You Love These Blues" on a CD called "The Root of Blues." Michael's definitely been an influence on my playing, but as with Clapton, SRV & others, they all influenced me to go back and listen to BB King, Buddy Guy, Albert King and others.
I'm enjoying your remembrances and communicating with us
Kevin (I can't remember my google login)

Allen Bloomfield said...

Howdy Kevin,
Thank you for your visit.Your right, all the influences count and it seems that the influences are also influenced by those of their period. I guess we all stand on the shoulders of those that came before. As an aside Michael sought out all the legendary players that were alive. He admired their music and also wanted to learn about their personal lives and the times they lived in. He wrote a short story of his travels with Big Joe Williams, "Me And Big Joe" which has been out of print for years and I would like to reintroduce it.
In a way it is a rite of passage for Michael and a stark realization that one can love the blues and yet culturally not be able to assimilate in to that life style. This begs the question that only African Americans can really play the blues. Personally I believe that we all are in the family of mankind and that is our lowest denominator. What do you think?
I am glad you like the blog and I am open to all suggestions.
Sincerely,
Allen B.

John said...

Allen

Again, thank you.

I'd like to say some things on this and yet have other destinations today . . . one preliminary thing I would like to say is that music seems to be a thing about the heart, feelings and/or spirit and that there are many individual musicians who have touched me or intentionally or unintentionally taught me but there are some things beyond "music" itself that are musical influences.

I listen to my heart, I sort of listen to the given instrument, if there is an audience, I have some awareness of that as there is reciprocity. If there are words, you maybe think of the words . . . Lester Young used to speak of telling a story, and I might also do some things like go to some places inside or things that mattered in some resonating way . . . The mix of it all is subject to change, just like spaghetti sauce is subject to variation. Miles Davis said at least once that listening to Orson Welles speak taught him some things about playing trumpet.

Experiences breathing or walking, sitting by a river or gazing at a fire, watching a woman walk, longing to fly, the touch of a feather or touching someone with a feather, smelling supper cooking, all of these things can be musical influences at least to someone like me. And I think Rickie Lee Jones once said something like it is about many lifetimes in a moment. I am not sure what she intended to mean etc. but that resonates with me.

And I'd really like to say some things about musician influences and about the blues but I have to go meet people . . . one quick last thing, though, I don't know if I have ever even touched a saxophone, but a lot of saxophone players have influenced me and I personally believe and am not alone in saying that it is good to listen to people other than just your main instrument and that it is certainly good to be heart aware of someone you are playing with in the moment.

Again, thanks, Allen.

John

John said...

Allen

Musical influences as far as musicians, just about everybody has been an influence . . . no particular order, some primaries on guitar, it is just impossible to list everybody "jazz", which was come to after some other things first: Django Reinhardt, Tal Farlow, Les Paul, Wes Montgomery, "other" Albert King, Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Michael, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Earl Hooker, Johnny Guitar Watson, Reverend Gary Davis, Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup, James Burton, Paul Burlison, Steve Cropper, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, it could just go on and on . . . then there are people on other instruments, Miles, Clifford Brown, Thelonious Monk, and maybe a jillion saxophone players but I feel like Lester Young and Dexter Gordon taught me a lot whether it would ever show . . . I love Charlie Parker . . . some people might not want to listen to John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and yet each of them really touched me at times . . . there is also this tremendous thing where you sort of compare Johnny Hodges and Ornette on alto or compare Tal Farlow and Johnny Ramone on guitar [or Johnny Smith and Willie Johnson who played with Wolf in Memphis on guitar] and you realize there is this tremendous spectrum or range, possibility and diversity of emphasis . . . singers . . . see I think Albert King and Michael sang through their guitars a bit, etc., it's maybe good to listen to Sinatra, Billie Holiday etc. I have listened to singers.

I seem to like some throatiness or things that hit some notes that you cannot play on a piano, I have pretty much always liked things like violins, slide guitar, harmonica, accordion etc. things that have some throatiness or can play in the cracks.

And just people you have played with, who have shown you things, even people who have demonstrated things you might not want to emulate . . .

The blues just seemed very real, expressive and not recognizing certain boundaries . . . liberating. I remember too the first time I noticed you could do things like "What'd I Say" where you would learn one riff and then move it over a string, learning one thing led to another . . . Huck Finn spoke of certain places seemed cramped and smothery, music did not seem that way, the blues just seemed to let it all hang out. I am not really into the stuff like laying your head on a railroad track type blues that much even though I believe that all song lyrics, even deluded or hostile lyrics have a place, but the main thing about blues to me is expression, freedom . . . I remember seeing something on t.v. a long time ago and just being blown away . . . also, like Michael, there was a made and she would listen to different stuff while ironing, and I got interested in that . . . there was probably initially some exoticism to it or wanting to bridge a chasm or heal a wound to getting interested in this music from nearby but "the other side of the tracks" but the primary thing, which I noticed from the get-go, was it seemed to have form to it and yet transcend form I had known before, it seemed to overflow with feeling, have freedom and truth to it . . . that was the blues for me . . .

Frank Macias said...

Hi Allen,

My Aunt was an early rock and roller. She was pre-Elvis. She had Hank Williams, Fats Domino and others in her collection. I was fascinated by the music. I loved how great words and rhythm could come together.

Polly White, my African-American neighbor, played guitar. We would sit on his front porch and he would occasionally break out his Gibson and play for us kids. Polly could play rhythm, lead, and bass all at once. I admired him so much and loved him like my own father. He was a good man and full of love himself. He had big bulging eyes like Louis Armstrong. Polly spoke Spanish fluently. He wore highly-polished Stacey Adams shoes and was proud that he had some pairs dating back 10-15 years. He loved making hot pepper sandwiches. He'd come out of that front door with a folded piece of bread with nothing in it but hot, green, chili peppers. He was just simply amazing. He could play blues but was not a blues man. He was more into music like Les Paul or Chet Atkins. I wanted to take lessons from Polly but he passed away one night catty-corner to my house at a gas station on the way to catch a bus to a gig. He smoked a lot of Camel cigarettes. I've missed that man terribly ever since.

About the same time I heard a very young local talent, Doug Sahm. He went to an all black high school and was a musical prodigy. He was soaking up the blues, country, Mexican music and making up his own early rock and roll tunes like no-body's business. He had a record on local radio. It was a cover of a Jimmy Reed tune. The guitar playing was bluesy, fast and crazy! When the tune was on I would grab my dad's carpenter saw and pretend I was playing those lead guitar runs.

Shortly after I started hanging out in pool halls and outside of juke joints. (I couldn't get in). Those places had jukeboxes with great music coming out of them. Little Milton, BB King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Jimmy Reed, Bill Doggett, and Little Johnny Taylor and probably the first real blues tune I ever heard, "Part Time Love".

In 1962-63 I had the "itches" to leave home. I was all of 16 years old. I took a greyhound bus and ended up in Las Vegas trying to find a job as a busboy. I took along my cheap Kent guitar and one album, "Cliff Richards and the Shadows" from England. It was not blues but I loved that album. It had great guitar on it. These guys preceded the Beatles by a couple of years, I think. I spent a lot of time working out with it. I never found a job in Vegas. I was dead broke and had to call my parents for money to return home.

When I arrived they had a beautiful red Alamo electric guitar waiting for me. I was down and very discouraged by this time but that gift from my parents lifted me up. I started playing blues and rock and roll in a neighborhood juke joint with a few of my friends, all Hispanic. A customer came up to us once and said, "Ya'll Meskins sound Black". It was a great compliment. Here was these young players working in some of the scariest, most violent, and sometimes bloodiest places in town. For example, a friend of mine had a fight outside the "Cool Grove". He carried a knife. A Black man attacked him. My friend began to swing his knife at him and ended up cutting the man's ear off! It was not unusual to see a trail of blood coursing down a sidewalk towards some body's house after a weekend of heavy partying. I cut my teeth in this type environment.

When the Vietnam war came I was drafted. I didn't want to lose life or limb so I talked the Navy into joining with them for 4 years. I am glad I did. After service school in Norfolk, VA I ended up in the Bay Area for two years between June, 1966 and June 1968.

Blues friends turned me on to Muddy Waters and that infernal first PBBB album in Stockton, CA where I was stationed. I was already listening to Bob Dylan's early albums and his latest, Highway 61. I was mystified by all his music but I liked it a lot especially the music and lyrics. I knew there was something going on that was very appealing to me. I was one of those kids that grow up having to hide beneath the school desk and hide my head between my legs during testing of the fire-station bomb sirens every single month. I had a lot of anger and thought about it often. I didn't think politicians had any right to put my life in danger. They played too many games for my liking. I still think they have no right. I identified mightingly with tunes like, "Masters of War" and "Maggie's Farm".

I read "Desolation Angels" and "On the Road" by Jack Keroac at my barracks. I could sense a common thread running through all of the music and literature. I loved roaming around the streets of San Francisco where John Steinbeck and Jack and Neal Casady roamed. First place I went to was up Grant Street with all its early morning Chinatown odors and on up to North Beach checking out the beatnik enclaves.

On one of those outings I came across a marquee that said, "Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Steve Miller Band and Charlie Musselwhite". It may have been Paul's first show at the Fillmore. I don't know. I do know I went there that very night and I never forgot it. Here I am almost two thousand miles from home, lonesome as shit and entering a strange rock hall with a bunch of quiet, long- haired, peace-niks. I didn't know anything about peace but here I was in the thick of it. I felt very comfortable and fell right into it. I could walk around without having to check out my back and being scared. Here were the people that I imagined were in Jack Keroac's books!

I enjoyed Steve and Charlie's band a lot but I was waiting in anxious anticipation for the Butter Band. I knew from their first record that I was about to have a musical experience unparalleled by anything I before. When those cats hit the first down beat I was hooked and been hooked ever since.

I immediately started scouring the paper and hock shops for a Gibson Les Paul. I wanted one bad. I may very well have been the very first Les Paul hunter! But I passed up my chance.

In July, 1968 I was stationed in Long Beach on a ship headed for the far east and Vietnam. I found a Gibson Les Paul in a Los Angeles newspaper ad. It was at a music store in Palos Verdes. It was a '58or '59 Les Paul Standard with fine flames on it. The finish was cracked all over the guitar. Whatever color it was before was now totally and completely faded. It was like natural wood with a clear finished top. Except for the shape it didn't look anything like Mike's. I thought $750.00 was too much for a guitar in that bad of a shape but I knew I had to have it. I went to borrow the money and Household Finance was closed. It was July 4th, 1968. By the time I could have gone back I lost interest in it. Can you believe it? It's true.

I bought one of the very first re-issues. A 1969 gold-top in January, 1970. I lost that one in 1986. In 1994 I bought a 1988 which I still play. It is a cherry sun-burst, plain-top, but it is a wonderful guitar. I do all the set up work on it myself. I wouldn't trade it for any kind of money.

Gosh, Allen I hope you don't think I am too long-winded. I am not much of a talker but I like to write, I know you like stories and this is a great forum to tell them. I can't wait for more of yours. Especially stuff like Captain Midnite, the jet, the code card and not to forget the Oscar Mayer Traveling Weinie.

Listen, do you think they will ever re-issue the Willie Hoppe que stick?? That's the Les Paul of que sticks. I know, you know that. When young I use to look for those like later I did the Les Paul. I hope we haven't started anything! If we did I am going to start looking again on the internet and buy them all up! I'm bound to make some money sometime.

I hate to dispel beliefs but I got to tell you this. I once knew a cat that would go into the pool hall and grab the first stick closest to him. He didn't check for length, straightness or feel. He would just powder his hand, chalk the tip and proceed to shoot some of the most amazingly smooth pool that was a joy to watch. I was a pretty good shot myself but nobody had nothing on this cat!

Same thing with your brother. It's not really the guitar. It's in the hands and in the mind of the player.

I've tried to analyze the effect that Mike had on me as a human being. When I first heard him play (and, of course, Elvin, Butter, Sam, Billy and Arnold) they sort of took me back home to my neighborhood at a time when I was so far away and really homesick. The music felt like home to me. I can't explain it any other way.

I don't understand, however, how so many people to this day are enthralled by him for different reasons than mine. I guess Julie says it all when she calls him a "mythical character". But through his art he was able to touch us all.

You have shown in many ways the human part of his soul however and I surely do appreciate you bringing him down to earth for his everlasting friends. Some people I turn him onto and they "get it". Most people don't.

It may be too heavy but I would love to explore the effect that Michael has and can have on some people and not others. I think Julie is on the right track.

I once turned on a Charlie Musselwhite fan and blues friend to Paul Butterfield's harmonica playing. I asked him how he liked it and he hit me pretty hard on my chest with his fist and left in a huff. Freaky reaction, huh?

I would've hit him back but he was too little.

Frank Macias said...

Pat,

I know what you mean about slumps. I've been in many through the years. I always went back to playing though. Each time I came back it was mo' better fun than the time before. So you got to stay with it bro'.

I'm in one now and I am in the middle of completing my own first CD! I am 63 years of age and I'll tell you what I better come out of it soon.