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  • Arnold Pulda

The Album Part IV

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

With the album done, back to Chicago the band went as they loaded their instruments and amplifiers into the white Econoline van that Grossman had purchased for them for the purpose of hauling the equipment. They were booked for an extended gig at Big John’s in October and into November as they waited for the album to go through post-production and then be released. At Big John’s people waited in line to get in, and the band held nothing back. They worked hard and rehearsed six days a week – Butterfield gave them Mondays off as a concession to a request from an exhausted band -- performing Tuesday through Sunday well past midnight and into the morning. People who had heard them as a foursome a year ago now heard a new, more powerful sound with the addition of Bloomfield and Naftalin.

Elektra released the album, simply titled “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” in October. They also issued a 45 rpm -- the one with the large hole in the middle – with “FOR RADIO STATION USE ONLY,” hoping for airplay and a hit with local disk jockeys. The 45 had Willie Dixon’s “Mellow Down Easy” on one side and “I Got My Mojo Working” on the other.

Even the cover of the album, EKL-294, was striking: it showed five guys (minus Naftalin, who was not, at the time of the shooting by Elektra’s Bill Harvey, an official member of the band yet). The photograph on the upper half of the cover showed the band in a fully casual setting, right on Chicago’s famous Maxwell St., which was the street where many of Chicago’s best bluesmen had stood and played as the crowds walked by and left coins in the open guitar cases. Little Walter had blown his harp there often, paying the store or apartment tenant a small fee for the privilege of running that long cord to the electrical outlet, into which he would plug his mic and amplifier. John Lee Williamson (Sonny Boy #1) did the same. Elvin Bishop first encountered Paul Butterfield playing blues guitar and then the harp out on Maxwell St.

The members of the band stood in front of a store whose sign on the window advertised “Incense, Herbs, and Oils.” The informality of the setting was enhanced by a scruffy door slightly ajar on the left of the frame, and we can barely see the knee of a young boy as he has the door – to an apartment? – askew and is ready to intrude on the scene. Butterfield and Bishop are wearing sunglasses; Bloomfield, on his right, looked placid yet distracted; Jerome Arnold had fancy silver cowboy boots on and Sam Lay was smiling, on the right. This was not a group that cared much about how they looked, or that they should have matching haircuts. They care about how they sounded.

The bottom half of the front cover shows the band in action, performing at the Village Gate, its kinetic motion coming out in a blur of color and movement. You can almost hear them cranking music from that photograph. It is difficult to determine who is who in that lower photograph; you can make out Arnold on the bass guitar, Bishop with his axe on rhythm, Lay on the drums, and Butterfield bent over committing violence on the harp and mic. But Bloomfield and Naftalin? Not there for that photograph.

On the reverse side of the album cover, bottom left, in bold, is the warning,

“We suggest that you play this record at the highest possible volume in order to fully appreciate the sound of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band".

We get the point: grab that vinyl LP out of the sleeve, get in on the turntable, and turn up the volume.

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