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Blues gone West...
on 18 September 2008
Hard to believe now but in the mid-60s the two great white hopes of blues guitar were Clapton in the UK and Mike Bloomfield in the US. Both started as traditional blues players but by 1966 Clapton had joined Cream and Bloomer and Butter released this offering.
If the Butterfield Band's debut album had been traditional Muddy Waters-style Chicago blues, this one was much more experimental and varied. It did contain traditional blues in the shape of good versions of Muddy's "Two trains running" and Robert Johnson's "Walking blues" but also more souly Bobby Bland-style numbers like Allen Tousaint's "Get out my life woman" and "I got a mind to give up living" - the style which Butterfield would use on his next couple of albums. There was also the Mike Nesmith song "Mary Mary" which despite being a short pop song actually works well. Surprisingly Butterfield's powerful and distictive voice and wonderful harp playing fit in to all different styles of music on this record.
However, it's the two instrumentals, the 13-minute title track and to a lesser extent the 8-minute version of Nat Adderley's "Work song" that came to define the album. "East-West" was a modal experiment in fusing blues and Indian music, in an extended free jazz format. If it seems a bit passe now it was ground-breaking at the time and mind-blowing in terms of its scope and its length. It influenced many other blues and rock bands (particularly on the West coast) to strech out and explore different kinds of music. I'm not entirely sure that the mix works as an album but it does offer variety and there is some good playing to admire. It's sad that fashion and substance abuse limited the success of both Butter and Bloomer, who could only dream of the continuing success that Clapton has enjoyed (despite his own substance abuse!)