When white blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield was found dead at 37 of a drug overdose in his 1965 Chevy in 1981 in San Francisco, he was no more than a rock footnote to most people, having never had the kind of fame and adulation given to guitar peers like Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, and Jimi Hendrix, although he surely influenced all of these players with his sharp improvisational skills and his exciting, and admittedly sometimes erratic, performances. While most guitarists of his generation learned the elements of blues guitar playing from records, Bloomfield, who grew up in North Chicago, learned them first-hand by playing with the likes of B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Big Joe Williams, and others in Chicago's gritty blues clubs, and skin color meant nothing to Bloomfield at a time when it seemed to mean everything to everyone else in America. His first bands, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag, were racially mixed blues powerhouses, fusing the blues with jazz, R&B, psychedelia, and seemingly everything else under the sun, and like Bloomfield, both of those bands are woefully underappreciated. Bloomfield was also a much in-demand session player, playing guitar at Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited sessions and adding his energy and guitar licks to projects by Muddy Waters, Janis Joplin, and many others. His solo albums were strange, eccentric, occasionally brilliant, and never sold well. This set, produced and curated by longtime collaborator Al Kooper, is the first overarching survey of Bloomfield's woefully short career, containing three music discs, Roots, Jams, and Last Licks, with a DVD disc of Bob Sarles' documentary Sweet Blues: A Film about Michael Bloomfield rounding out the set. It's a must for any Bloomfield fan, and hopefully will open the gates to a renewed appreciation for this brilliant, manic, and groundbreaking guitarist.
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