Woodstock Performers: Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Blues harp great Paul Butterfield and his excellent band were veterans of the concert circuit, and were about to deliver some great horn-based blues to a sleepy—and shrinking—Woodstock crowd.
This series of articles—32 in all—covers each of the artists who performed at the original Woodstock festival August 15-18, 1969. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had finished their fabulous set just before 5:00 a.m. After Paul Butterfield would come the second-last act, Sha Na Na.
Who Was Paul Butterfield?
Paul Vaughn Butterfield was born in Chicago on December 17, 1942. Passionate about both music and sports, a knee injury steered him toward a musical path while he was still in school. That turn of events gave the world one of the very best blues harp (harmonica) players of all time.
While he was still in his teens, Paul started hanging out in blues clubs in Chicago. He got to meet—and sometimes even got to jam with—some of the legends of the blues world, including Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter. This white kid clearly had a natural talent for the blues, and these gracious elder statesmen encouraged him to keep working at his craft. It wasn't long before Paul and guitarist Nick Gravenites teamed up and started performing as a duo in Chicago-area coffee houses and clubs.
Early in 1960, when Paul was still more focused on guitar than he was on harp, he met fellow blues guitarist Elvin Bishop. The two started hanging out and jamming together, with Butterfield gravitating more and more to the harp. It wasn't long before the two had a regular gig at Big John's, a folk club in Chicago. With a steady paycheck, they were able to convince bass player Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay, who were both with Howlin' Wolf's touring band, to join them. It was 1963 and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was born.
During their run at Big John's, Butterfield would often jam with fellow Chicago native Mike Bloomfield. They had a special chemistry together, and they soon caught the attention of producer Paul Rothchild, who would go on to work with The Doors. Rothchild quickly got the band signed to Elektra Records, and convinced Butterfield to bring Bloomfield into the band. After a couple of false starts, an appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and the addition of a keyboard player, the band's first LP was finally released. The self-titled LP peaked at #123 on the Billboard album chart, and was seen as being a huge influence on aspiring blues musicians.
In 1966, Lay was replaced on drums by Billy Davenport, and the band released their second studio album. The LP East West saw them experimenting with early jazz-fusion and blues-rock. Over the next couple of years, and with numerous personnel changes, the band continued to move into R&B territory, melding that sound with Chicago blues, rock and jazz. They were at the forefront of fusion, and continued to tour and also released two more records. The relentless touring took a heavy toll, and saw the departure of Bloomfield in 1967.
The band's fifth studio album, Keep On Moving, was released in May 1969 and reached the #102 spot on the Billboard LP chart. These guys appeared regularly on the festival circuit and were a perfect fit for Woodstock.
Paul Butterfield Performing "Driftin' and Driftin'" at Woodstock
Paul Butterfield's Woodstock
Unfortunately for Butterfield and his outfit, they had no hits on the radio and were sandwiched between supergroup CSN&Y and the novelty act Sha Na Na. It was 6:00 a.m, and the folks who remained on the festival grounds were sleeping, coming down, or packing up to leave.
With Butterfield (lead vocals and harp), Rod Hicks (bass), Teddy Harris (piano), Buzzy Feiten (guitar), and Phil Wilson (drums), plus a fine horn section made up of David Sanborn (alto sax and percussion), Gene Dinwiddie (tenor sax and percussion), Steve Madaio (trumpet and percussion), Keith Johnson (trumpet and percussion), and Trevor Lawrence (baritone sax and percussion), this was arguably one of the finest lineups to hit the Woodstock stage.
They jump-started their jazz and soul-influenced Chicago blues set with with a cover of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” which had appeared on their 1967 LP The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw. They followed that up with a Butterfield-penned number from their latest album, “No Amount Of Loving.”
Next up was a brilliant cover of the blues standard “Driftin’ and Driftin’” (also from Pigboy Crabshaw), featuring burnin' solos by Butterfield and Feiten. Three more tunes from the latest LP closed out the set. “Morning Sunrise” was wholly appropriate, considering the hour, with the tight horn section having its moment in the real sun. Hicks’ “All In A Day” was up next, followed by Dinwiddie doing vocal duty for the anthem “Love March.” Unfortunately, the sleepy crowd wasn't up for a march at that hour, however hard the band tried to get them moving, though the breakdowns in the song garnered huge cheers. For their encore number, they performed a cover of Little Walter’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” with Butterfield delighting the crowd with some serious harp playing.
Paul Butterfield Performing "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" at Woodstock (audio only)
Life After Woodstock
The band continued to tour after their appearance at Woodstock. In 1970, they released a double-LP called simply Live. The songs were recorded in March 1970 at The Troubadour in West Hollywood, California, and the album captures the energetic and very unique sound of this tight outfit. They had one final album in them before they disbanded in 1971.
Butterfield settled in Woodstock, and formed a new band. After a two-year run, he went out on his own, playing with blues great Muddy Waters, and with individual members of The Band. White blues players were often accused of merely dabbling in the blues, not truly being connected to the music. That wasn't Butterfield. A sometimes solitary but driven blues genius, he sang it, played it, lived it. He pushed himself through the pain of peritonitis, becoming addicted to painkillers and heroin in the process. Sadly, he died of a heroin overdose in 1987. Butterfield was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Bassist Hicks performed steadily with a number of different artists and died in 2013. Teddy Harris became the musical director for The Supremes, and died from prostate cancer in 2005. Guitarist Feiten was a member of The Rascals for a while, and later became a session player. He went on to patent a tuning system for guitars and eventually started his own guitar manufacturing company. Drummer Wilson, along with Feiten and Dinwiddle, formed the jazz-rock band Full Moon in the early '70s, and was still actively working as a musician when he was murdered in New York City on March 25, 1992. His murderer was captured and convicted as a result of the TV program America's Most Wanted.
David Sanborn, of course, worked as a member of the Saturday Night Live house band and has also worked with many other well-known artists, including The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and James Taylor. As noted above, Dinwiddie played with Full Moon, and also worked with B.B. King, Gregg Allman and Jackie Lomax before his death in 2002. Madaio had a long and successful career working with many different artists, including Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Raitt and The Marshall Tucker Band, to name just a few. He died of a heart attack in his home in Palm Desert, California in January 2019. Johnson, who had left the band in 1970, became a member of Elephant’s Memory and also worked as a session musician. Lawrence, who recorded several solo albums and worked with the likes of Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Joe Cocker and Harry Nilsson, also worked as co-producer and arranger for the Pointer Sisters' 1982 So Excited! album.
Five Musical Facts
- Butterfield had studied classical flute with Walfrid Kujala of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and this greatly influenced his approach to the harmonica or "harp." He had a very unique, concise style, and his mastery of the instrument really set him apart.
- One of Butterfield' s earliest gigs was at a dance party, where the audience was a mix of both black and white kids, all doing The Twist—the big dance craze at the time— to blues music.
- Sam Lay, who was the first drummer in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was paid $20 a night by Butterfield, a big raise from the $7 bucks that he was getting from blues legend Howlin’ Wolf.
- Mike Bloomfield had played on Bob Dylan’s album Highway 61 Revisited and had also backed Dylan at the infamous Newport Folk Festival electric show (as did Arnold and Lay). Dylan offered Bloomfield a permanent spot in his band, only to be turned down. Bloomfield just wanted to play the blues, and so stuck with Butterfield instead.
- The band does not appear in the original 1970 release of the Woodstock movie, though "Love March," about the worst song of their set, did appear on the LP. With the movie being the collective recollection of who was at Woodstock, many people sadly do not remember that music pioneer Butterfield was there.
© 2019 Kaili Bisson