Pure Magic: Discovering Bluesman Michael Bloomfield

by Brad Tolinski
Posted Jan 30, 2013 at 3:49pm

In the current issue of Guitar World magazine (March 2013), we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s revolutionary debut album, Texas Flood.

But while SRV is on our cover, another bluesman has been occupying my mind.

I’ve been editing Guitar World for close to two decades, so there are very few gaps in my guitar knowledge — but there are gaps, nonetheless. For example, when I was growing up in Detroit, nobody really listened to the Grateful Dead or Moby Grape (or much of the music coming out of San Francisco in the late Sixties and Seventies), and to this day, I don’t really know that corner of music as well as I probably should.

Another artist that somehow escaped my attention — and I’m not really sure why — is the late Chicago blues guitarist, Michael Bloomfield. I was certainly aware of his reputation as a great player and that he was well regarded by the likes of B.B. King and Buddy Guy. He also played on one of my favorite albums of all time, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, but I was never motivated enough to investigate his rather substantial body of work.

Recently, I was having a conversation with Sony publicist Tom Cording, who was promoting the new re-issue of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood (complete with a killer bonus live disc), and he asked me what I thought of Bloomfield. I had to admit to my ignorance, and Cording very kindly sent me Super Session (1968) featuring Bloomfield, Stephen Stills and Al Kooper, and the truly wonderful live double album successor, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1969).

All I can say is I’m an idiot. How could I have missed this gifted musician?

Bloomfield is fantastic, especially on the live album. In many ways, the guitarist accomplishes what Eric Clapton tried to do with Cream in the Sixties: he expands on the vocabulary of his blues heroes, but does it with just a bit more restraint, taste and style. Where Cream sounds psychedelic and a little kitschy, Bloomfield sounds as sleek and modern as his greased-back hipster pompadour. Just check out his slinky version of Ray Charles’s “Mary Ann” or his wonderful, understated accompaniment on “The Weight.”

Yes, it is the 30th anniversary of Texas Flood, but if you’re a fan of the electric blues like myself and aren’t familiar with magic Mike, do yourself a favor: After you’ve bought SRV re-issue, spread a little more of that iTunes money around on The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.

It’s the kind of blues that makes you happy you did!

Brad Tolinski is the editorial director at Guitar World magazine.