TALK ABOUT BLOOMFIELD BUT DON’T FORGET MILLER (AND BUFFALO)
Was noting Kevin Lynch’s post on Les Paul and Michael Bloomfield, and the overall theme today, RE: great musical losses of 2009. Nowhere, however, was there mention in Kevin’s post about Steve Miller and his relationship with Les…nor his loss of Les, and of Norton Buffalo, within 90 days.
Bit of an oversight there, Kev.
For one thing, you cited Bloomfield as being Les’s key “offspring.” You either overlooked or did not know that Steve Miller was Les Paul’s godson: born in Milwaukee just as Les was born in Waukesha, WI. And Norton Buffalo —- who had been Miller’s closest musical confrere during the past 37 years on harmonica and harmonies —– died of cancer pretty suddenly on October 30th. (I will never forget the date because the VIP patch to the Steve Miller Band’s performance here at Ravinia in July that had been on my black leather jacket for more than 90 days fell off suddenly, seemingly inexplicably…when I got the text from Miller’s second-in-command guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis the following Monday saying “Don’t know if you heard, Norton passed away Friday” I kinda freaked, since that’s the day the patch fell off my jacket.)
Consider how profound and intense Miller’s loss of his greatest personal and musical influence, his godfather (literally and metaphorically) in mid-August, and then his great harpist/percussionist and solid vocal harmonist some 78 days later…???!!!!??? Pretty tough stuff.
Roots music-wise, most of your readers are probably unaware of Miller’s early work. And yes, it’s relatively easy to write off some of his pop material. But there were deep “roots” to Miller’s work, and whenever he plays the Blues you’d better jump back, Jack. In point of fact, Miller’s immersion in the mid-60s Chicago Blues scene was only eclipse-able by Bloomfield only because Michael was a native Chicagoan. But if you check out the film coming in 2010 from Out The Box Records: they’re a bona fide hometown Chicago record label whose artists include the inimitable Dave Mason and “Born In Chicago” (made popular, of course, by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which included Bloomfield) songsmith Nick “The Greek” Gravenites (who founded The Electric Flag with Bloomfield and eventual Chicagoan Buddy Miles), as well as the Chicago Blues Reunion — Gravenites, Miller’s original bandmate Barry Goldberg (who did the cult-classic “Two Jews’ Blues” with Bloomfield), seminal electric bluesman Harvey “The Snake” Mandel (whose creds roll all the way up to the Stones and Canned Heat), Jim Schwall’s alter ego Corky Siegel, Charlie Musselwhite and others —– called “White, Black & Blues, you’ll see what’s what, who’s who, and where it’s at. Especially if you check out www.otbrecords.com.
It’s impossible, of course, to suss out what might’ve happened if Bloomfield hadn’t died so early-on. But Miller and all the rest of these cats were subject to the same drugs, and the same temptations, as everyone else. And there can be no doubt that “The Michael Clause” should’ve been named for Bloomfield, not Jackson. Just ask Al Kooper: both the original “Super Session” and “Live Adventures” albums were cut short because of Bloomfield’s antics. In the first case, Koop attempted to recruit a number of LA locals to replace Michael on guitar, including Spirit’s Randy California (who was only 17 at the time, but already had that band’s ridiculously perfect debut album under his belt, and was in the process of writing “I Got A Line On You,” Spirit’s biggest hit, when The Kooperator rang). And on the “Live Adventures” sessions, we got to hear perpetual Bloomfield clean-up man Elvin “Pigboy Crabshaw” Bishop and a very young Carlos Santana standing in.
Regarding Norton Buffalo, I initially wondered why Miller needed anyone else on harp, given his proficiency on the reeds. But Norton blew me away, because while Miller’s Blues harmonica work is hot, Norton’s chromatic harp was heavenly….unfortunately for us, Heaven is exactly where he’s honking, now. More’s the pity. But check out Norton’s performance on the “Live In Chicago” DVD or CD, particularly “Winter Time.” In July, I had the strangest sense while he played his extended solo on that song…literally got a haunting feeling. And now, whenever I hear that tune and his performance, I shall always be haunted by Norton. Not in a bad, but certainly a sad, way.
Those who care about this and will be in the San Francisco Bay Area on January 22nd and 23rd may want to hear many of these cats perform benefit concerts to raise money for Norton Buffalo’s family: the Steve Miller Band, Bishop, Musselwhite —- who, for the record, was born in the same small Mississippi town of Kosciusko (named for the Polish army general who along with Pulasky, helped us out during the American Revolution, only he didn’t get a major Chicago thoroughfare named after him) as one Oprah Winfrey —- Roy Rogers, the Doobie Brothers, and several other acts. So….check out www.stevemillerband.com, remember Steve, remember Norton, remember The Alamo, and have a Not-Depressed New Year!!!