MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD’S LEGEND WON’T
go away. Though he is passionately committed
to discovering, dusting off, and
reinterpreting the dozens of musics in virtually
every corner of America’s post-Civil
War folk heritage, his audiences are often
unaware of that fact, or are more interested
in hearing him recreate the sounds of the
records that made him one of the world’s
preeminent blues-rock guitar superstars
more than a decade ago.
“It’s a real problem,” he says. “A big one.”
In the eyes of the late-’60s record buying
public, Bloomfield was tall in the saddle. After
all, he was an onstage accomplice the day Bob
Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk
Festival, and, after several albums and tours
with various bands, he turned on thousands
of guitar players—and probably millions of
other fans—to Chicago-style electric blues.
His guitar technique churned with such soulfulness
that he broke a color line of sorts,
demonstrating a blues sensibility uncommon
among white instrumentalists, and earning
respect from the sacred heroes of his youth.
You never saw yourself as the American Eric
Clapton, did you?
Never. About Clapton, I thought, “Now
here’s a rock star.” Boy, did he play. I thought
he had taken the blues just absolutely as far
as it could go. And when Hendrix came
along, I wanted to burn the guitar. I’m sure
Eric felt the same way. So I didn’t relate to
being a rock star at all. All of those social
implications and ramifications of the rockstar
trip—I was never into it.
Who was your first rock and roll influence?
Scotty Moore—Elvis’ guitar player. Also,
Cliff Gallup, who played with Gene Vincent’s
Blue Caps. See, when I was around 15, I couldn’t
really differentiate between rockabilly and
blues. It all sort of sounded the same to me.
I lived in the suburbs of Chicago, and all I
knew was that it all had a lot of energy. It all
had this sort of outlaw quality to it that I was
dying to get into any way I could. I couldn’t
tell what I wanted to be more—a Presley-esque
greasy hillbilly or a jivey blues singer.
Where did you first encounter the blues?
On the radio. As I searched the dial at
night when I was a little kid, I found that
Chicago had seven or eight black stations.
About three of them catered to southern
blacks, and they played nothing but blues.
Then I heard the difference. The rockabilly
was fabulous, and I loved it, but then I
started hearing nothing but endless B.B.
King records, endless Magic Sam and Muddy
Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and so on. I was
thinking, “Oh my God—this is another
world, another realm, the jungle, the city.
And when I found out that these guys all
lived right here in my town, and that all I
had to do was to take a subway and I could
actually go see them—that just killed me.
Do you see yourself as a musical caretaker of
Well, a lot of these songs are dying. I don’t
know how many people our age care about
blues. Where are the young bluesmen? I
would like to keep those forms alive so that
people will know that this is how America
played. —Excerpted from Tom Wheeler’s piece in
the April 1979 Guitar Player