Born in Chicago… Gabe Butterfield keeps his father’s memory alive

Gabriel Butterfield

Paul Butterfield used to be a household name in Woodstock. You’d see him out at nights in the bars, at local clubs and restaurants. He played with everyone. His band, as tight as any around town, was always in demand…as was his own demon harp playing and tried and true blues chops. It’s hard to think he moved away 30-some years ago and passed away 25 years ago last spring.

This Friday night, Butterfield’s talented son Gabe will be playing the Bearsville Theater in a tribute and retrospective concert for the great bandleader and seminal rock and roll figure alongside a band put together by longstanding Conan O’Brien sidekick Jimmy Vivino, and including a host of top local players…many of whom shared the stage with Gabriel’s father, back when.

The idea is to raise funds for a full-length documentary film that Butterfield’s been putting together about his father, The Life and Times of Paul Butterfield, that he’s hoping will ensure the man who plugged electric blues into the rock and roll world, and Bob Dylan to The Band, a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


“This would be our second nomination,” Gabe Buterfield says.

Who was Paul Butterfield, only 44 when he passed away of peritonitis in a North Hollywood hospital in May, 1987?

Like many rock and roll legends from Woodstock’s 1960s/1970s heydays, there’s a host of stories.

Michael Lang recalls going to see him one Thanksgiving at Benedictine Hospital, where he was for some illness.

“I walked these long empty hallways until I found him all alone in this one room. It was like one of those scenes from The Godfather,” he said. “But as always, he was good to see. He had real talent.”

Lynne Nasoe, once married to Butterfield Blues Band drummer Phil Wilson, still speaks in awe about how much fun, and how bright, the boss was back when everyone kept moving from coast to coast with recording and concert gigs, kept on time by Paul.

Happy Traum spoke about a man who, while not as big in size as many of his fellow rock and rollers or blues men in town, could appear gruff and intimidating at first. But then was all charm and chumminess once you got to know him.

That side of his father, Gabe Butterfield now says, was part and parcel with his having been a bandleader having to keep a whole host of temperamental players in line for years. And having come up in the harshness of the Chicago blues scene in the 1960s.

Paul Butterfield, born in the same Hyde Park neighborhood where our President now keeps his private home, was the son of an Irish immigrant turned lawyer who attended private school and studied classical flute until he got bitten by the blues harmonica…and started hanging out at South Side clubs with his buddy, guitarist Elvin Bishop. Somehow, in their early 20s, the two hired away Muddy Waters’ rhythm section…and secured a gig as the house band at a folk club on Chicago’s North Side, where they brought in a second, younger guitarist…Mike Bloomfield. By summer 1965 they were headlining at the Newport Folk Festival as a blues act…and infamously went onstage (sans Butterfield) to back folkie Bob Dylan for his first attempt at electrified rock music.

Butterfield’s first albums, on Electra Records, were critical hits — and trendsetters — in their day. His bands spawned superstars, splintered regularly, and he kept experimenting…adding horn sections, moving back to Woodstock to become his manager Albert Grossman’s first big act on Bearsville Records. Eventually, he took to touring with The Band’s Rick Danko after his main gig itself splintered. He was known as one of the top guest artists to have on any truly cool album.

“I was born in Chicago and only four when he played at Woodstock,” Butterfield’s eldest son, Gabriel, says in preparation for this Friday’s concert. “I spent years on the road, going everywhere, with my father and brother Lee…I was 21 when he passed and we had just spent several months with him. Then we dispersed and he came home from a show, started making himself a sandwich as he liked to do late at night, when everything just started to shut down.”

There are 7 comments

  1. Tony Omer

    Paul Butterfield and his band were a major influence in my musical life in Louisville, KY in the sixties. I consider myself fortunate to have seen him play several times while I was in college.
    I can’t believe there is a question about whether he should be in the rock and roll hall of fame (lowercase intentional).
    Can’t wait to see the film.

  2. Yvonne Taylor

    Paul was my friend and I knew him as a sweet and straightforward musician who had no patience for gratuitous language or silly cliches’. We spent evenings hanging out at the Bear Cafe, jamming at Levon’s studio and listening to his amazing mixes and overdubs at his house in Woodstock. Woodstock was teeming with amazing talent and there was always somebody playing around town.

  3. Lee butterfield

    Much of what Gabriel is saying is simply not true.The quote below refers to my family home. Paid for my family, furnished by my mother Kathryn and father Paul and inhabited by the three of us only prior to my parents splitting.

    “Paul got his own place out on Wittenberg Road…a humble place snug between the road and forest.”

    It pains me to hear this blatent misrepresentation of facts about my life experience and my father who I love deeply. Unfortunately, my dad did die of accute toxicity. I was with him hours before his passing. Sorry Gabriel, no matter how many times you attempt to rewrite history, no matter how many falsehoods you pitch, nothing will make them true.

    Lee Butterfield

    Again,(to the editor) check your facts prior to publishing. I could go on but see little point in doing so.

  4. Elizabeth Butterfield

    I think Lee Butterfield should get a DNA test as did Gabriel after a life time of being told he didn’t belong to Paul. Kathy brought Lee up to think this. Kathy approached Paul’s brother at the funeral when he was grieving. Kathy told Paul’s brother, Gabriel’s uncle, that Gabriel wasn’t Paul’s son. Gabe lived with that notion since he was 10 years of age. Dispicible people would do something like this to a child…well this year Gabriel got his DNA test and he is not doubt Paul Butterfield’s first son. What will be known at some point will be who is your father Lee? Your mother went out to California after a resident and actor who resided here in Woodstock. He got her acting jobs and they ended up together soon after. He even bought a house because Kathy always cried poverty and he wanted “you” to have a home, Lee. I know this for a fact. I know the man. You actually look a lot like him. Paul was blamed for infidelity, which is probably so, but he didn’t get pregnant. Your mother did. And all those I’m speaking of were friends at the time in this town…so I ask again, who is your father Lee. You look alot like some one we know and it isn’t Paul. Kathy swooped in for the money and asked Gabriel how much it would take to buy him out when Paul died! And being told for no reason he didn’t belong to Paul? Now why would a women judge Gabe an innocent boy of not having a father. Perhaps(?)because she hasn’t been truthful to you. Other facts show she hasn’t been truthful, especialy when it comes to $$$. And to think at Paul’s death, she wasn’t even married to him. She got his harps and the family, the real family got nothing but remarks from her placing doubts on Gabriel. It’s time you people shut up! Gabe was oldeer he knew his father, unlike you who I haven’t heard speak a good word about Paul. On the contrary, you trash your alleged dad. You’re not family, family doesn’t trash family…thus this tongue lashing you and your mother deserve. You get a DNA test Lee… it’s your turn now to unfold the truth. And every writer makes some mistakes. It goes with the territory. Your just jealous because Gabriel had a relationship with father of which his mother Virginia promoted. Btw, if Paul is you father, you have Virginia to be grateful to. She married and had Gabriel with Paul. Paul’s number came up and his carrer was taking off so. He didn’t have to go the Viet Nam. Are you 2 grateful, hell no. You’re pompous and proud of Paul the musician, not Paul the man. Your a couple of phonies.

  5. Elizabeth Buttefield, Gabriel's wife

    ps. notice how the article talks about Paul and his music and Gabriel working to keep it alive! Notice how he talked about Paul getting nominated and hopefully inducted, which he was in 2015. Nitice how none of that was mentioned by Lee. He went straight for pointing out faults he thinks was Gabriel’s…this is a clear example of what Gabriel had to put up with all of his life. No love, no recoginition as a person no less Paul’s first born sone. And I think Lee ought to take down GAbriel’s baby picture in the lap of his father in a coffee preparing for a photo shoot. That is Gbriel not Lee! So Lee and his mother should get their fact staight. LEee you also trashed our friend, ex of your mother’s, Brad in an email to me. I still have it. What’s up with hating all the men? Don’t you think it’s time to end being your Momma’s boy and buying into her anger an be a man who thinks for himself? People, I’m using this forum because Lee is unexcessable. rightfully so. He thinks he has thrown us out of his life when in reality we had to ask him to leave our home last year. We wouldn’t tolerate you Lee, we don’t tolerate no gratitude in our house. Outside is another story.
    Get your facts straight. We HAD to let you go…

  6. Gerard

    Sorry,There’s lots of bickering between family members! I grew up listening to the greatest harp ever. Till this day,I’m sure! No one had that tone,not ever! I remember being in Woodstock (Joyous Lake Bar) Butterfield shows up with Dave Sanborn. They say in with the local band playing. Added a great touch. Wow. 1971-73

  7. RICH 😎

    So…. I am sooooh happy that I got to hear and meet Paul Butterfield and Rick Danko many years ago here in Ft Lauderdale at the now gone Musicans Exchange. I am now taking blues harp lessons from Rockin Jake. Paul was an absolute inspiration for blues harp. I also met Gab many years ago when he owned the store in Sopchopy. Actually met him at the Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee. At that time I believe he was playing drums. Good to hear that he has picked up the harp and playing his heart out. I have found both these gentlemen to be quite accomplished and very friendly towards their fans. Paul will be sorely missed by all. THANKS! RICH 😎

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