An Interview with Bob Jones
By David Dann

Bob Jones performing with Mike Bloomfield as a part of Michael Bloomfield & Friends, probably in 1978.
Photos
courtesy of Bob Jones
 

Editor's note: It's with deep regret that we acknowledge the passing of Bob Jones at the end of July 2013. Bob was a kind and generous soul, a true lover of blues and R&B, and an exceptionally fine musician and singer. He was a friend and a contributor to this site and to our other Bloomfield projects. His love for and appreciation of Michael was inspiring, and perhaps now they are playing together once again. We shall miss Bob very much.

The following introduction was written in 2011 at the time of this interview.

Bob Jones has been a force in music since his days in the mid-'60s as a member of We Five, a group that scored a national hit in 1965 with "You Were on My Mind." Originally from Oahu, Bob was living in San Francisco in 1969 when he became a regular member of Michael Bloomfield's collective group known as Michael Bloomfield & Friends. Mike very much admired Bob's singing and shared his love of the soul music of Stax/Volt artists like Otis Redding and Booker T & the MGs. Bloomfield helped Bob launch his own soul band, Southern Comfort, in 1970, and continued to use Bob's talents as both a singer and drummer in his own groups throughout the '70s.

 Bob Jones' latest CD, entitled "Michael and Me" by Bob Jones and the Drive, is dedicated to Mike Bloomfield. It features several tunes that he and Michael used to do together, including "Women Loving Each Other," "Mary Ann," "Backroad" and "Blues on a Westside." For more information on "Me and Michael," click here.

This interview about those days with Michael took place in April 2011. Bob spoke from his home in Hawaii. Additional material was taken from several pursuant emails from Bob.  

David Dann 

How did you meet Michael?

I met Mike at a jam in 1969. John Chambers, who was the drummer for We Five and a guy who occasionally subbed for Elvin Jones in John Coltrane's quartet, was my roommate. We'd listen to music together, and he taught me a bit about drumming I was originally a guitarist. I got invited to this jam at the Heliport, a place in Sausalito where a lot of bands rented rehearsal space, and even though I wasn't a drummer John Kahn talked me into playing drums. Kahn played bass, Fred Burton was on guitar and Charles Schoning (also known as "Chuck Steaks") played keyboards. One thing led to another, and after that I was a drummer.

So, later I went to an AAA session Anonymous Artists of America. I was playing just like Al Jackson of Stax fame and singing like Otis Redding I had literally memorized his style. We did a tune called "Cigarettes and Coffee" and from another room this guy comes rushing in saying, "Man, I thought it was Al Jackson on drums and Otis Redding singing!" That was Michael, and he grabbed his Les Paul, plugged in, and his playing was just phenomenal! This was in Novato, California, just north of San Francisco.

Either at that session or shortly thereafter he told me that he had two more records to do for Columbia, and he wanted me to be the drummer. That's how my involvement with "Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West" came about.

Tell me about that record. Michael later said that the horns weren't very together on those dates, that he hadn't gotten them their parts in time. Were there any rehearsals for those shows or were they a "jam" as advertised?

Yes, I do remember that we rehearsed, but not a lot it may have only been once or twice. There was this abandoned synagogue next to the Fillmore Auditorium and we did a run-through of the material there. Janis Joplin came to one of the sessions and was going to sing a tune or two with us at the Fillmore, but she never showed up. I seem to recall that some of the horn players weren't at the rehearsals that the sessions weren't very organized. I think we maybe rehearsed only once with the horns, and you may be right that they didn't have their parts. But the Fillmore shows weren't a "jam" in the usual sense you can hear on the recordings that we had arrangements worked out for some of the tunes. Specifically, there is no way to "jam" the horn parts to "Love Got Me". So maybe we rehearsed more times than I remember.

How were those Fillmore shows structured? From the tapes that exist, there appear to have been a number of other guitar players who sat in. In addition to Taj Mahal and Jesse Ed Davis, who are on one selection of the Columbia LP, I mean.

Well, we would do one long set per night. The audiences were huge, and they were thrilled Michael had the place mesmerized from what I recall. But I don't remember anyone else other than Taj sitting in. Maybe Fred Burton was one of the guitar players? I don't know. But we played very relaxed sets. You know, there's that one intro that's so totally Michael, where he gets started and people aren't ready. So he just stops, and people are clapping along, and he waits and then he starts it again that's so him! He'd just stop he didn't care. He wasn't much for putting on airs, he was just very real.

It's striking that the Fillmore band was structured pretty much like the Electric Flag - the group that Bloomfield had just abandoned. Why would he have stuck with that format?

That was the sound he loved. I think Michael saw those live dates as the easiest way to fulfill his commitment for an album under his contract. He was extremely frustrated with Columbia at the time and had done all the fighting he was going to do about the Flag. So at that point he was just trying to get out the best record he could get without hassling too much.

I have to mention something. "Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West" and "My Labors" by Nick Gravenites, part of which came from those Fillmore dates heavily influenced a lot of players and fans. Guitarist Nils Rosenblad and drummer Jimi Bott, two of the most important players on my CD "Michael and Me," originally sought me out because of those albums. Indeed, Nils has said to me that everything you need to know about playing electric blues guitar can be learned by listening to "Blues on a Westside," a tune that Michael did on the "Fillmore West" album. I believe that entire record is the best example of Mike's true style and ability, and apparently that opinion is not unique as I've heard it from many other players and fans.

Tell me about Southern Comfort.

That was a band that Fred Burton and I put together in 1969-70. We were a Memphis-style soul band.

It was Fred on guitar his real named was Olsen, but he changed it to Burton because he liked the way it sounded and he liked Richard Burton "Reverend" Ron Stallings on tenor, John Wilmeth on trumpet, and Karl Severied and Steve Funk on bass and keyboards. Michael and his brother Allen brought us to the attention of the power guys at Columbia and helped to get us signed with them.

They wanted Michael to produce us, but he told them that we knew what we were doing and we could handle it ourselves. The label still wanted a "name" producer, so they arranged for Nick Gravenites to do it. Of course, Nick just let us do whatever we wanted anyway.

I could never get the guys at Golden State Recorders where we recorded to get out of their jazz style of mixing and mix like was done at Stax with the drums (especially the bass drum) and the bass forward. So I've always been unhappy with the mixes on the Southern Comfort LP. I have the original 8-track tapes, so someday I hope to remix them so you can hear how good a record it really is.

We produced one record in 1970 and were pretty popular locally, but we never got the right backing from the label to break out nationally.

There's a concert tape of Bloomfield at the Swing Auditorium from February 1971 where he's backed by Rev Stallings, John Wilmeth and John Kahn, but the other musicians aren't identified. I was wondering if the rest of the band could have been Southern Comfort?

No, I don't recall that show. I was working with both Southern Comfort and Michael Bloomfield & Friends around that time, but I don't remember the two bands ever sharing the same stage.

What do you remember about recording the soundtrack for the movie "Medium Cool"?

As I recall, we recorded that at Golden State Recorders, run by Leo de Gar Kulka. The studio had a really high ceiling and there was a big screen set up against one wall so they could project scenes from the movie. We weren't trying to sync the music with the action on the screen or anything the scenes were just for inspiration, I guess. I don't really know why they did that.

The music heard during the film doesn't sound at all like Bloomfield's. There are no horns anywhere in it that I can hear, despite the fact that horn players are listed in the credits.

Yeah, it was very strange. I think there's banjo-playing at one point in the movie that certainly wasn't us. You know, I felt very uncomfortable about that whole session. It didn't seem to make sense, what Michael was playing and the whole projected-images thing. I thought to myself, "I'm not getting this why is Mike doing this stuff?" But, interestingly, that was the first inkling I had that Bloomfield was into more traditional music, those old-timey tunes.

Did Michael ever talk about the "Fathers & Sons" sessions with Muddy Waters?

No, he never really mentioned it. I was under the impression that those sessions got out of control. There were certain uncomfortable subjects that would come up and Mike would just laugh, roll his eyes and change the subject. "Fathers & Sons" was one of those.

What about his solo record, "It's Not Killing Me?" You played on that.

Well, I didn't like that record, mostly because of Mike's singing.

You weren't alone in that opinion.

That album was an obligation to Columbia. Michael had to do a solo album, and that was the reason he did it. I remember there was a lot of disagreement in the studio about how to do things. You know, I thought Michael could sing much better than he did on those sessions. I would say to him, "Man, sing like you play guitar do that and you'll be an awesome singer!" I told him he should play guitar solos to the tunes and then learn to sing the guitar parts when he did the vocals. He'd say, yeah, yeah, he would do that but he never really tried. He just wanted his singing to flow easily, with no effort just like he played guitar. He always had self-esteem issues around his singing, but he just didn't want to work on it.

I read that you played on Sam Lay's "Bluesland" LP. Drums or guitar?

I played both on that record. Mike was on guitar, of course, and Doug Kilmer was the bass player. We rehearsed at Keystone Korner for that date, and I later played a number of gigs with Sam where he was out front singing and I was on drums.

Michael Bloomfield & Friends played at Keystone Korner quite a lot in 1970 and '71.

Yes. We had a sort of Stax/Volt "house band" thing going, and we'd use Keystone as a place to try out material. Nick really liked that place, he was very comfortable there. The club was usually crowded when we were playing. You know, in 1970 in San Francisco, the vast majority of people were into the psychedelic rock thing. They'd go to hear bands that would drop acid and could barely play, noodling around for hours on a single tune. But there was a select group of people who wanted to hear serious blues and R&B, that knew the music, and they would go to the Keystone. It was a great feeling to play for a crowd like that! When I couldn't make it because of a Southern Comfort gig, Bill Vitt would occasionally be the drummer, and sometimes Buddy Miles would come by and play. Michael would get into contests with him, seeing who could tell the biggest "whopper."

You know, Nick has 16-mm home movies of us all standing around outside Keystone, waiting to go in to rehearse. We're clowning a bit, and I'm doing some really silly stuff. It's most of Southern Comfort plus Mark Naftalin, Doug Kilmer and I think saxophone player Hart McNee.

Billboard magazine reported that MB & Friends recorded a live session at Keystone Korner. True?

I don't recall any recording going on there at that time. Of course, something could have been done without me.

How about the Brewer & Shipley record that you and Michael played on?

That record was done in a number of sessions, usually two or three tunes per session. Fred Burton is also on the record, but he's listed as "Fred Olson," his given name. Nick really liked Brewer & Shipley and produced the album. For the tunes we're on, the back-up band is really just Southern Comfort with a few additions.

Were you on any of the music Bloomfield did for the soundtrack of "Andy Warhol's Bad"?

I played drums on it, yes. I remember recording in this really small studio in San Francisco, just me and maybe Mike, overdubbing tracks. Norman Dayron was there, too.

Around that time, Michael played the Newport Jazz Festival in New York. You're on drums for part of that.

That was a great gig. Michael loved it. He opened the set with a ragtime guitar tune, and by that time he was very comfortable with doing a broader range of Americana music, what people call "Americana" now. He'd gotten into presenting those older tunes and styles along with his regular electric blues material.

You know, Mike was great friends with Robert Crumb of underground comics fame. They both shared a love of traditional music, and they would talk about old-timey stuff whenever they'd get together.

How was it playing with Michael in the later '70s?

Well, Michael became somewhat notorious for not showing up. When I was in the band, though, I would always make sure he'd make the gig because I'd go get him and his equipment and drive him there. So he missed very few shows that I played on. He'd come to the gig in different states, and not always high, but ninety percent of the time he'd play brilliantly once he got on the stand. You knew that whenever he'd open up with "Guitar King," he was in top form and going for blood regardless of the circumstances.

I want to say this about Michael in the '70s: In my personal opinion it is possible to write biographically about his music in those years with very little, if any, reference to the drug-taking. There's a long history in American music of geniuses who used drugs Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Coltrane, Miles and it's now recognized that what's important is their music. In Michael's case, the tendency is to focus on the drugs. This is wrong. I can tell you that he was a musical genius and a genius in general that entire time.

Both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton cited Michael as an influence. He was one of a kind and he changed the way people play guitar. He deserves to be acknowledged for that reason alone. And his work in '70s is just as valid as it was in the '60s.

It's ironic that Ralph Gleason in 1968 took Michael to task in his Rolling Stone column for not being original.

Well, regarding that Gleason piece, I think it really took Michael by surprise.

From my point of view, I was struck by how mean-spirited the whole thing was. At that time, belief in the sanctity of the San Francisco scene was like a religion. Gleason seemed personally vested in the assertion that these bands were good. He had said so in print. So when Mike disagreed with that assertion, Gleason overreacted and wrote a personal attack to punish him. And, in my opinion, he set out to destroy Bloomfield's reputation.

The fact that he says, "You'll never be a spade, Michael Bloomfield," really shows a lack of understanding of Michael and his music and expresses an odd double standard. Did he ever say, "You'll never be a white man, Charlie Pride"? What exactly was Gleason's point? Do you think maybe he was actually speaking about himself? This was certainly a prevalent phobia of white guys who liked black music at that time.

On a more somber subject, what about Mike's death?

I was really angry at him when it happened. We'd all seen it coming, and I'd tried many times to get him to quit doing what he was doing.

Any additional closing thoughts?

I played with Mike for ten years, from 1969 through 1979, and I miss him as a person. He was funny, incredibly intelligent and immensely talented. It is the single biggest blessing of my life that I got to play and hang out with him for a decade. The stuff that happened that wasn't so much fun has faded over time. The rest has not.
 

2012 David Dann