|Posted by [email protected] on February 27, 2017 at 4:45 AM|
In 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan shattered the established Folk Music scene by doing an electric set shortly after the release of “Like a Rolling Stone.” It was controversial to say the least. Dylan was booed by audiences, and vilified by fellow Folkies, and critics. However, it was Dylan that fused Rock and Roll with the Protest Folk music of the day into what became known as Folk Rock.
From that point, more and more, once purist, Folkies got electrified and more and more, Rock and Roll musicians started covering old Folk songs.
Rock & Roll got more political along with being revitalized. The fusion happened and shook the status quo to it’s bones.
I never owned a Dylan album until I heard “Highway 61 Revisited,” his first electric album. Being one to always scour the liner notes and check out the personnel. I was looking for the guitarist because his work was impressive and captured my attention with his tasty licks. A fellow named Michael Bloomfield was Dylan’s guitarist.
Shortly, after that, I was fishing around a department store record department looking for something interesting and came across [titled] “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.” album. None other than Michael Bloomfield was listed as one of the guitarist on the album.
On the back of the album, in a little box, it said, "We suggest that you play this record at the highest possible volume in order to fully appreciate the sound of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band". I’d never seen that on an album before, but after listening to the first few bars of the first cut, I cranked the volume all the way up.
Instantly, it became my favorite album, I’ve always had a copy in my possession since then and worn out numerous copies.
I liked British bands that were Blues based like the Animals, Rolling Stones, and Yardbirds, but the Paul Butterfield, played with a sense of urgency and intensity I never heard before. That album is on the Billboard top 500 Best Albums of all time list and regarded by many as a seminal, game changing recording from that period.
During that era, in the United States, political unrest was fomenting and the music was beginning to both reflect the discontent of the youth and push an agenda for change.
There was a generation of kids that grew up under the constant threat of a nuclear holocaust, the battle for civil rights was at it’s height, there were inner city riots, and the war machine was conscripting working class kids for cannon fodder in Vietnam.
General malaise was fomenting among the American youth - there was a revolution in the making, and the music was fueling the festering discontent.
I was in the middle of it, looking at being conscripted into the military, and I wasn’t too anxious to get my ass blown-off for some cause that didn’t make any sense to me. My options were, get sucked up for cannon fodder, go to jail, become a fugitive draft dodger, or volunteer for and hope for the best.
I joined the Air Force in 1965, and in 1966 wound up on a flight crew stationed in Sacramento, California about a hundred miles from San Francisco.
The first three day pass I got, I was off to the Frisco, but landed first on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley and into a world totally alien to me.
After I came down a little from the contact high, I noticed psychedelic posters for concerts plastered on about every available space.
One psychedelic poster caught my attention: “Bill Graham Presents A Blues Rock Bash - Dance Concert - Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Jefferson Airplane. The thought of seeing the Paul Butterfield Blues Band play live was a magic moment, although I never heard the Jefferson Airplane. It was like it was my destiny to be at that place at that time.
I hitchhiked over to San Francisco and managed to find my way to the Fillmore. As I recall, the Fillmore was like swimming around in a surreal, incense saturated world inhabited by long hair freaks. I was completely out of place and feeling paranoid - like an acid trip without taking LSD as I waited for the show to begin. The feeling always brings to mind a line out of Donovan's song, “Season of the Witch,”
“When I look over my shoulder,
What do you think I see?
Some other cat looking over
His shoulder at me
And he's strange, sure he's strange”.
The people there knew I was completely out of place because everything about my appearance said I was in the military or a very naive narcotics cop down to the highly polished shoes on my feet.
A lot of the people there were as paranoid of me as I was of them, but we were there for the same reason - to hear some great music. There was only about five or six hundred people there.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band more than met my expectations, but the Jefferson Airplane was something new. It was Jack Casady’s bass runs that caught my ear. I’d never thought much about bass guitar before that.
The Airplane had all the right elements, and I fell in love with their sound. They were polished, but still had a rough, street edge, and like the Butterfield Blues Band, there was a sense of urgency in their music.
That experience was like finally making the pilgrimage to Mecca with a bonus of being turned on to something new. However, the Butterfield Blues Band sounded better live than on the recording.
In an interview, Carlos Santana said that the when the Paul Butterfield Blues Band came the San Francisco, they upped the ante for the other groups. The members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band did their apprenticeships playing in the South Side Blues Chicago clubs with Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, and other legendary Bluesmen. Butterfield also had two seasoned Bluesmen in his rhythm section from Howlin Wolf and Bo Diddley’s bands.They were a force to be reckoned with, and heavily influenced the San Francisco bands during that period.
The Jefferson Airplane was a good pairing at that gig as Marty Balin and Paul Kantor had put together a comparable line up, and everything meshed perfectly. They recruited a jazz drummer, Spencer Dryden which also helped put the band in a different class than most of the others.
After the concert I wandered around the streets and found myself in the Haight Ashbury district - the epicenter of the counterculture movement Some kindly Hippies noticed I was lost and bewildered and took me to a Digger’s crash pad. That was another experience that I never encountered before.
That was my introduction into the San Francisco scene, and after that concert, my life’s path took on a totally new direction.
My stent in the military ended shortly thereafter by a mutual agreement that they didn’t want me there, and I didn’t want to be there. I ended up in San Francisco - right smack-dab in the middle of the burgeoning underground music scene and movement that would impact the world to this day.
If you dug music, San Francisco was the place to be, Jazz clubs, the Fillmore, Avalon, coffee houses/Folk clubs, and clubs like the legendary Matrix. I was in ‘hog heaven.’
Part Two: The Jazz/Rock/Blues fusion
Leading into 1967, the concert halls in San Francisco, Bill Graham’s Fillmore and Chet Helms’, Avalon, billed eclectic lineups. A Rock band could be opening for a Jazz artist or vice versa. At the Rock clubs, a famous Jazz musician might drop by and sit in with a local band for a set.