Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast

Paul Butterfield retrospective, part 2, with Tom Ellis

July 19, 2023 Neil Warren Season 1 Episode 90
Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast
Paul Butterfield retrospective, part 2, with Tom Ellis
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Tom Ellis joins me (again) on episode 90.

This is part two of the Paul Butterfield retrospective where Tom takes us even deeper into Paul’s career and talks us through more of his incredible output.

About how Butter, while paying his due respect to the greats before him, took the blues in a new direction, with his experimentation and innovation.

Butter’s music and bands evolved as he developed, with the best musicians joining him to provide a bedrock to some of the greatest harmonica ever recorded. 

Tom Ellis puts forward a compelling case for Paul Butterfield as the most influential harmonica player ever, with his cultural and societal impact overshadowing even the classic players of the 1950s.

Paul Butterfield retrospective, part 1:

Was Butter a u-blocker?

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Tom Ellis joins the podcast again for part 2 of the Paul Butterfield retrospective
Is Butter the most significant harmonica player since the days of the classic players?
The classic players had a limited audience, Butter brought blues to a more mainstream audience
The Chicago blues scene of the 1950s did not have mass appeal at the time
Following the 1950s the blues scene was mainly for acoustic blues artists. Butter brought some electricity!
Butter didn’t get into blues on the back of the British Blues explosion of the 1960s
Meeting Nick Gravenites got Butter into the blues, with Butter (and Charlie Musselwhite) frequenting the blues clubs in Chicago
Butter’s first album release was 1965, and what else was happening with rock blues at that time
The rise of rock-blues and Butter’s unique take on classic songs he recorded on his early albums
Why The Lost Sessions album wasn’t released as Butter’s first album
Butter wasn’t keen to add Mike Bloomfield to the line-up of the band
The sound captured for Butter’s harp on The Lost Sessions was well produced
How Butter approached playing Little Walter songs
Recorded his own instrumentals, with Nut Popper being the first
Harmonica was the lead instrument in The Paul Butterfield Blues band, and he gave the harmonica real presence
Little Walter advised Butter not to blow so hard on the harmonica as it was damaging to the body
Butter must have known Little Walter and the other older blues guys, as did Charlie Musselwhite
The immediate success of Butter and his band
Butter also helped relaunch the career of some of the classic blues musicians
Was also a great singer
After the success of the first album the band started playing outside of Chicago
Increasing fame playing at the Newport Festival and the West coast of the US, playing 6 gigs in a night
Was Butter influenced by jazz music?
East West album saw a move away from playing blues songs, with the experimental nature of the music lapped up by the audience
With a move towards rock blues the band were loud, with lots of amplification
Made regular trips to San Francisco and relocated there to be part of the modern scene that was taking place there
The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw album, which had a horn section added and moved further away from blues
Didn’t fear adding horns and giving them a strong presence in the band
Also let other band members sing in the band
Becoming more of a mature band leader with the Pigboy Crabshaw album, and knew how to read music and put together songs
In My Own Dream album and how his songs were evolving
Selected a lot of songs to record which did not originally have harmonica on them
Horn player David Sanborn found the alto saxophone in a cab that he played on In My Own Dream song
Sting loved the song In My Own Dream
Butter’s music had become highly sophisticated by the time of the In My Own Dream album
Keep On Moving album and Walkin’ By Myself
Butter was moving more away from blues, with the band now more like a jazz ensemble
Better Days album saw the end of the big band format and Butter feeling a little lost
Better Days band was formed from an eclectic mixture of musicians from Woodstock
Second album with Better Days band wasn’t as commercially successful
Live album was released towards the end of The Paul Butterfield Blues band
Tom’s favourite Butter song is Everything’s Going To Be Alright from the live album
The raw energy of the live performances
Later career was plagued by illness and drug issues
Will we ever see a harmonica-driven band like Butterfield’s again?
Levon Helm video suggests Butter could have used the u-block embouchre
Butter didn’t need to play too rhythmically, so he didn’t have the same need to tongue block
Did his flute playing have an influence on his embouchre?
Had an amazing vibrato
Butter played hard (but could also be nuanced)
Tom and Neil’s favourite Butter songs (Everything Going To Be Alright & Just To Be With You)
Tom’s future plans in writing about harmonica