By David Dann
Editor's note: The following chronology attempts to give a day-by-day breakdown of Michael Bloomfield's experience at the historic 1965 Newport Folk Festival, as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and as an integral part of Bob Dylan's historic ad-hoc electric group. Following the timeline is a brief critical analysis of Bloomfield's contribution to the emergence of blues- and folk-rock in 1965 and the musical developments of the years immediately after.
Arnold (partially hidden), Mike Bloomfield, Sam Lay, Paul Butterfield and Elvin
Bishop do a sound check for the "New Folks" concert at the Newport Folk Festival on
July 25, 1965.
Photo courtesy of
Dr. John Rudoff
The weeks leading up
to Newport, June and
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band works regularly at the Café Au Go-Go on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village on the weekends leading up to the Newport Folk Festival. The festival itself is scheduled for the last week in July. The group consists of four players – Butterfield, guitarist Elvin Bishop, bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay. Mike Bloomfield, not yet an "official" member of the band, performs with them regularly at the Café when he's in New York. He plays lead and slide, and occasionally sits in on piano. He also spends several days in June recording with Bob Dylan, a session that will prove pivotal not only to his career but to Dylan's as well. On June 15, Bloomfield arrives at the Cafe Au Go-Go full of enthusiasm about a tune he has recorded with Dylan earlier that afternoon, and he demonstrates the piece on a piano in the club's back room. Called "Like a Rolling Stone," it is one of four Dylan originals he and Bob will record that week. Issued as a single on July 20, the tune will climb the charts throughout the next month, eventually reaching Billboard's #2 spot.
Meanwhile, Peter Yarrow, part of the highly successful folk trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, is the junior member of the governing board of the Newport Folk Festival. The other board members include ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, folk icon Pete Seeger, balladeer Theodore Bikel and Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein. Yarrow, who is managed by Albert Grossman, a former Chicago club owner and now a rising figure in the music industry, is eager to make his mark on the festival. At the end of June, he urges the board to add a new band from Chicago to the festival's already crowded roster. That group – the Paul Butterfield Blues Band – is a controversial one for the board because it plays amplified music and most members feel that folk music is by definition an acoustic music. Alan Lomax, while not adverse to electric bands that he feels are part of a valid cultural tradition, is skeptical of anything that might be considered imitation. Grossman, who is considering taking on the band, would very much like Butterfield included in the prestigious festival.
Despite misgivings on the
part of Lomax and Seeger, Yarrow succeeds in getting Butterfield a last-minute
slot in several of Newport's afternoon workshops. He is aided in his efforts by
Elektra Records president Jac Holzman and Elektra A&R man Paul Rothchild, both
of whom are also excited about the electric blues band. It was Rothchild who
signed Butterfield to the label in late 1964 and who is now overseeing the
band's recording sessions in New York. Elektra is a respected folk label that
has recorded many performers seen at previous Newport festivals, and the enthusiasm for
a Butterfield Band appearance helps convince the board that their inclusion
would be appropriate.
Thursday, July 22, the start of the festival
Paul Butterfield and the band arrive in Newport on Thursday, the day the festival begins. Somewhat nervous about their upcoming performances, the band brings along a supportive entourage of Chicago friends and relations. Butterfield invites singer/composer Nick Gravenites, promising him that he can perform a few tunes with the band during their workshop appearances. Mike Bloomfield brings along his high school friend, keyboardist Barry Goldberg. Both Paul and Michael want Barry to perform with the band while at Newport. Most of the group caravans in from New York City by car; Michael and Barry Goldberg take the train.
When they arrive at Newport, Paul Rothchild is there to help them get situated. When he hears of their intention to have Barry play with them, he insists that the band perform as originally planned without the keyboard player. This leaves a disappointed Goldberg with little to do beyond taking in the music and hobnobbing with other musicians at the festival.
Butterfield and his men are quartered in a private home rather than at Newport's Viking Hotel, the accommodations for nearly all the other festival performers. Though nothing is said, the group suspects that they've been separated from the other musicians because the management suspects they may cause trouble. The truth, however, is that all available hotel rooms have already been filled. Joyce Wein, festival producer George Wein's wife, is in charge of the musicians' housing, and she asks Jill Henderson, a volunteer from Cambridge folk community, to act as "house mother" for the Butterfield crew. On her first visit to their house, Henderson encounters Paul sitting on the front steps smoking a joint with George Chambers of the Chambers Brothers.
In anticipation of larger crowds, organizers have moved the festival site from Freebody Park where it was located in previous years to the larger Festival Field, off Connell Highway in the North End of the city.
The roster of performers for the opening night of the festival includes a group of dancers from North Carolina, Irish musicians Margaret Barry and Michael Gorman, the Rev. Gary Davis, a Cajun band, the New Lost City Ramblers with Mother Maybelle Carter and Eck Robinson, the Chambers Brothers, Son House, Donovan, the Lily Brothers with Tex Logan, and finally Joan Baez. The concert starts at 8 p.m., has one intermission following the Ramblers and is over by midnight. The Newport Daily News reports that the crowd, though of record size, is well-behaved and enthusiastic.
Friday, July 23, the first full day of the festival
Butterfield and his men make it an early morning, rising in time to be at the festival site for the start of Friday's many workshops. The band is scheduled to close the afternoon "Blues: Origins and Offshoots" workshop, an informal presentation of blues styles beginning at 3:30 p.m. It is scheduled to include Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, Sam and Kirk McGee, Son House, Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover (a substitute for the ailing Josh White), and Mance Lipscomb. The workshop is to be co-hosted by musicologist Alan Lomax and Boston's Eric Von Schmidt.
Folk singer Von Schmidt has just arrived at the festival, and when he looks over the list of the workshop's performers, one name is unknown to him. "Who the hell is Mike Bloomfield?" he asks the Kweskin Band's Geoff Muldaur. Muldaur replies, "Man, you ought to hear this guy. He's a great guitarist."
Mike Bloomfield has a special reason to be at the field by 11 a.m. He is the co-host of a morning blues workshop, one aptly entitled "Blues Guitar," with folklorist Mack McCormick. The presentation includes the Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Spider John Koerner and Lightnin' Hopkins. When Bloomfield brings Hopkins on, he gives him a glowing introduction, saying, "Of all the blues singers that I know, I've got one favorite that to me most typifies what I feel is the blues, and that's Lightnin' Hopkins." At the end of Lightnin's set, Michael gets Butterfield drummer Sam Lay to back the Texas guitarist for a final tune. The audience responds vociferously, swept up by the rocking rhythms – perhaps anticipating the afternoon's exhibition of electric Chicago blues from Butterfield and company. Despite efforts by the schedule-conscious festival managers to get Hopkins to finish his performance, the guitarist ultimately does three more tunes before he and Lay end the set. The crowd roars for more.
Meanwhile, Paul Butterfield has been sharing a few beers at the Narragansett booth with folk singers Richard Farina, Donovan and David Blue. The day is sunny, a bit warmer than Thursday, and there is a steady breeze. The workshops, which for Friday are ten in number, take place all around the festival grounds. Most are quite casual in nature with single performers playing without amplification to small groups of listeners. But others are more formal, with platforms set up as small stages and microphones to help convey the music to the larger crowds that gather. Maynard Solomon of Vanguard Records has arranged for everything at this year's Newport Festival to be recorded, and his company's omni-directional mics are fixtures on the main stage as well as at nearly all the workshops.
In mid-afternoon, the Lomax/Von Schmidt workshop gets underway to the right of the main stage on a plywood platform that serves as a stage. The audience for the performances fills the entire area and far exceeds expectations, numbering more than a thousand. After Alan Lomax's opening remarks, Ed and Lonnie Young begin the "Blues: Origins and Offshoots" workshop with traditional fife-and-drum music. An unscheduled act, the Young brothers captivate the crowd with the infectious rhythms of their unusual music. Also appearing are five former prisoners who perform acapella work songs. Michael will later be unsparing in his criticism of Pete Seeger for performing a log-chopping routine with the ex-chain gang members in the performers dining hall, but for this workshop the quintet simply does a few work songs. The other musicians appear as scheduled, and as Koerner and Glover finish their set, Butterfield and the band begin moving in their equipment. Lomax and Eric Von Schmidt have been taking turns introducing the various performers, but now Alan tells Eric he would like to say a few words before bringing on the Butterfield Band
The delay caused by the need to run power to the band's three amplifiers, rearrange the mics and position Sam Lay's drum kit irks emcee Lomax. The musicologist, who is known for his firm conviction that folk music – and blues in particular – is best when performed by authentic representatives of the tradition, looks on the Butterfield crew and their paraphernalia with disdain. When the band is finally ready, Alan makes a five-minute speech about the origins of the blues, describing the music as most often an intimate, personal expression made by a musician and a single, simple instrument. He then says that the next group of musicians requires a lot of hardware to play its blues, and invites to the audience to judge whether these youngsters can really even play the music at all.
With that, Lomax steps off the stage and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band is poised to begin its first performance at Newport. But an event occurs at the side of the stage that holds things up for a moment, and exemplifies the growing rift between the older members of the festival's organization and its less rigid, younger coterie of folk enthusiasts. Albert Grossman is in the audience at the side of the stage, eager to hear Butterfield Band in person. He has decided to take them on as clients, and he is outraged by Alan Lomax's disparaging remarks. As Lomax passes, Grossman chides him for his criticism of the band. Lomax, no fan of the manager, shoves Grossman out of his way. Albert shoves back and soon the two big men are engaged in a full-blown fist fight, rolling around in the dust. Sam Lay jumps down from the platform and helps to separate them, but the spectacle electrifies the crowd – those who are close enough to see it. The news of the confrontation soon spreads through the rest of the gathered multitude and only serves to heighten the excitement over the Chicagoans' debut.
Once back behind his drums, Sam Lay gives Butterfield a nod and the harp player kicks off the band's first tune.
The audience is immediately seized by the big sound of the quintet. Performing just as though they were in a club on Chicago's South Side, the Butterfield Band swings with a ferocity that thrills the crowd. Paul's amplified harmonica is unlike anything many have ever heard, more accustomed as they are the traditional sounds of Sonny Terry or Mel Lyman. Mike Bloomfield's stinging fills and careening solos – delivered with the gyrations and grimaces of a man possessed – astonish the musicians in the audience and enthrall the rest. Lay's steady Chicago beat and trademark triplet fills propel one number after another, and soon Butterfield calls Nick Gravenites up to sing a tune. By the time the band concludes its set with its only Elektra release to date – a Gravenites tune called "Born in Chicago" – guitarist and percussion player Bruce Langhorne has joined them on tambourine. The huge crowd roars for more at the end of their short set.
It has become increasingly windy as the afternoon has progressed, and now the breeze blows the Butterfield sound into other workshops going on around Festival Field. Vanguard engineers later claim that some of the music they record on Friday afternoon will be unusable because of sound bleed from the nearby electric blues band. But the Butterfield Band's performance is a hit and is the talk of the after-festival party.
In the early evening, word spreads among festival insiders that Bob Dylan has arrived in Newport and is ensconced in rooms at the Viking Hotel. Though unsubstantiated, the rumor heightens expectations that the folk icon will appear at any moment. Though he is not seen until Saturday, Dylan exerts an irresistible influence over the festival's younger performers. The release of "Like a Rolling Stone" a week earlier has many wondering what the folk icon will do for his Sunday evening appearance.
The Friday evening concert features the Cape Breton Singers, Roscoe Holcomb, Mississippi John Hurt, Sam & Kirk McGee with Arthur Smith, Memphis Slim & Willie Dixon, the Moving Star Hall Singers, New York street games, Arthur Nicolle, Larry Older, Doc Reese & the Texas Work Song Group, Pete Seeger, Ed Young's Fife & Drum Corps., Annie Walters, and Peter, Paul & Mary. The audience is once again of record size, estimated to be as large as 17,000 persons by local police.
Following the concert,
Bloomfield amazes Sam Lay by jamming with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe at the
after-show party – on banjo!
Bloomfield, Jerome Arnold, Paul Butterfield close the "Bluesville" workshop,
their second appearance at Newport,
on Saturday, July 24.
They are captured for the first time by filmmaker Murray Lerner.
Still from "Festival"
Saturday, July 24,
the second day of the festival
Saturday dawns bright and warm, a bit more humid than Friday. A sleepy Michael Bloomfield, Sam Lay and Paul Butterfield are captured by photographer David Gahr lounging on the second-floor porch of their festival residence. It is the start of a history-making weekend.
Filmmaker Murray Lerner has been working on a documentary about the festival since 1963, and he has returned with cameras and sound equipment to capture highlights from this year's gathering. Though his limited budget forces him to film only brief moments of the more important performances, he seeks out Mike Bloomfield for an on-camera interview. The gregarious, hyperactive guitarist – just a few days shy of his twenty-second birthday – has made such an impression on the other musicians and folk enthusiasts at the festival that Lerner decides to expend five minutes of his precious footage getting Bloomfield's views on the blues.
At about 10:30 a.m., Lerner films Michael in the morning sunshine at Festival Field. A squinting Bloomfield, clad casually in a white T-shirt, talks easily about Paul Butterfield, the blues and his own background. He also makes a telling comparison between himself and blues legend Son House, noting that though he – Bloomfield – has never suffered the privations of a black man, he can still feel and play the blues. Lerner later intersperses Michael's comments with statements on the nature of the blues by Son House himself. The segment foreshadows the respectful, beneficial relationship between older black blues masters and their younger white protégés that will emerge toward the end of the '60s. Bloomfield, along with Butterfield and Elvin Bishop, will be largely responsible for this happy development.
The Saturday workshops begin promptly at 11:00 a.m. Most are several hours in length, but one is an all-day presentation. Called "Bluesville," it is an epic, three-part workshop that runs until 5:30 p.m. that will take place on the same stage as Friday's "Blues: Origins and Offshoots." "Bluesville" features Mississippi John Hurt, the Rev. Gary Davis, Son House, Mance Lipscomb, Memphis Slim and Lightnin' Hopkins as well as the various members of the Kweskin Jug Band, Spider John Koerner, Eric Von Schmidt and others. The Butterfield Band is scheduled to appear near the end of the workshop in a segment entitled "Harmonica," and they are curiously billed this time as the "Mike Bloomfield/Paul Butterfield group." Though he has played with the band regularly for months now, Bloomfield's separate listing highlights the fact that he has yet to actually join Butterfield's aggregation.
In the intervening hours between the band's Friday appearance with its Lomax/Grossman altercation and the start of the Saturday workshops, Alan Lomax has convened a meeting of the festival board in an attempt to have Albert Grossman banned from the festival grounds. While the other members are inclined to remove the controversial manager, George Wein points out – with a businessman's acumen – that if Albert were to be booted, he would probably take his clients with him. That would leave Newport without Peter, Paul & Mary, Richard & Mimi Farina, Odetta, the Kweskin Band, and – most importantly – Newport's star attraction, Bob Dylan. Wein says he isn't sure the festival could survive such a loss. The board reluctantly agrees, and Grossman is allowed to stay.
As the day progresses, the "Bluesville" workshop moves through its opening segment, "The South," hosted by blues aficionado Chris Strachwitz, to "The City," emceed again by Eric Von Schmidt, and on to the final portion of the series, "Harmonica." Host Mack McCormick announces the Butterfield Band's set late in the afternoon. Striped canvas screens have been set up behind the stage in an attempt to shield other workshops from the blues band's big sound, but they are ineffective at best. The audience has grown even larger than Friday's crowd as news of the excitement generated by the Chicagoans has spread. After a delay of some minutes, the band launches into its first number.
Of the tunes Butterfield plays that afternoon, Murray Lerner's cameras capture a portion of Little Walter Jacob's "Juke." The huge crowd can be seen to be swaying to the band's infectious rhythms, and there are momentary glimpses of members of the Boston folk contingent. An animated Maria Muldaur smiles broadly while Richard and Mimi Farina, Geoff Muldaur, John Koerner and Mitch Greenhill are joined by emcee Eric Von Schmidt, who is now seeing what the fuss is all about.
In twenty minutes, the band's set is over. But the effect they have on their listeners is palpable. It's clear to everyone that something is happening to Newport. A change is coming, a new kind of folk music is emerging, and the Butterfield Band is in the vanguard of that new sound.
Another influential musician is all too aware of these developments.
Bob Dylan, making his first public appearance at Newport, plays a few acoustic tunes in the mid-afternoon at the "Ballad Tree" workshop behind the main stage. The crowd for his brief set is huge – far larger even than it will be for the Butterfield Band a short while later. The Dylan that performs "All I Really Want to Do" is familiar to all present – the lone troubadour with acoustic guitar and harmonica, the singer/poet of disarming charm and directness. But as the wind rises and the leaves on the trees are tossed about behind the singer, an idea blows into Dylan's consciousness.
Here at Newport is the very guitarist who helped make his revolutionary new sound possible. Also in the crowd is his organist – for Al Kooper has come to the festival as a spectator. Bob decides he'll affirm his pivotal role in the evolution of the new music by recreating his electric band from the Columbia sessions a month before. He, Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper will play the music from his forthcoming LP, including his current single, "Like a Rolling Stone."
Later in the evening, Dylan approaches Bloomfield and asks if he'd be interested. Michael characteristically is only too happy to play, and Bob charges him with assembling a band. Kooper, who has spent the afternoon with Dylan, is already on board. Mike commandeers a corner of the musician's tent and begins auditioning players. His choices are limited, and he ultimately settles on Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold from the Butterfield Band, and pianist Barry Goldberg. Lay is the only drummer on the grounds, and while George Chambers of the Chambers Brothers plays electric bass, Lay is used to playing with Arnold. Goldberg has been hanging around the festival with nothing to do, and can play the gospel style Dylan's music requires.
Grossman is informed of the plan, and gives it his full support. Albert is eager to get back at Lomax and the other Newport authorities who see him as a pox on the traditional spirit of the festival. He arranges for the ad-hoc band to use producer George Wein's Newport mansion for a rehearsal space. All involved are sworn to secrecy, for no one – particularly not the senior members of the festival's board – should know of Dylan's plan.
Michael takes charge of the rehearsals which begin late Saturday night. Along with "Like a Rolling Stone," Dylan decides to do a tune from "Bringing It All Back Home" called "Maggie's Farm." To those he adds an incomplete song that he and Michael had worked on during the "Rolling Stone" sessions in June. It is tentatively called "Phantom Engineer," but will later be known as "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, a Train to Cry." Both "Maggie" and "Engineer" have simple forms and are quickly mastered by the band. But "Rolling Stone" is more difficult, and after numerous attempts it becomes clear that Jerome Arnold is having difficulty mastering the bass part. He writes the changes out on his sleeve as an aid to help remember them.
After many hours, the group has learned the three songs well enough to perform them behind Dylan on Sunday. But everyone's spent and they decide to call it a night. Though Dylan will later say the sextet worked up several additional tunes, only these three will be performed on Sunday evening. As a consequence, the band's set will be a short one.
The concert line-up for Saturday night includes Horton Barker, Margaret Barry and Michael Gorman, the New England Contra-dancers, Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, A.L. Lloyd, Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, Odetta and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Kweskin's group steals the show with their hip parodies of popular songs from the '20s and their sly double-entendres and drug references.
Arnold, Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield perform "Born in Chicago" on stage
as the opening act for the final evening concert at the Newport Folk Festival on
July 25, 1965.
Still from "Festival"
Sunday, July 25,
the final day of the festival
Sunday's events get underway bright and early at 10 a.m. with a "Concert of Religious Music." Featuring many of the festival's traditional performers, the 90-minute presentation of gospel and sacred music includes the Chambers Brothers, Jean Ritchie, the Cape Breton Singers, the New Lost City Ramblers and – in what was to be unlikely pairing – Son House with the Moving Star Hall Singers. That portion of the concert doesn't happen. The Moving Star group is replaced by the Charles River Valley Boys, and Son House performs solo. Due in part to the early hour for the show – and to the late revels following Saturday night's main stage event – the audience for the concert is far fewer in number than expected. The day is again warm and humid, with a growing cloud cover portending the possibility of rain.
Paul Butterfield is up and at Festival Field by mid-morning. The band is scheduled to close the afternoon concert, a showcase for new talent called "New Folks." It is scheduled to start at 2:20 p.m. but starts at 2:30. Many of its performers have been featured in the weekend's workshops but have yet to play to a larger audience from the main stage, and anticipation is high. Peter Yarrow will share emcee duties for the show with folk DJ Jerry White; he'll also act as the show's stage manager.
In that capacity, Yarrow arranges for a soundcheck for the performers immediately following the morning's religious music concert. His chief concerns are for setting levels of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's big electric sound. There won't be much time.
By noon, Festival Field is again filled with folk fans. Many drift in and out of a lecture on the burgeoning field of ethnomusicology called "Music and Talking About Music." Alan Lomax is one of its featured speakers, along with Professor Charles Seeger (Pete's father), English folksinger and song collector A.L. Lloyd and others. On the main stage, Yarrow has begun to set levels and mic positions for the various "New Folks" performers.
Just prior to the Butterfield Band taking its place on stage, Michael Bloomfield arrives at the field. He's wearing a long-sleeve, Oxford-style white shirt and dark chinos. Butterfield and the rest of the band are in short sleeves as the air is warm and close. Once on stage, Sam Lay quickly sets up his drums while Elvin Bishop plugs in his new Ampeg B-12, Jerome Arnold adjusts his Fender Bassman and Michael positions his Epiphone Futura stage right. Yarrow places mics in front of each amp and above the drums; Butterfield will play through the stage's sound system. A voice mic is set up center stage for Paul and another is boomed into Lay over the drums; Sam will be singing Muddy Water's "I Got My Mojo Working."
With the OK from Yarrow, the Butterfield Band runs through a tune. Paul is animated and intense, looking street-fierce behind his Ray-ban sunglasses. Michael jerks spasmodically to the right during his solo, bending at the waist and nearly doubling over. Within minutes Yarrow has their levels set, and the bracing performance is over. The band's energy level is clearly high, and a few photographers have made it a point to be front-and-center to get the clear shot of the band that the soundcheck affords.
The Chambers Brothers will also be playing their afternoon set with electric instruments. They've informed Yarrow that they'd like to have Sam Lay join them on drums, and this presents a problem for the stage manager. Loath to have to break down and set up two electric bands, thus taking up valuable concert time, Peter arranges for the Chambers to perform on several workshop platforms set up on the ground in front of the main stage. This will allow him to leave the Butterfield Band's equipment in place while only having to move Lay's drum kit. The drums are brought down to the platform for the Chambers' soundcheck.
The “New Folks” concert gets underway at about 2:30 p.m., ten minutes behind schedule. The day has gone completely grey, with threatening clouds to the west out over the bay. The show gets underway with Byron and Lue Berline backed by members of the Boston folk crowd; they're followed by the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. The afternoon's younger players include Hamilton Camp, Kathy and Carol, the ubiquitous John Koerner, and Mark Spoelstra. When the Chambers Brothers begin their brief set, many in the huge audience are up and out of their seats, dancing to the quartet’s stirring soul harmonizing augmented by Sam Lay’s infectious beat. The Brothers are followed by Patrick Sky and then Gordon Lightfoot, making his Newport debut. Between sets, Lay’s drums are quickly returned to the main stage and stacked on the riser against the back wall.
Richard and Mimi Farina are scheduled to go on toward the end of the “New Folks” concert. They want to bring on a number of other musicians to sit in with them and, in preparation, hold an impromptu rehearsal session outside the performers’ tent in mid-afternoon. Paul Butterfield, now wearing his dark sport coat, is photographed by David Gahr watching the proceedings. Bloomfield is spotted hanging out back stage with Dylan.
Shortly before 5 p.m., the Farinas begin their set. They’re soon joined by Mimi’s sister, Joan Baez, and after a few tunes the skies open up. Peter Yarrow is quickly on stage, fearing that the cables and equipment might be damaged and urging the trio to stop. But Richard presses on, telling the audience to stay put. He proceeds to play as many up-tempo tunes as he can think of, and the majority of the crowd does remain. Many begin dancing in the rain, stripping off their wet clothes. The party atmosphere is infectious, and soon a drenched Baez and Yarrow are dancing around behind the Farinas while stage hands scurry to cover the Butterfield Band’s equipment with plastic tarps. Water pools on the stage, and it is immediately clear that the electric blues band from Chicago will not be performing this afternoon. The potential for electric shock is too great.
And then the rain stops as suddenly as it began. The skies grow lighter and Bernice Johnson Reagon closes the afternoon concert after the Farinas' wild set. It’s 6 p.m., and the evening show is set to begin at 8 p.m.
There is much to do.
The soundchecks for the closing evening concert get underway almost immediately. Arrangements are made to have the Paul Butterfield Blues Band open the show with a quick set while the audience is returning to their seats. The quintet is deeply disappointed that their afternoon appearance has been rained out, and the slot is offered to them as a consolation. Grossman is also keen to have them get main stage exposure. In preparation, the stage is swept of water and exposed equipment is toweled off. The soundchecks proceed slowly.
Bob Dylan waits patiently back stage for his turn behind the mics.
In anticipation of Dylan's soundcheck, the field in front to the main stage is cleared. Once secrecy is assured, Bob emerges on stage. He is wearing a polka-dotted, puffed-sleeve shirt, tight dark pants, Beatle boots and sunglasses. Gone are the denim work shirt and jeans of the 1963 and '64 festivals, and gone too is Dylan's conservative garb from his workshop performance the day before. The figure on stage looks for all the world like a British pop star. Most jarring of all is the shiny black Fender Stratocaster guitar he carries.
Within minutes, the stage is swarming with musicians and stagehands.
Mike Bloomfield appears with his Telecaster, back on stage for Dylan's run-through. A Hammond B-3 organ is wheeled into place on center stage, and after a few minutes Barry Goldberg sits down at its keyboard. Dylan joins him and begins to demonstrate a few chords. A shirtless Peter Yarrow is filmed by Murray Lerner's crew as he scurries around the stage placing mics and barking instructions at the musicians. Paul Rothchild is also on stage, conducting the band as it begins to warm up on "Like a Rolling Stone." Yarrow shouts, "Hold it, gentlemen!", halting the music before it can get going. Communication between the main stage and the sound board, located several dozen rows back in the audience area out front, is difficult at best and with all the amplified sound it becomes nearly impossible.
The piano that had been on the Chambers Brother's platform is hefted onto the stage, and the organ's Leslie cabinet is nestled between the guitar amps and the drum kit. Once the mics are positioned to Yarrow's satisfaction, the band is ready for a run-through. The stage is cleared and Dylan launches into “Like a Rolling Stone.” After a few minutes, it’s clear that bassist Jerome Arnold is lost. With reluctance, he gives his bass over to Al Kooper, and Barry Goldberg moves to the organ. Jerome complains to Barry about the switch, but the tune now works despite the fact that there is no piano part. After ten minutes, Yarrow has the levels where he wants them, and Dylan and his men leave the stage.
It’s just after 7 p.m.; Butterfield is scheduled to begin his set at 7:30 p.m.
Soon the gates are opened and the early arrivals in the crowd begin to find seats among the thousands of wooden folding chairs that cover the audience area. Pete Seeger comes to the center stage mic just before the start of the evening's program and makes a short speech dedicating the festival to Paul and Penny Cohen's newborn. He plays a tape of the baby's first cries. Peter Yarrow then introduces the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to a smattering of applause – only a few people have found their places in the box seats in front of the stage. The band's early, unscheduled start means they begin their set to a nearly empty field.
The band opens with "Blues with a Feeling," a Little Walter tune and a standard mid-tempo blues. The performance is solid, with fine solos from Paul and Michael. Bloomfield switches easily from fretted runs to slide lead while Elvin offers accompaniment in traditional Chicago style. Lay's characteristically triplet-laden drumming pushes the performance along without overwhelming the soloists, and Jerome anchors the beat unobtrusively. At the end of the tune, there is considerably more applause and even a few whoops from the wings on stage. "Thank you," says Paul distractedly.
Murray Lerner is on stage with the band, shooting them from behind with his large 16-mm camera. When "Festival" is released in 1967, it will contain footage of the Butterfield Band's Sunday night performance. Unfortunately, a good portion of those scenes will consist of shots of the back of Paul Butterfield's head. But the film will also show moments of Paul and Michael sharing a riff on the band's signature tune, "Born in Chicago." The band plays the piece as its closer, and by the time their short set has concluded, most of the sold-out audience is seated and, in the gathering twilight, lights are coming on around the field.
Butterfield is followed in quick succession by Mance Lipscomb, the Moving Star Hall Singers, Eric von Schmidt with members of the Kweskin Band, the Beers Family, the Ishangi Dance Troupe from Nigeria, and Cousin Emmy with the New Lost City Ramblers. Emmy fiddles, plays harp, sings, and finally beats out "Turkey in the Straw" on her cheeks. And now the amps and organ that have been sitting on stage throughout the evening are switched on for Bob Dylan.
The moment many in the vast crowd have been waiting for has arrived. Only a few insiders backstage know what the moment portends. The lights on stage go down and Peter Yarrow steps into the center spotlight.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the person who's coming up now ... has a limited amount of time ... his name is Bob Dylan!"
The audience roars as Dylan and the band emerge onstage. There are a few moments of confusion as Dylan plugs into Bloomfield's backup amp, a Guild Thunderbird. "Put that up, man, give Bob a little more volume!" says Michael to Yarrow. "I will, I will," the emcee promises. Kooper tests out the organ with a bracing chord, and Barry Goldberg plays a few bluesy runs on the piano. Then Bob is ready.
Dylan steps back from the mic as Bloomfield fires off a few licks as they
perform "Maggie's Farm" at the Sunday evening concert. Note Peter Yarrow
attempting to adjust Michael's amplifier.
Still from "Festival"
"Let's go!" shouts Bloomfield to the rest of the band, and Dylan kicks off "Maggie's Farm."
Right away it's clear that the sound balance is way off. The piano is inaudible, and Kooper and Bloomfield dominate the mix. Michael's exuberant fills between Dylan's verses threaten to overwhelm the singer. The rhythm part Michael has worked up for the tune is a variation on the bass line to Butterfield's version of "Shake Your Money Maker," and that plus his aggressive playing and roaring volume give the piece a raw, primitive sound. The world's premier folk festival has suddenly been taken over by a cadre of rock 'n' rollers.
Yarrow is instantly back on stage, attempting to adjust the volume while still wearing his Ray-bans. He plays with the mic in front of Bloomfield's Futura first and then fiddles with Dylan's Thunderbird, but his efforts have little effect. Paul Rothchild and crew member Joe Boyd are out front in the sound booth and have boosted the sound to ear-splitting levels. Backstage, members of the festival's board – Theodore Bikel, Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger – are horrified. Word is sent out to the sound booth to immediately turn the volume down, but even this has no effect. Later it will be claimed that in desperation Seeger attempted to cut the power cables with an ax.
Out in the audience, shock and amazement have momentarily silenced the rowdier fans. Within minutes, though, some in the crowd begin to cheer. Others have the opposite reaction and before too long boos can be heard. The band pushes on, seemingly unconcerned by the tumult both in front of the stage and behind it. But even Dylan looks startled by the forces he's unleashed.
After "Maggie" comes to an abrupt but ragged finish, a great cry goes up from the audience. While it is impossible to say with certainty what the crowd is expressing, it is clear that Bob Dylan's latest music is having a powerful effect. Bob turns around and focuses his musicians by strumming the opening rhythm to the next piece. It's the challenging "Like a Rolling Stone."
Bloomfield enters, playing a lovely counter-melody over Dylan's C-chord and now blending quite well with the band. Al Kooper has strapped on Arnold's bass and Barry Goldberg is seated behind the organ. They drop into the vamp and the tune gets rolling as the audience settles down. After Dylan sings the first line, there are cheers of recognition. The piece then proceeds with only a few tentative moments, the band's ensemble sound gelling and the instruments blending well. After numerous verses Dylan turns around to signal the band that the piece is finished, and Bloomfield shepherds in the coda with a series of licks and a final chord. More cries from the audience ensue. "Thank you very much," says the singer, slightly off mic.
Dylan has begun to sweat. He is eleven minutes into his 45-minute set and he has only one more tune to play. After a moment, Bloomfield begins his guitar part for "Phantom Engineer." Basically a twelve-bar blues, the half-completed tune hasn't progressed much during its one-night rehearsal.
Michael's volume again is jacked up, and his Telecaster has a raw, over-driven sound. Goldberg joins him, playing an organ part copped from the Contours' R&B hit "The Boy from New York City." Jerome Arnold beats a tambourine. The band again sounds disjointed, though Sam Lay's drumming fits the rhythm better than it had on the other two tunes. Between each verse, Bloomfield cranks out rocking solos that sometimes reach 24 bars in length. After the third verse, a flustered Dylan can be heard shouting, "No solo, no solo!" But Mike sails on, a force of nature. Dylan stops the tune after just four minutes.
"Let's go, let's go, man," says the folk singer to his accomplices, and the band hurriedly leaves the stage. The audience is on its feet, crying out for "More!", and perhaps some fans are booing. A rattled, anxious Peter Yarrow steps behind the center stage mic, clearly at a loss for words.
"Would you ... like to hear more from Bobby?" he asks, not sure what the audience wants.
A roar clearly signals their desire for Dylan, and Yarrow pleads with Bob to return. Eventually a stunned Dylan comes back on stage with an acoustic guitar and offers a meaning-filled "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." He then plays "Mr. Tambourine Man" in response to shouts from the crowd, and walks off.
The crowd howls for more, but there will be no more. Not now and not ever. The Bob Dylan of work shirts and jeans, the consort of Joan Baez and adopted son of Pete Seeger, the heir to Woody Guthrie – that Dylan is no more. Nothing will be the same, for it – Dylan's role as the savior of American folk music – is indeed all over now.
Mike Bloomfield is backstage, unaware of the commotion out front. His impression is that the performance was a triumph. When Barry Goldberg tells him that he thought he heard some boos, Michael is shocked. He can't believe that someone so beloved by everybody at the festival could be booed.
The stage is quickly set up for the next performer. In an ironic twist, it is board member Oscar Brand who follows Dylan. After Brand comes former Weavers member Ronnie Gilbert, and then singer and guitarist Len Chandler, and finally Peter, Paul & Mary. Throughout each performance, cries for Dylan to return can be heard out front.
To close the festival, George Wein sits at the piano and plays "When the Saints Go Marching In" and all on stage join in. But the joviality is forced, and the mood backstage is somber. Pete Seeger arranges for Mel Lyman of the Kweskin Band to play solo harmonica over the PA system while people are leaving. Lyman blows dozens of choruses of "Rock of Ages" while sitting on the edge of the stage in the dark, thus creating a moving farewell to the Newport Folk Festival of 1965.
The after-festival party is an all-night affair held at a local bar. Nearly all of the younger generation of musicians attend; few of the older set do. Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold set up and play for anybody who wants to jam. The Chambers Brothers do several sets, and the party gets wilder and wilder. Dylan spends much of his time sitting on Club 47 owner Betsy Siggins' lap. Someone with a home movie camera films him sharing a bottle with the Butterfield crew.
By dawn the party is over.
The week following the festival
The Butterfield Band heads back to New York on Tuesday morning. Two days later, on Thursday, Mike Bloomfield joins Bob Dylan in Columbia's studios in New York to record three more tunes for "Highway 61 Revisited." That evening he appears with the Butterfield Band on stage at the Cafe Au Go-Go for a two-day stint. The band is advertised as "just back from Newport." Friday is also another session with Dylan. Albert Grossman pressures Michael to either join Dylan on the road for his upcoming tour for "Highway 61 Revisited" or to officially become a member of Butterfield's band. Michael decides his chances for recognition are greater with Paul, and he opts to play the blues.
As a result, when the band heads to Boston for several weeks at clubs in the Boston area, including an appearance at Club 47, Michael goes along. And so begins the story of the extraordinary Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
The meaning of Newport '65
Second things first.
That Bob Dylan's performance on that Sunday evening in July at the Newport Folk Festival stands as a pivotal moment in the history of American pop music is today accepted historical dogma. By severing his ties to the old-guard folk establishment, Dylan sought to escape the limitations imposed by his former champions, the well-meaning purists of traditional musical expression. The rigors of their intellectual understanding of "folk music" – who should play it, how it should be made, what it should be about – were stifling to Dylan's own intellectual freedom. He needed to purge his music of its "authenticity" and move beyond the musical category he had so willingly insinuated himself into since meeting Woody Guthrie in 1961. It was time for his music to be entirely about Bob Dylan, not about some coal mining strike in 1931.
It was also time for a hit record of his own, and "The Ballad of Hattie Carroll" wasn't going to cut it as Top 40 material.
But what was the defining characteristic of Dylan's new-found freedom? What aspect singled it out as a divergence from his past? It wasn't the inward-looking, abstruse lyrics. He'd been writing and singing personal songs all along. Nor was it the inclusion of electric instruments and drums. Dylan had used those on "Bringing It All Back Home" earlier in the year without so much as a raised eyebrow. What then was it that created the musical cataract heard 'round the world that Sunday night?
I would submit that it was one Michael Bernard Bloomfield.
Think for a moment how Bob Dylan's short set at Newport would have sounded without Bloomfield. Organ, piano, bass and drums with Dylan's electric strumming woven in. And audible lyrics. This would have no more offensive than the stirring harmonies of the Chambers Brothers bolstered by Sam Lay's strong backbeat had been earlier in the day.
Now add in Mike Bloomfield.
See? The music becomes loud, aggressive, offensive. It takes on a swagger, a brazen quality that is the essence of rock 'n' roll. And that wasn't Dylan's doing. It was pure Bloomfield. Dylan simply had the vision to see that Bloomfield's playing could be the fulcrum by which the weight of folkdom might be lifted from his shoulders.
Michael, of course, was not consciously out to offend. He simply played the way he knew to play. Countless nights sitting in on the South Side of Chicago had schooled him in necessity of asserting himself, of proving not only that he could play, but that he could outplay anyone. And many more nights playing rock 'n' roll and hillbilly joints on the North Side and in the suburbs had turned him into the "hot-licks kid." He could play fast and he could play a variety of styles, but mostly what he played in 1965 was a brash combination of B.B. King, Scotty Moore, Muddy Waters and James Burton, all leavened with a healthy dose of North Shore hyper "Jewboy confidence."
Dylan's career path was set that night. There was no turning back. For many months thereafter, the one-time darling of the folk music world would do an acoustic set followed by a jangly, edgy rock set. Aside from the order and duration, Newport would be the model for every Dylan concert to come. Bloomfield's honest, no-holds-barred fifteen minutes on that Newport stage ensured that Dylan's commitment to the new freedom was permanent. For Dylan to have it otherwise would be to admit he'd made a mistake. That was not going to happen.
So, in conclusion: Folk/rock? Rock's part in it comes from Michael Bloomfield. Yes, the Byrds played folk/rock, but Roger McGuinn was never a rock 'n' roll guitarist. Listen up, critics: It was Bloomfield. And that merits more than just a footnote.
On to the first thing.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's presence at the festival was the catalyst for Dylan's electric divorce, and a lot more. Today, people seem to have forgotten that.
A celebration of unmediated music-making, the Newport Folk Festival gathered together some of the best folk musicians in the world. Their participation was predicated on many things, but primary among them was their ability to play. Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe and Eck Robinson were all extraordinary players. People wanted to see them because they wanted to see them play.
Pop musicians, on the other hand, were performers, not players. To be a pop musician you needed many qualities, but proficiency on an instrument was not necessarily among them. Simply plug in, turn up and rock on.
Until 1965, that is.
When the Butterfield Band showed up at Newport on that Thursday in July, they brought with them a defining feature of the pop world – amps and drums. Since the mid-'50s, nearly every commercial hit used some form of percussion and amplification. And since the Beatles crossed the ocean in 1963, electric guitars and rock 'n' roll had become synonymous. Butterfield and crew had all the trappings of a lightweight pop group – Alan Lomax said as much. But Lomax got the shock of his life.
Coming out of the then-largely-unknown black Chicago electric blues tradition, Butterfield's guys understood that the ability to play was not only central to their music, it was a matter of survival. Shuck on the South Side and you'd be hooted off the stage – or worse. And if you could play better than the next guy, you could get his gig.
At their first workshop appearance, the Butterfield Band demonstrated its mastery of that contemporary blues imperative through its two soloists. Both Butterfield and Bloomfield took multiple choruses for solos that were loud, authoritative, competent – and exciting. Part of the excitement stemmed from the fact that all that embellishment and improvisation – elements fundamental to much of African-American music – was being created by two white kids. Translation: People just like us.
It was Elvis all over again.
Only it was Elvis who could play. Who had ever done that before?
Plenty of white soloists who could play were inspired by the black idiom – James Burton, Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup, Art Ryerson. But theirs was a secondary role – their contribution was always subordinate to that of the singer. In Chicago, the solo was an extension of the singer – often more expressive than the singer. In Chicago, the roles were reversed.
The Butterfield Band's music looked like rock 'n' roll to the folk establishment. It was of course much more. It was an extraordinary amalgam of folk, blues and jazz, laced up with pop sensibilities. And as such, it opened a whole new world of possibilities. It was what rock 'n' roll would become.
Those possibilities weren't lost on the younger musicians at the festival. Butterfield's and Bloomfield's solos were a signpost for every serious musician to follow. And Michael's careening improvisations said to every guitarist: This is how you must be able to play. For decades to follow, if you played rock guitar, you had to solo. Your manhood was measured in licks. The ghetto right-of-passage had been shipped to the suburbs, courtesy of a kid from the North Shore.
One more thing.
With "Like a Rolling Stone," Bloomfield gave guts to rock 'n' roll ensemble playing. His part in the tune demonstrated the power of the electric guitar. It was a power central to the South Side's esthetic, but one largely unknown in the pop world until June 1965. It's pure historic poetry that Mike played a raggedy, chaotic version of the tune at Newport, and his heir-apparent, the fox Jimi Hendrix, played a version of the tune two years later at Monterey that was all ensemble playing. Both a tribute and an evisceration, Hendrix's cover made – to paraphrase John Lewis – an old man out of Bloomers. Michael's own astonishing talent had returned to bite him in the ass, as soloists lined up to demonstrate their prowess. And Hendrix kicked the bar even higher. But Bloomfield had made Hendrix possible, and Jimi knew as much – hence Monterey's "Like a Rolling Stone."
He forgot Dylan's lyrics, but not Michael's signature lick.
Sources for this timeline include:
• "If You Love These Blues” by Jan Mark Wolkin & Bill Keenom; Miller Freeman Books, San Francisco 2000
• "whitebicycles" by Joe Boyd; Serpent's Tail, London 2006
• "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" by Eric von Schmidt, Jim Rooney; Univ. of Massachusetts Press, Amherst 1994
• "On the Road with Bob Dylan" by Larry Sloman; Three Rivers Press, 2002
"The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at
the Newport Folk Festival" (DVD) by Murray Lerner;
Columbia Legacy 88697 14466 9
• "Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads" by Greil Marcus; Public Affairs, New York 2005
• Stories in the Newport Daily News and the Newport Mercury and Weekly News
• Richard and Mimi Farina Web site
• The photos of David Gahr, Rick Sulle, Dr. John Rudoff
Special thanks to:
Paul Lerman, Peggy McVickar, Bill Keenom, Dr. John Rudoff, Elijah Wald, Ian Woodward
© 2014 David Dann