Mike Bloomfield’s a guitar player blues fans know and appreciate, but he’s one of those guys whose name many rock fans have heard but couldn’t necessarily explain his place in history like they could, say, Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan. By all rights, Bloomfield shoulda been elevated somewhere up in the Clapton-sphere — his chops were that fierce and his forceful championing of blues with Paul Butterfield, the Electric Flag, Al Kooper’s Super Session and a laundry list of other seminal Sixties sessions opened doors for lesser players to become blues-rocking heroes.
Street drugs, however, got the best of him, robbing him of career opportunities and, ultimately in 1981, his life. Vaughan and Clapton both survived their drug addictions; Bloomfield didn’t.
His music, however, survives, which brings us to this week’s Cold Shot, Legacy’s digital-only reissue of his 1975 solo album (his second), Try it Before You Buy It. It’s one of those times when the downloading culture actually helps bring great lost recordings to light—back in the day when Bloomfield was alive and touring, CBS had a difficult time selling his records, and now? It’d be a lot cheaper to not release his CDs and just sit on the tapes in the vault. But ripping a remastered version and distributing it via iTunes and other digital retailers? It’s cheap enough for Legacy’s parent company, Sony, to get behind.
Enough about the wherefores. As Gertrude Stein would say of this obscure album from a flawed genius few people have heard, “Is there any there there?” Check out his rendition of the Jerry Byrne New Orleans R&B staple “Lights Out” (don’t pay any attention to the pictures this YouTube Orson Welles added for entertainment, listen to the music):
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The whole record is a classic 1970s R&B and funk stew, abounding with horns. It’s in the mode of the great, stanky funk-blues albums that Albert King and B.B. King made during the era, which to me sound urbane and sophisticated, more contemplative than their 1960s material but every bit as excellent. Obviously, the production values were much better, and the musicians had another decade’s worth of experience, too. Try It Before You Buy It also proves Bloomfield’s all-around musicianship, too—far from being just a guitarist, he also sings and plays keyboards, too. His singing is unbelieveable; I would have never guessed Bloomfield possessed that much soul.
While Bloomfield was born in Chicago, Try It Before You Buy It has a distinctly New Orleans bent, with grooves straight out of the Crescent City canon. “Been Treated Wrong” sounds like it could have been recorded by Art Neville in 1958; the title cut is 100% Meters or Dr. John; and in “Baby Come On,” Bloomfield channels Professor Longhair like few white dudes could. A few tracks such as “Shine On Love” and “Let Them Talk” devolve into schmaltzy 1970s mellow gold, but even in those, the guitar solos will make smoke come out of your speakers.
In sum, while Mojo might frequently piñata the major labels when they’s asking for it, here’s one time they got it right. I imagine they’ll get more favorable mentions in this space if and when more great lost records like this make it out to digital distribution.
As I am wont to repeat in this space from time to time, blues is dying. The greats are gone or on their way out the door, and even the once- and twice-removed talented sidemen and acolytes are throttling back their gigs as age and a crap-ass economy catches up to them. In this era, reissues like Try It Before You Buy It are a good—no, great—way to get our fix.
Bottoms up—and while there’s scant little Bloomfield material from this record on YouTube, I’ll leave you with a little video demonstrating his guitar prowess. I can’t imagine what combination of recreational substances he was on during the performance, but no question it was tremendous stuff:
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