Long before he took up permanent residence in Woodstock, the Chicago-born blues harp legend Paul Butterfield had distinguished himself first as a legitimate, fair-skinned heir of the electric blues and the Chess Records tradition (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, with whose band he shared members) and also as a historically important crossover figure: a true acolyte of the blues who also fully embraced acid rock and the wilder excursions of psychedelia.
Butterfield’s integrated blues band built cultural bridges and launched a number of distinguished careers besides his own, including those of Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first three records are five-stars across the board, but beyond that they illustrate the leader’s encompassing ambition, his boldness as a white bluesman and his unwillingness to recognize stylistic and cultural boundaries. The eponymous debut is a straight burning electric blues record. East-West fuses blues with non-Western tonalities. The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw takes its blues uptown, with elegant, jazz-influenced horn charts and some career-defining performances from Bishop.
Butterfield continued to release vital music until his untimely death in 1987. And – better late than never – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has finally gotten on board with his legacy, scheduling his posthumous induction for April 18. His son Gabriel Butterfield will be on hand to accept the honor.
Also in the works is a film about the man they called “Butter.” Considering that his subject backed Dylan at Newport in ’65, played Monterey in ’67, Woodstock in ’69 and The Last Waltz in ’76, the filmmaker should have plenty of archival footage to work with. Gabriel Butterfield emphasizes, however, that this film, ten years in the making, is every bit as much about the private man, the Woodstock regular, as it is about the resume of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.