Mike Bloomfield's lost masterpiece

An Audio Essay  By David Dann

Mike Bloomfield performs with his quartet on stage at the Rivoli Theater in Indianapolis on June 2, 1973. In later years, Bloomfield preferred to work with a small group in unassuming places like the Rivoli, Catalyst and My Father's Place. The following piece captures Mike in two exceptional performances at the latter clubs. Photo by Steve Rusin

Michael Bloomfield had an encyclopedic knowledge of blues tunes, but he also knew countless pop and show pieces. His first instruction on guitar involved learning the chords to hundreds of standards, and later in his career he would occasionally include one or another of those classics in his stage performances. One such tune was a piece called "Maria Elena."

Bloomfield never recorded "Maria Elena." He apparently played it too infrequently for it to have been something he would have taken into the studio. But when he did perform it, he amazed audiences with his mastery of the genre. "Maria Elena" was an unusual selection by any standard for a blues audience, but Bloomfield invariably electrified and delighted his listeners with it. His renditions approached the facility of a jazz improviser; he clearly knew the piece inside and out.

It is ironic that we would never have even known that Mike Bloomfield played "Maria Elena" without recordings made by two of his fans. Those tapes have only recently come to light. They catch Bloomfield in rare form late in his career, playing the piece in a relaxed club setting. Each performance can only be described as a minor masterpiece it's difficult to imagine any other rock or blues guitarist attempting such a challenging and unorthodox piece.

What follows is an audio essay on Mike Bloomfield's versions of "Maria Elena." It contains a brief history of the tune, earlier interpretations and both amateur recordings of Bloomfield performing it. The essay was recorded at WJFF-FM studios in Jeffersonville, NY, and is narrated by David Dann. Thanks to Peggy McVickar for providing the recordings.

In a footnote to this essay, the taper of the first version of "Maria Elena" the show from the Catalyst recently informed us that it took place on Sunday, September 5, 1976. He also graciously supplied a photo of the original cassette used to make the recording, above.

Click the player below to hear "Mike Bloomfield's Lost Masterpiece," or download it from:



2010 David Dann