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Paul Butterfield (17 December 1942 – 4 May 1987) was an Americanmarker blues vocalist and harmonica player who gained international recognition as a trailblazing white bluesman, and who performed at the original Woodstock Festivalmarker. Butterfield formed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the early 60's which contained a number of notable sidemen, some of whom went on to solo careers.


The son of a lawyer, Paul Butterfield was born and raised in Chicago's Hyde Parkmarker neighborhood. After studying classical flute with Walfrid Kujala of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a teenager, he developed a love for the blues harmonica, and hooked up with white, blues-loving, University of Chicagomarker physics student Elvin Bishop (later of "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" fame). The pair started hanging around black blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Otis Rush. Butterfield and Bishop soon formed a band with Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay (both of Howlin' Wolf's band). In 1963, a watershed event in introducing blues to a white audience in Chicago occurred when this racially mixed ensemble was made the house band at Big John's, a folk music club in the Old Town district on Chicago's north side. Butterfield was still underage (as was guitarist Mike Bloomfield, who was already working there in his own band).

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was signed to Elektra Records after adding Bloomfield as lead guitarist. Their original debut album was scrapped, then re-recorded after the addition of organist Mark Naftalin.Some of the discarded tracks appeared on the What's Shakin LP shared with the Lovin' Spoonful. Finally, their self-titled debut, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, kicked-off by Butterfield's signature song, "Born in Chicago," composed by his Chicago sidekick Nick Gravenites, was released in 1965.

At the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, Bob Dylan closed the event backed by Butterfield's amplified band (without Butterfield himself, however), a move considered controversial at the time by much of the folk music establishment. Earlier that same year, Mike Bloomfield had appeared on Dylan's hugely influential recording Highway 61 Revisited.

After the release of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Lay became ill with pneumonia and pleurisy (he subsequently recovered and played drums for Muddy Waters and James Cotton among others), and Billy Davenport took over on drums. The Butterfield Band's second album, East-West (1966) reflected the music scene's interest in sitar great Ravi Shankar and other Eastern musicians, as well as the influence of modal jazz on popular music. Although only moderately successful commercially, it was also critically acclaimed.

These two albums are generally considered to be widely influential. Butterfield's band helped to introduce modern 'Chicago-style' electric blues to mainstream white audiences, along with bands like Cream. In addition, one of the roots of psychedelic (acid) rock music is the fusion of Eastern and Western music styles epitomized on Butterfield's East-West.

At the height of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's success, Mike Bloomfield quit the band and formed The Electric Flag with Gravenites, and Bishop began playing lead guitar on The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw (1967). The album showed that Butterfield was moving in a new musical direction with the addition of a horn section and a soulful, R&B influenced sound. The band now included saxophonists David Sanborn, Gene Dinwiddie, bassist Bugsy Maugh, and drummer Philip Wilson. This project proved to be the last of the Butterfield band's commercial successes.

In the same year, the Monterey International Pop Festivalmarker would showcase The Butterfield Blues Band, along with The Electric Flag, Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar, and many others.

1968's release In My Own Dream, both Bishop and Naftalin left at the end of the year. Nineteen-year-old guitarist, Buzzy Feiten, joined the band on its 1969 release, Keep On Moving, a soul-oriented session produced by Jerry Ragavoy, which was received coolly by the music press. Though the Butterfield band was declining commercially, it was still renowned enough to play at the Woodstock Festivalmarker — although their performance was not included in the resulting Woodstock film. In 1969, Butterfield also took part in a concert at Chicago's Auditorium Theater and a subsequent recording session organized by record producer Norman Dayron, featuring Muddy Waters and backed by pianist Otis Spann, Michael Bloomfield, Sam Lay, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Buddy Miles, which was recorded and released as Fathers And Sons on Chess Records.

Following the releases of Live in 1970 and Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smiling in 1971, Butterfield broke up the horn band with Sanborn and Dinwiddie, and returned to Woodstockmarker, New Yorkmarker. He formed a new group including guitarist Amos Garrett, Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur, pianist Ronnie Barron and bassist Billy Rich, and named the ensemble 'Better Days'. This group released Paul Butterfield's Better Days and It All Comes Back in 1972 and 1973 respectively. Although neither were commercially successful, both albums were well-received by critics.

In 1976, Butterfield performed at The Band's final concert, The Last Waltz. Together with The Band he performed the song Mystery Train and backed Muddy Waters on Mannish Boy.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw Butterfield as a solo act and a session musician, doing occasional television appearances and releasing a couple of albums. He also toured as a duo with Rick Danko, formerly of The Band, with whom he performed for the last time in Pittsburghmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker. He also toured with another member of The Band, Levon Helm, as a member of Helm's "RCO All Stars", which also included most of the members of Booker T and the MGs, in 1977. In 1986 Butterfield released his final studio album, The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again.

Paul Butterfield, who had been in declining health for a decade, died at his home in North Hollywood, Californiamarker, in May 1987 from a heart attack brought on by years of drug addiction and alcoholism, just one week after his final concert. A month earlier, he was featured on B.B. King & Friends, a filmed concert that also included Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Etta James, Gladys Knight, and Eric Clapton. Its subsequent release was dedicated to Butterfield in memoriam.

Harmonica style

Butterfield played and endorsed (as noted in the liner notes for his first album) Hohner harmonicas, in particular the diatonic ten-hole 'Marine Band' model. Like Little Walter, he played using an unconventional technique, holding the harmonica upside-down (with the low notes to the righthand side). His primary playing style was in the second position, also known as cross-harp, but he also was adept in the third position, notably on the track 'East-West' from the album of the same name, and the track 'Highway 28' from the "Better Days" album.

Seldom venturing higher than the sixth hole on the harmonica, Butterfield nevertheless managed to create a variety of original sounds and melodic runs. His live tonal stylings were accomplished using a Shure 545 Unidyne III hand-held microphone connected to one or more Fender amplifiers, often then additionally boosted through the venue's public address (PA) system. This allowed Butterfield to achieve the same extremes of volume as the various notable sidemen in his band.

Butterfield also at times played a mixture of acoustic and amplified style by playing into a microphone mounted on a stand, allowing him to perform on the harmonica using both hands to get a muted, Wah-wah effect, as well as various vibratos. This was usually done on a quieter, slower tune.


"Born In Chicago" was covered by the Pixies for their 1990 Elektra compilation album Rubáiyát. In 2005, the Paul Butterfield Fund and Society was founded; one of their aims is to petition for Butterfield's inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


  • 1965 – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  • 1966 – The Butterfield Blues Band - East-West
  • 1966 – The Butterfield Blues Band - Live at Unicorn Coffee House
  • 1966 - The Butterfield Blues Band - What's Shakin' - Elektra compilation album
  • 1967 – The Butterfield Blues Band - The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw
  • 1968 – The Butterfield Blues Band - In My Own Dream
  • 1969 – The Butterfield Blues Band - Keep on Moving
  • 1970 - The Butterfield Blues Band - Live
  • 1971 – The Butterfield Blues Band - Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin'
  • 1972 - The Butterfield Blues Band - An Offer You Can't Refuse (recorded 1963)
  • 1972 - Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Golden Butter/The Best of the Butterfield Blues Band
  • 1973 – Paul Butterfield's Better Days - Better Days
  • 1973 – Paul Butterfield's Better Days - It All Comes Back
  • 1976 - Paul Butterfield - Put It In Your Ear
  • 1981 - Paul Butterfield - North-South
  • 1986 - Paul Butterfield - The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again
  • 1995 - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - The Original Lost Elektra Sessions (recorded 1964)
  • 1996 - The Butterfield Blues Band - Strawberry Jam
  • 1996 – The Butterfield Blues Band - East-West Live (recorded between 1966-1967)
  • 1997 - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - An Anthology: The Elektra Years (2 CD's)
  • 2005 - The Butterfield Blues Band - Live - (Limited Edition with additional tracks)

And you can also hear Butterfield's harmonica in:

  • 1968 - Jimi Hendrix - Blues at Midnight
  • 1969 - Muddy Waters - Fathers and sons
  • 1972 - Bonnie Raitt - Give It Up
  • 1975 - Muddy Waters - Woodstock Album
  • 1976 - The Band - The Last Waltz


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