On August 1, 1966, blues harpist Paul Butterfield drove a train through Chicago’s south side when he released his seminal album East-West on Elektra Records (EKS 7315). While the album was recorded in Chess Records studio located at 320 East 21st Street (it had moved from 2120 South Michigan Avenue), the album’s title came from the its most innovative track, which mixed Eastern modalities with the best of Chicago’s crackling electric blues guitar and harp. Butterfield had been listening to a lot of John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar before recording this classic.
Much of what we associate with the San Francisco sound has its origins in this album. Both the Grateful Dead and Santana were heavily influenced by what they heard.
And the line-up, what a line-up. Elvin Bishop, who came to Chicago in 1963 on a National Merit Scholarship as a physics major at the University of Chicago, joined with Michael Bloomfield, who may be the greatest guitarist of all time. Just ask Bob Dylan or anyone else who played with him. Dylan would stop by Chicago to jam with these guys in a U. of C. stairwell, as Bishop tells the story.
Of course, Butterfield played the harp. Mark Naftalin, who I had the pleasure of meeting two years ago and photographing, provided the keyboard work. He is alive and well, still playing terrific blues piano. The rhythm section was comprised of Jerome Arnold on bass and Billy Davenport on drums. Arnold played with Howlin’ Wolf and accompanied Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. Davenport also played with Howlin’ Wolf, but also accompanied Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and Otis Rush. In sum, this was one helluva of a band.
I spent many hours listening to East-West in my suburban bedroom, often five or six times in a row. It was one of the influences that propelled me toward jazz. While listening, I would stare at the album cover, a pleasure that streaming has all but wiped out. The front cover pictures the band posed in front of four caryatids—draped female figures serving as pillars in ancient Greek-style architecture.
It never occurred to me where that photograph was set. I sort of assumed on one of the coasts. Alas, like the electric blues that serves as the record’s foundation, the image is from Chicago. Specifically, the Museum of Science and Industry. Since I realized that, I’ve want to photograph the four women. Today, I did.
I knew from driving by the museum many times, that this was an afternoon shot. It would only be around 2PM or 3PM (give or take depending on time of year) that the sun’s light would be hitting the statues. Any later and the trees immediately in front of the stone would block the light.
I had made the trek with camera in hand once before, but the sky turned cloudy just as I arrived. It looked like that might happen again today, but the clouds that were forming disappeared.
So now you know why I made this image. As I type this, the glorious sounds of East-West play in the background. Every note is amazing and still revelatory. It is a shame that both Butterfield and Bloomfield left us much too early.
If you don’t own the album, buy it. You’ll also get to hear the Monkees’ Mary, Mary. Butterfield and company make it their own. It is not for pimply-faced prepubescent boppers. In Butterfield’s telling, Mary is a little too knowing.
The Original Album Cover
Four Caryatids Sans the Butterfield Blues Band