The Album, Part V
Updated: Feb 27
And as you were turning up the volume, you also attended to the liner notes written by Pete Welding, a Chicago musician, producer, and writer. Let’s think about Pete Welding for a minute. He was knowledgeable and accomplished in working in and writing about the blues, highly respected among musicians and fans of the music. Of course he was compensated for writing those notes, and there is not a sour word among the 1000+ therein. But neither is there any hint of insincere, extravagant, or unctuous cheerleading. These were not the ordinary run-of-the-mill, praise-the-artist liner notes, but thoughtful and incisive analysis and explanation of the music that was within the album sleeve.
Right from the top Welding addresses the issue of race and what he calls “the Negro blues,” and whether white performers should be playing that traditional music. Most white performers, he writes, have been capable of rendering only a “surface interpretation” of it. These songs cry out for the kind of performance beyond the mere duplication of stylistic surface.” Welding then points to a couple of white players – Dave Ray and John Koerner – who have
“been able to generate blues performances that have been marvelously detailed, rhythmically resilient, and idiomatically viable. Their accomplishments have been doubly impressive by virtue of their having been produced in the face of the formidable – one is tempted to say insurmountable – obstacles that stand between the white singer and the blues.”
“There is one white bluesman, however, for whom these obstacles do not exist,” for whom race is not an issue," he continued.
“Paul Butterfield …is by all odds the most consistently stimulating, unaffected, committed and thoroughly satisfying of all young bluesmen on the current scene – a consummate, powerful singer who phrases with ease and natural swing, wholly without the artifice or the hip posturing of his contemporaries, and a nonpareil blues harmonica player.”
We can guess that Welding was referring to the "hip posturing" of Mick Jagger.
After singling out other members of the band, especially Bloomfield, for considerable praise, Welding returns to the theme he began with:
“So individual and fully assimilated is [Butterfield’s] approach that…the question of his aping Negro style or specific Negro artists never arises. Butterfield is simply his own man.” .
Most of the reviews for the album were positive. One reviewer, worth quoting at length, said that the album is a
“wonderfully messy and boisterous display of American-styled blues, with intensity and pure passion derived from every bent note. In front of all these instruments is Butterfield's harmonica, beautifully dictating a mood and a genuine feel…. Each song captures the essence of Chicago blues in a different way, from the back-alley feel of "Born in Chicago" to the melting ease of Willie Dixon's "Mellow Down Easy" to the authentic devotion that emanates from Bishop and Butterfield's "Our Love Is Drifting." "Shake Your Money Maker," "Blues With a Feeling," and "I Got My Mojo Working" (with Lay on vocals) are all equally moving pieces performed with a raw adoration for blues music. Best of all, the music that pours from this album is unfiltered...blared, clamored, and let loose, like blues music is supposed to be released.”
There was no rock 'n' roll press quite yet to focus on and help promote the album. Rolling Stone began publishing in 1967; Crawdaddy, the first magazine to take the music seriously, began a few months after the album was released, in 1966. Billboard dominated the musical press, but its scope was exceedingly broad, hardly giving blues or electronic music sufficient coverage. An industry journal, Record World, did notice in its October 30th issue, (https://www.music-journalism-history.com/2020/02/14/american-blues-journalism-1920s-70s-part-37/) that the band “are purveyors of some of the funkiest blues,” followed with, “The fellows have a knack of making the blues sound at once authentic and yet extremely contemporary. Of course, there’s plenty of beat abounding.” But "the fellows?"
Two weeks later Billboard gave the album a preliminary review in its November 13 issue, with considerable praise, calling it, initially, “This hot discotheque item,” [!!!!???] then continuing with praising “this rockin’ and wailing package of well-done performances of pulsating blues tunes. The debut of the 23-year old Chicago born Butterfield and his blues band is highly impressive.”
Shortly thereafter the record was listed in the magazine’s sales chart at #133 during the week of December 4, 1965. The album, however, would never chart higher than #123 – certainly a disappointment for Rothchild and Holzman at Elektra.