August 1, 2021

Peter Stone Brown Archives

Archives of musician and writer

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Sometime in the late summer or fall of 1965, the debut of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band appeared on Elektra Records. If my memory serves, somewhere on the original cover it said “Play this record loud.” The album helped introduce a lot of people to the world of Chicago Blues. The opening track said it all – a mean tough vocal by Paul Butterfield, equaled by the sound of his soaring harp and propelled by the speedy guitar licks of Mike Bloomfield, seeming to answer Butterfield’s harp and vocals at every turn. All this was rocked by the rhythm section of Jerome Arnold on bass and the stunning Sam Lay on drums, both veterans of Howlin’ Wolf’s band.

'Play this record loud.' - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band debut

It didn’t matter that the album was mostly covers, with quite a few tributes to Little Walter; Butterfield sang with an undeniable intensity that was consistently matched by every member of his band. Aspiring harp players and guitarists alike would spend hours trying to figure out what Butterfield and Bloomfield were doing. Even for those who might follow this music to the source and decide that the versions performed by Little Walter and other artists were ultimately preferable, it doesn’t diminish the Butterfield Blues Band’s accomplishment, because 50 years later this album still holds up as vital, soaring and funky. There is no doubt that this album launched hundreds of blues bands, both known and unknown, but few of them ever came close to matching the Butterfield Band’s soul or impact