Remembering Michael Bloomfield, ’60s Guitar Hero

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Michael Bloomfield rise Fall bookOn this day, February 15, 1981, we lost one of the first major guitar heroes of the 1960s, Michael Bloomfield. Several recent books celebrate his legacy.

Around the same time that Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were just getting their names known around London, and before anyone knew about some cat named Jimi, America had a homegrown guitar hero of its own, Michael Bloomfield. The Chicago-born blues maven was tearing it up as a member of the local Paul Butterfield Blues Band (whose landmark album East-West was released 50 years ago this month) and helping to make rock history as Bob Dylan’s electric guitarist of choice on his 1965 game-changer “Like a Rolling Stone” and the album it led off, Highway 61 Revisited.

Bloomfield, who died of a drug overdose at age 37, has not been treated well by history. It wasn’t until 2015 that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a member of the Butterfield Band, and is rarely mentioned within the classic rock press despite his profound influence on other guitarists.

Watch Bloomfield performing with the Electric Flag at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967

Related: Our feature on Mike Bloomfield and the Electric Flag

Recent books have attempted to remind rock and blues fans of the importance—and sheer genius—of Bloomfield. Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero is an updated version of a biography by Ed Ward, first published in 1983. The book includes much new content, including interviews (among them a famous one from 1968 with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner). And, particularly useful, it includes a comprehensive, nearly 60-page discography of Bloomfield’s work, likely to be the final word on the recordings he created during his all-too-brief stay.

Related: When Dylan went electric at Newport

A second Bloomfield tome is an Original Amazon Kindle Single titled The Last Night of the Guitar Virtuoso, written by Aaron Skirboll. Says the author, “Beyond Bloomfield’s music and his incredible story as a 13-year-old learning to play guitar at Chicago clubs at the feet of blues masters like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter, and his days with Butterfield and Dylan, the story explores my search to find answers to his mysterious unsolved death in 1981.”

Guitar King: Michael Bloomfield’s Life in the Blues, written by David Dann, arrived in 2019 from the University of Texas Press. The book includes more than 70 interviews with the musician’s friends, relatives and band members. “Dann brings to life Bloomfield’s worlds, from his comfortable upbringing in a Jewish family on Chicago’s North Shore to the gritty taverns and raucous nightclubs where this self-taught guitarist helped transform the sound of contemporary blues and rock music. With scenes that are as electrifying as Bloomfield’s solos, this is the story of a life lived at full volume.”

A 2000 title, Michael Bloomfield – If You Love These Blues: An Oral History, is told in the words of his brother, musicians such as B.B. King, producer Paul Rothchild and dozens of others including Bloomfield himself, and access to online audio of unreleased early studio tracks.

Related: Super Session: When Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills got in a jam

Best Classic Bands Staff

6 Comments so far

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  1. Texas Tom
    #1 Texas Tom 18 August, 2016, 16:10

    Bloomfield is my favorite guitar player of the 60’s. Love the Butterfield Band, The Flag, and the Live Super Sessions. Thanks for the article!

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  2. Mickey
    #2 Mickey 16 February, 2021, 09:04

    Michael was one of my heroes back in the 60s/70s. Whats the name of the book he wrote about his adventures chasing Sonnyboy Williamson? around? Me and Sonny? I read it years ago and can’t even find it mentioned now.

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  3. John
    #3 John 16 February, 2021, 09:17

    Guess who copied mike Bloomfield exactly i hear in this song? Alvin Lee, from Ten Years After. I was at Woodstock, the original one in 1969, and i hear the song I’m Coming Home by Alvin Lee.

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  4. Patrick
    #4 Patrick 17 February, 2021, 16:53

    Neat article and nice to mention the KIndle book “The Last Night of the Guitar Virtuoso” by Aaron Skirboll. I was not aware of that one. One you missed is “Michael Bloomfield – If You Love These Blues: An Oral History” issued in October 2000 by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenom. It is a marvellous book, interviewing many, many musicians who knew Bloomfield

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