top of page
  • doctorgus

The Album, Part VII

Updated: Mar 5

With the release of the album and playing to sold-out crowds at clubs, colleges, and coffee-houses, the band was on a roll. They returned to Chicago and their status as the house band at Big John’s. Over to Detroit they went at a joint called the Chessmate, located at the corner of W. McNichols Road and Livernois Avenue. But in December, 1965, Sam Lay developed serious health problems. Pleurisy, pneumonia – although there is an unsubstantiated rumor that Sam accidentally shot himself in the foot, or maybe elsewhere, wounded from a gun in his pocket. But this is a significant event for Butterfield and the band. Sam must be replaced and doing so would not be easy. Sam had been with Butterfield since the beginning, and both his skills on the drums and his mature demeanor were a perfect fit for this group. Each of them, with the exception of the bass player Jerome Arnold, was a high-strung, large-ego type who was confident of his own abilities and protective of his contribution to the band’s sound. This was particularly true of Butterfield and Bloomfield, who often came into conflict over issues both trivial and otherwise. During one such disagreement Butterfield punched Bloomfield forcefully in the chest. Sam Lay had filled the role of peacemaker among the group, so his loss was more substantial than merely the need to replace a drummer.

After auditioning several drummers, Butterfield offered the position to Billy Davenport, a black percussionist with a background in jazz. Davenport was more than ten years older than Butterfield, and he had been around the music scene long enough to realize that a racially-integrated band might not be welcome at certain motels, restaurants, even clubs even there in the Midwest, in the mid-1960s. Davenport expressed these misgivings about joining the band to Butterfield. The band-leader assured Davenport of his full support: "Where you can't stay, we won't stay." The band would not tolerate such treatment. And we know that Butterfield was good for his word; he was not a man to be trifled with, and in some situations he would use strong language or the threat of physical violence to defend his colleagues. Thus assured, Davenport agreed to join the band, and it was obvious immediately that it was a good fit for the individual and the band itself.

With the band again complete in the new year, 1966, Albert Grossman booked them into a series of performances in the Los Angeles area. A club named the Trip, at 8572 Sunset Boulevard, was their first engagement, for the month of January, where they served as opening band for the Byrds. The Butterfield band got a mixed reception from crowds that were accustomed to hearing the folk-rock material then popular on the west coast. Those crowds were doing the Twist and other current dances, as well, and it was not a good venue for the Butterfield band with its hard-driving, take-no-prisoners sound. [[[[[David Dann, Bloomfield, pp. <226>>]]]]

The reception from the audience was secondary to the band’s commitment to get the music right. And when the rocking Wilson Pickett replaced the Byrds as the club’s headliner during the last two weeks of January, Butterfield accommodated the change by giving the crowd a nice mix of blues and rock and rhythm. This proved to be a better situation between the opening band, still Butterfield, Pickett, and the crowd.

During their time on the west coast the band started experimenting with material that was a departure from the pure Chicago blues that had always been their bread and butter. In some cases this involved indulging in long solos, especially on the part of Michael Bloomfield. These, too, were distant from the twisting, rock ‘n’ rolling rhythm that many listeners wanted to hear. With Bloomfield at the lead and full support from Butterfield and the rhythm section, the band began playing some music with Indian influences. They were calling this “The Raga,” with extended guitar and harp solos that extended for long stretches lasting 48, 60, even 72 bars. The new drummer, Davenport, supported the Eastern and jazz-inflected material ably. The band in live performance would sometimes play the song, purely an instrumental, for up to 30 minutes. When "The Raga" was ultimately recorded and released on an album, it would be over 13 minutes long, and 13 minutes was just too long a duration for the AM and FM radio stations that would be giving air time to the album.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Big John’s, located in the Old Town section of Chicago at 1638 North Wells St., was an interesting bar, not a natural venue for blues bands to play their music and attract a lively crowd. But the owne

And Now, Finally: Muddy Muddy Waters, playing with his band for their usual dates at Smitty’s Corner blues club in the early 60s, noticed these white guys sneaking into the club to listen to him and t

Gussow on Butterfield Here we are with Adam Gussow’s analysis of what separated Butterfield’s playing from that of others. And that is a good thing for us, for Gussow is a student of the blues and the

bottom of page