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When I was a teenager in Swansea I heard the record ‘East -West’ by the Butterfield Blues Band – a very creative fusion of sounds with solid blues notes from the harp of Paul Butterfield and the guitars of Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield. Paul Butterfield remains firmly in my top ten of great harp players.

Growing up in Chicago and mixing with the likes of   Muddy Waters,Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and Otis Rush, Butterfield was ushered into the magic world of the blues while also having some classical music background (on flute) and more than a passing interest in Jazz.

Lets start with driftin blues from 1967

And how did he get that sound….hard work and a touch of genius…

Butterfield practiced long hours by himself — just playing all the time. His brother Peter writes, “He listened to records, and he went places, but he also spent an awful lot of time, by himself, playing. He’d play outdoors. There’s a place called The Point in Hyde Park, a promontory of land that sticks out into Lake Michigan, and I can remember him out there for hours playing. He was just playing all the time … It was a very solitary effort. It was all internal, like he had a particular sound he wanted to get and he just worked to get it. “

(ref: http://www.bluesharp.ca/legends/pbfield.html)

A great version of the Thrill is Gone

A nice version of Off the Wall

Some technical notes:

Like most Chicago-style amplified harmonica players, Butterfield played the instrument like a horn — a trumpet. Although he sometimes used a chromatic harmonica, Butterfield mostly played the standard Hohner Marine Band in the standard cross position.Remember, he was left-handed and held the harp in his left hand, but in the standard position with the low notes facing to the left. 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. 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.

He tended to play single notes rather than bursts of chords. His harp playing is always intense, understated, concise, and serious — only Big Walter Horton has a better sense of note selection.

(ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Butterfield )

One of Paul’s talents was as collaborator/band leader -here he is on ‘Slowdown’ with Dr.John and David Sanborn

and here he is supporting John Lee Hooker in a masterful way

and here he is in 1986 singing ‘Born under a bad sign’ with Buzz Feiten on guitar

and sadly to say  -one of Paul’s last collaborations -with Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King and Albert King

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