Butterfield Blues Reunion
The great Paul Butterfield died in 1987 plagued by drug abuse, alcoholism, and severe pancreatitis according to the new documentary, Horn from the Heart, directed by John Anderson. But before the truly depressing final third of the film, we get a glimpse of the power that animated Butter, as he was known by musicians and friends, alike. Sunday, the University of Chicago's Logan for the Center Art concluded its three-day bluesfest with a day that in some sense was entirely devoted to Butterfield's legacy.
Much to my delight, the opening chapter was staged in the Logan Center's 9th floor penthouse. Adjacent to the windows that provide a spectacular view of the University of Chicago sat a beautiful piano. Mark Naftalin, who added high octane playing to one of the original incarnations of the Butterfield Blues Band, offered a dazzling two-hour solo piano recital. Why this guy has not issued albums of his great blues piano playing is totally beyond me, particularly because he operates an independent record label.
I was told that I could only photograph during the first three songs, but that turned out not be a problem because Naftalin's first three songs came in at about an hour. At 1:30PM, the official ending time, he said, "Who says we have to stop," and he continued to play. Along the way, we heard some great stories about life at the University of Chicago in the early Sixties and assorted other things. Before he played Groundskeeper's Blues, he informed us that he wrote it for his hero, the great Jimmy Yancey, who originated boogie woogie. Turns out that during the day, Yancey was the groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox. After his set, Naftalin posed for a few photographs and signed Butterfield albums. Nice, soft-spoken guy. As my friend Mark Sheldon would say, a "beautiful player."
It was then onto a panel discussion in the main performance hall. Participants included Billy Branch, Delta Farr, Melody Angel and Mike Ledbetter, with Professor Mickie Dietler gently directing the discussion. I walked in midway, when there was a discussion about the lack of work for Black blues musicians relative to White blues musicians. Although Butterfield wasn't the subject of the panel, his spirit loomed large. He grew up close by, and became a presence on the Southside blues scene, which was almost entirely comprised of Black musicians. The documentary gave the clear impression that both Butterfield and the musicians who mentored him were colorblind.
After the panel finished up, Chicago blues harpist and piano player Corky Siegel played with his mentor, Sam Lay. It was Lay and bassist Jerome Arnold who left Howlin' Wolf's band to join Butterfield at the fabled Northside nightclub, Big John's. Siegel played harp, Mark Naftalin played piano, and Lay sang, including his signature number, Got My Mojo Working. So on stage, two of the original members of the Butterfield reconnected to produce a magical moment. Too bad Elvin Bishop performed Friday night. It would have been nice to have three original members on the stage.
After the set, the large screen came down, and a fairly packed house had the opportunity to screen Anderson's excellent film. Looking back, one might view Butterfield's relatively short reign as an important part of blues and rock and roll history, but Anderson makes the case that Butter was a seminal figure in the development of the blues. It was great to see the old footage, with early chunks shot by Sam Lay on 8mm film. No sound, but Lay claims he has that in his archives.
After the screening, Siegel, Lay, Naftalin, Anderson, and co-producer Sandra Warren spoke. It was during the discussion that Naftalin learned why he was asked to join the Butterfield's band. Lay didn't like the original piano player's uptempo style. Too hard to drum to. When Lay heard Naftalin, he told Butterfield to replace the uptempo guy.
An excellent day by any measure. Logan's executive director, Bill Michael, Leigh Fagin, and Lisa Dell did a great job putting the weekend together. Thanks.
Siegel, Naphtalin, and Lay
Corky Siegel and Mark Naftalin Jamming
Mentee and Mentor
Applause for Sam
Sam Makes His Point
Corky Siegel in Silhouette
Got His Mojo Working, and It Will Work on You
Alone on the Stage
Mark Naftalin in After His Outstanding Two-Hour Set
Mr. "Head Always Down"
Up Close and Personal
Portrait of Chicago Blues Harpist Billy Branch
Portrait of Corky Siegel
Portrait of Mike Ledbetter
View From the Logan Center's 10th Floor Terrace the Night Before the Rain