Master blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield was born 80 years ago today
Mike Bloomfield was born 80 years ago today.
A guitarist and composer born in Chicago, Bloomfield became one of the first popular music superstars of the 1960s to earn his reputation almost entirely on his instrumental prowess. He rarely sang before 1969.
Respected for his fluid guitar playing, Bloomfield knew and played with many of Chicago's blues legends even before he achieved his own fame. He was one of the primary influences on the mid-to-late 1960s revival of classic Chicago and other styles of blues music.
Bloomfield was born into a wealthy Jewish family on the North Side of Chicago, but preferred music to the family catering equipment business. After becoming a blues devotee as a teenager and spending time at Chicago's South Side blues clubs, he played guitar with some black bluesmen (Sleepy John Estes, Yank Rachell and Little Brother Montgomery).
The young guitarist's talent "was instantly obvious to his mentors," wrote Al Kooper, Bloomfield's later collaborator and close friend, in a 2001 article. "They knew this was not just another white boy; this was someone who truly understood what the blues were all about."
Among his early supporters were B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy. Michael used to say, “It's a natural. Black people suffer externally in this country. Jewish people suffer internally. The suffering's the mutual fulcrum for the blues."
During those haunts, he met Paul Butterfield and Elvin Bishop. He ran his own small blues club — the Fickle Pickle. He was discovered by legendary Columbia Records producer/scout, John Hammond, who signed him to the label at a time the label had little if any association with blues.
Bloomfield recorded a few sessions for Columbia in 1964 (which weren't released until after his death), but ended up joining the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which included Bishop and Howlin' Wolf rhythm section alumni, Sam Lay, and Jerome Arnold.
Their exuberant, electric Chicago blues inspired a generation of white bluesmen, with Bloomfield's work on the band's self-titled debut, and the subsequent record, East-West, brought wide acclaim to the young guitarist. Especially popular was East-West's thirteen-minute title track, an instrumental combining elements of blues, jazz, psychedelic rock and the classical Indian raga.
Bloomfield was also a session musician, gaining wide recognition for his work with Bob Dylan during his first explorations into electric music. His sound was a major part of Dylan's change of style, especially on Highway 61 Revisited. His guitar style melded the blues influence with rock and folk.
Al Kooper has since revealed — in the booklet accompanying the Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man: Essential Blues, 1964-1969 — that Dylan had invited Bloomfield to play with him permanently, but that Bloomfield rejected the invitation in order to continue playing the blues with the Butterfield band.
However, Bloomfield and fellow Butterfield members, Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay, appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, backing Dylan for his controversial first live electric performance. Bloomfield tired of the Butterfield Band's rigorous touring schedule and, relocating to San Francisco, sought to create his own group.
He formed the short-lived Electric Flag in 1967 with two longtime Chicago cohorts — organist Barry Goldberg and vocalist Nick Gravenites — and bassist, Harvey Brooks. The band was intended to feature American music, a hybrid of blues, soul music, country, rock and folk. It incorporated an expanded lineup complete with a horn section.
The inclusion of drummer Buddy Miles, whom he hired away from Wilson Pickett's touring band, gave Bloomfield license to explore soul and R&B. The Electric Flag debuted at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and issued an album, A Long Time Comin', in April, 1968 on Columbia Records.
Critics complimented the group's distinctive, intriguing sound, but found the record itself somewhat uneven. By that time, however, the band was already disintegrating. Rivalries between members, shortsighted management and heroin abuse all took their toll. Shortly after the release of that album, Bloomfield left his own band, with Gravenites, Goldberg and Brooks following.
Bloomfield also made an impact through his work with Al Kooper on the album, Super Session, in 1968. The direct impetus for the record, according to Kooper, was the twosome's having been part of Grape Jam, an improvisational addendum to Moby Grape's Wow earlier in the year.
Bloomfield's chronic insomnia caused him to abruptly retreat to his San Francisco home in mid session, prompting Kooper to invite Stephen Stills to complete the album. The record received excellent reviews and became the best-selling album of Bloomfield's career. Its success led to a live sequel, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, recorded over three nights at Fillmore West in September, 1968.
The exact events and circumstances that led to Bloomfield’s death are not clear. What is known is that he was found dead of a drug overdose in his car on February 15, 1981 at age 37. The only details are that Bloomfield died at a San Francisco party, and was driven to another location in the city by two men who were present at the party.
Bloomfield's influence among contemporary guitarists continues to be widely felt, primarily in the techniques of vibrato, natural sustain and economy of notes.
Guitarists such as Joe Bonamassa, Carlos Santana, Slash, Jimmy Vivino, Chuck Hammer, Eric Johnson, Elliot Easton, Robben Ford, John Scofield, Jimmy Herring and Phil Keaggy were influenced by Bloomfield's early recorded work.
Here, Bloomfield and Son House explain the Blues at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965.
Harvey Brooks looks down at Michael Bloomfield on the studio floor during the recording of Super Session, 1968
Photo by Jim Marshall
David "Junior" Kimbrough, blues musician, was born 93 years ago today.
Kimbrough’s best known work included "Keep Your Hands Off Her" and "All Night Long."
Music journalist Tony Russell wrote that "his raw, repetitive style suggests an archaic forebear of John Lee Hooker, a character his music shares with that of fellow North Mississippian, R. L. Burnside."
Born in Hudsonville, Mississippi, Junior Kimbrough lived in the North Mississippi Hill Country near Holly Springs. He recorded for the Fat Possum Records label. A long-time associate of label-mate, R. L. Burnside, the pair and their families often collaborated on musical projects. This relationship continues today.
Rockabilly musician and friend, Charlie Feathers, called Kimbrough "the beginning and end of all music." This is written on Kimbrough's tombstone outside his family's church, the Kimbrough Chapel Missionary Baptist Church near Holly Springs.
Beginning around 1992, Kimbrough operated a juke joint known as "Junior's Place" in Chulahoma, Mississippi, which attracted visitors from around the world, including members of U2, Keith Richards and Iggy Pop. Kimbrough's sons, musicians Kinney and David Malone Kimbrough, kept it open following his death, until it burned to the ground on April 6, 2000.
Junior Kimbrough died of a heart attack in 1998 in Holly Springs following a stroke, at the age of 67. According to his artist bio on the Fat Possum Records website, he is survived by his claimed 36 children.
Kimbrough began playing guitar in his youth, and counted Lightnin' Hopkins as an early influence. In the late 1950s, he began playing in his own style, which made use of mid-tempo rhythms and a steady drone he played with his thumb on the bass strings of his guitar. This style would later be cited as a prime example of regional north hill country blues.
His music is characterized by the tricky syncopations between his droning bass strings and his mid-range melodies. His soloing style has been described as modal and features languorous runs in the mid and upper register. The result was described by music critic Robert Palmer as "hypnotic."
In solo and ensemble settings it is often polyrhythmic, which links it explicitly to the music of Africa. Fellow North Mississippi bluesman and former Kimbrough bassist, Eric Deaton, has suggested similarities between Junior Kimbrough's music and Malian bluesman, Ali Farka Touré.
Here, Kimbrough performs at the Bellinzonia Blues Festival, 1993.
Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint in Chulahoma, Mississippi
It burned to the ground in 2000.
Photo by Bill Steber
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born 94 years ago today.
She was the wife of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and First Lady of the United States during his presidency from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. Five years later she married the Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis. They remained married until his death in 1975.
For the final two decades of her life, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had a career as a book editor. She is remembered for her contributions to the arts and preservation of historic architecture, her style, elegance and grace.
She was the oldest daughter of Wall Street stockbroker, John Vernou Bouvier III, and socialite, Janet Norton Lee, who divorced in 1940. In 1951, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature at George Washington University and went on to work for the Washington Times-Herald as a photographer.
In 1952, Jacqueline met Congressman John F. Kennedy. Shortly after, he was elected to the United States Senate and the couple married the following year. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy.
In the White House, she aided her husband's administration with her presence in social events and her highly publicized restoration of the White House.
On November 22, 1963, she was riding with her husband in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, when he was assassinated. Kennedy and her children withdrew from public view after his funeral.
She died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer, at age 64 on May 19, 1994.
Nnenna Freelon, The Apollo Theatre, 2007
Photo by Frank Beacham
Nnenna Freelon is 69 years old today.
Freelon is a jazz singer, composer, producer and arranger. She has performed and toured with such top artists as Ray Charles, Ellis Marsalis, Al Jarreau, Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall, Ramsey Lewis, George Benson, Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard.
One critic described her as "a spell-binding professional, who rivets attention with her glorious, cultivated voice and canny stagecraft."
She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Hollywood Bowl, Ellington Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Apollo Theater, Montreux Jazz Festival and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Freelon was born Chinyere Nnenna Pierce in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was raised, to Charles and Frances Pierce. As a young woman, she sang extensively in her community and the Union Baptist Church and at St. Paul AME.
In 1979, she married architect Philip Freelon. She and her husband raised three children, Deen, Maya and Pierce, before she decided to perform professionally as a jazz singer.
Their son, Pierce Freelon, is a Hip-Hop artist, a visiting professor of Political Science at North Carolina Central University and the founder of a website called Blackademics, where he has interviewed many notable figures such as Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and Jesse Jackson.
Deen Freelon is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University studying social media and politics. Daughter, Maya Freelon, is an award-winning visual artist.
In 1990, Nnenna Freelon went to the Southern Arts Federation’s jazz meeting and met Ellis Marsalis.
"That was a big turning point. At that time, I had been singing for seven years. Ellis is an educator and he wanted to nurture and help. What I didn’t know at the time was that George Butler of Columbia Records was looking for a female singer. Ellis asked me for a package of materials. I had my little local press kit and my little tape with original music. Two years later, I was signed to Columbia Records.”
She was in her late 30s when she made her debut CD, Nnenna Freelon, for Columbia Records in 1992. The label dropped her in 1994 and Concord Records signed her in 1996.
On Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday (2005), Freelon paid tribute to the jazz vocalist Billie Holiday. This year, she tours with Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles.
Here, Freelon performs “Round Midnight.”
Marcel Duchamp plays John Cage in a game of chess in Toronto, 1968. Duchamp lost.
Marcel Duchamp was born 136 years ago today.
Duchamp was a French, naturalized American painter, sculptor, chess player and writer whose work is associated with Dadaism and conceptual art, although he was careful about his use of the term Dada and direct association with Dada groups.
Duchamp is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century.
Duchamp is responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. By World War I, he had rejected the work of many of his fellow artists (like Henri Matisse) as "retinal" art, intended only to please the eye. Instead, Duchamp wanted to put art back in the service of the mind.
On this day in 1917 — 106 years ago — more than 8,000 African-Americans marched silently down Fifth Avenue in what is widely regarded as New York’s first mass civil rights protest.
Their footsteps matched only by the muffled beat of drums. The marchers demonstrated against the rampant lynchings of African-Americans, including a race riot earlier that month in East St. Louis, Illinois, that left 48 black people dead.
The 1917 marchers, organized by W. E. B. Du Bois and the NAACP, walked in their Sunday finest behind signs reading “Thou Shalt Not Kill?” and “Your Hands Are Full of Blood.”
The New York Times wrote the next morning: “Without a shout or a cheer they made their cause known.”
Thanks New York Times!
Sixty-five years ago today, fans of rock & roll were warned that listening to music on their car radio could cost them more money.
Researchers from the Esso gas company said the rhythm of rock & roll could cause the driver to be foot heavy on the pedal, making them waste fuel.
The research findings were ignored and promptly forgotten.