Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., July 4, 2014
Michael BloomfieldFrom His Head to His Heart to His Hands (Columbia/Legacy)
"He was the best guitar player I ever heard," Bob Dylan once announced, and while Michael Bloomfield might be a Sixties footnote today, this 3-CD/1-DVD collection sets the record straight on his importance and influence among guitar players of every stripe. The hourlong video maps the Chicago guitarist's life, although licensing prevented director Bob Sarles from showcasing live performances, where his subject came alive (see Earache! austinchronicle.com/music for more with Sarles). Producer Al Kooper, who worked with Bloomfield and Dylan on 1965's Highway 61 Revisited, organizes the discs by "Roots," "Jams," and "Last Licks." That begins in 1964 with the young musician auditioning for famed A&R man John Hammond Sr. and demonstrating dazzling range on three songs including a seemingly improvised fingerpicked impression of Merle Travis called "Hammond's Rag." Hammond responded with "I'm signing you," and Bloomfield never looked back. His limitations as a singer couldn't detract from guitar work that made the Paul Butterfield Blues Band one of the most seminal of the era's young, white blues/rock scene. Particularly inventive was 1966's "East-West," a 13-minute Ravi Shankar-meets-John Coltrane-meets-Muddy Waters experiment that remains out of this realm. His horn-fueled Electric Flag debuted at the Monterey Pop Festival and influenced contemporaries Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, and Johnny Winter. In Dylan, the guitarist received his biggest boost, and Kooper provides the instrumental track to "Like a Rolling Stone," the session where the two first met, to highlight Bloomfield's contribution. The "Jams" disc features infamous nights at the Fillmore's East and West, expanding on standards like "One Way Out" and "The Weight," while "Last Licks" preserves a variety of settings, from a solo acoustic gig at McCabe's in Santa Monica in 1977 to sessions backing Muddy Waters on 1969's Fathers and Sons album as well as Janis Joplin on I've Got Dem 'Ol Kozmic Blues Again Mama! LP. In November 1980, he joined Dylan at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, represented here with a steamy take of "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar." Three months later Bloomfield was found in his car, dead of a drug overdose at the age of 37.