Michael Bloomfield – Live at the Old Waldorf – ‘Guitar King’

by | Feb 10, 2020 | 6 comments

Pulled off the CD shelves in the ‘rock room’ today is a
curated 1998 CD release of Michael Bloomfield and Friends titled Live at the Old Waldorf. The collection
is pulled from varying performances by Bloomfield and his various associates
held in the San Francisco (except for the first track) area throughout the
1970’s. By the mid 1970’s Mike Bloomfield had returned to his penchant for
playing clubs, jukes, and small theaters close to wherever his transient bones
decided to call home. A true bluesman, all Bloomfield needed was his guitar and
the clothes on his back. He had touched international fame and was known as one
of the best guitarist’s in the world, but his only love was playing the blues.
Michael would rather play for a small crowd of appreciative blues fans than an
arena full of ticket buyers. Dating back to his decline of joining Bob Dylan’s
band in 1965, Bloomfield wanted things on his terms. He was a purist and stayed
true to his beliefs and the blues. Playing venues close to home became Michael’s
M.O. toward the last years of his life, but these venues also highlight his
most loose and honest playing. While drugs would also initiate Michael’s defection from fame so would his personality traits and his life long battle
with insomnia. When Bloomers was on, there was no one better. While the ‘rock
room’ feels the aforementioned collection is wonderful, it is a shame it has
not or could not have been expanded on.
The CD begins with the one track that is an outlier, a blues
medley hailing from a ‘Record Plant’ session in Sausalito, CA on November 10,
1974. The medley is comprised of ‘Sweet Little Angel” and “Jelly Jelly”. Backed
with his usual cohorts, Barry Goldberg and Mark Naftalin on organ and piano
respectively, Bloomfield’s band here also assembles Roger Troy on bass and
vocals, George Rains on drums and Mark Adams on blues harp. Bloomfield opens
the track sword drawn for a beautiful opening duel with Naftalin. Troy asks for
‘one more’ round the changes prior to the vocals to which Bloomfield answers
with a searing series of lyrics. Jelly Roll Troy, feels it and is kneeling in
front of his ‘Sweet Little Angel” waiting for her to spread her wings. The
first break features Adams harp blowing a soft beg to which Bloomfield
tastefully trills. Mike then peels off layer upon layer of licks, hitting up on
a classic climb up the next reminiscent of the central riff of, ‘The Same
Thing” that pushes the band to take off. Once Troy quotes ‘Jelly, Jelly’ the band corners into a
substantial Chicago swing. Off mic hollers of excitement are heard and
Bloomfield soars up the neck gloriously. The band congeals into a hard blues
orchestra moving collaboratively in one big sound.
‘Feel So Bad’, a stellar Lightning Hopkins cover begins on a
watery ascending slide lick and a pulsing yet gentle funking groove. Here the
four piece line up is Bloomfield, Naftalin, Troy and Bob Jones on drums and
vocal duties. A delectable vamp is entered as this selection from March 14,
1977 plays out. The rest of the selections to follow ‘Feel So Bad’ all hail
from the Old Waldorf. Bloomfield plays an endless waterfall of shimmering slide
work under Jones vocals that reaches the first break where he locks in. Mike
takes multiple rounds of dizzying slide work here underpinned by Naftalin’s
thumping keys. The ‘rock room’ has an affinity for this cut and asserts it’s
one of the best of the collection.
A sinister reading of the Nick Gravenites (who also sings)
original ‘Bad Luck Baby’ hailing from May of 77 follows and brings a sludgy
foreboding to the proceedings. Bloomfield keeps the slide on his digit and
draws in dark black inky lines. Under the vocals and on top of the chugging
rhythm section Michael squiggles and squawks a stunning mid song solo spot. This
is Bloomfield unchained from the porch and going after it. Naftalin plays some
honky keys as a bed, but its Bloomfield’s steely strings that lend the evil to
Gravenites hearty vocals.
A blues standard, Elmore James ‘The Sky Is Cryin’ continues
the heat of Bloomfield’s slide playing while he pays tribute the slide master.
Coming from the same performance as ‘Bad Luck Baby’ Bloomfield is on and here
his playing over the intro drips down windows in big delicious drops as the
musical storm gathers. After who I believe to be Bob Jones singing the first
verse, Bloomfield loses the slide and fingers some absolutely burning counter
riffs to the verse melody. The sky then opens up in a torrent as Michael
briskly unleashes a watery vibrato filled solo that in my mind only cements the fact that
this guy had to be from another planet.
‘Dancin Fool’ follows, a contagious 12 bar shuffle composed
by Nick Gravenites. The cut is another welcome opportunity to swing with
Michael on slippery slide. This cut comes from February of 1977 and heats up
quickly as the ass shaking wiggles away the blues. Honky tonk black and whites
press hips with Bloomers resplendent soloing. Gravenites free forms some burly
vocals, but once again just as Bloomfield turns on the gas the track fades to
black.
Another ‘rock room’ highlight comes next while helping to
take the sting out of the previous songs early fade. “Buried Alive in the
Blues’, another Gravenites composition, is also known as a track Janis Joplin
had planned for her final LP Pearl, but
unfortunately passed away before she could lay down her vocals. The song was
left on the album as an instrumental tribute to Joplin. Here in late 1976 it is
given a gruff and funky reading with Bloomers slide work again being a focal
point. Like a hand reaching through the mud piled on a fresh grave, Bloomfield
breaks through the gritty melody with frisky counter licks during the verses,
before singing a beautifully sliver solo that shines warm rays of sun across
the musical soil. As the heads toward its conclusion Bloomfield contributes a
series horny counter melodies to Gravenites scatting.
The famed ‘Further on up the Road’ gets a substantial
reading next. Played by a multitude of players ranging from jukes to arenas, this blues
shuffle is always a welcome appearance in live set lists. Michael forgoes his
slide here for some straight up fingering. Stringy and stellar, Bloomfield
illustrates through the blues changes his encyclopedic knowledge, quoting Chuck
Berry, Albert King blended with his own distinctive fingerprint. Brisk and
brief, this three minute rendition flames like a sparkler then concludes.

The next to last track on the album hails from December 19,
1976 being a straight up, no chaser blues. ‘Your Friends’ writing credit is
given to Deadric Malone (music publisher Don Robey), but this is debatable as
back in the day writing credits were sketchy, often given to  producers, DJ’s, or management. Regardless,
this straight up beer light and pool table blues is played by the four piece of
Bloomfield, Naftalin, Troy, and Roger Jones. Alley dark and street lady loose,
‘Your Friend’s becomes a clinic, with rattling keys and switchblade string
bending by Bloomers.

A Nick Gravenites original concludes the album with ‘Bye
Bye’. Coming from the same run of shows as the stellar ‘Feel So Bad’ in 1977.
Built upon a rolling and tumbling tom-tom groove, and a jive rhythm ‘Bye Bye’
again spotlights a stunning Bloomfield slide clinic, a plethora of sterling
blues work is drizzled over the syncopated rhythm.  The faucet is on full for Bloomers but for
some reason the track fades before its natural conclusion. Ugh, I guess in this case we take the good with the bad.
The 1998 compact disc release of Michael Bloomfield Live at the Old Waldorf is both stunning and frustrating. What
makes it amazing is the aural documentation of Bloomfield in a time where he
had purposely taken a lower profile. On the flip side of that coin is the
editing decisions and quick fades are disappointing. Seeing that the release is
now over 20 years old it does not appear that we could get a complete release
from one of the shows or alternatively a deluxe edition. But, what is available
is fine, Bloomfield is focused and crisp and his ‘friends’ are fully invested
in the jams. Thankfully, up through current times Bloomfield’s playing is still
respected, influential and looked to for an example of how to play real prime guitar blues. Toward the conclusion of his life Michael became what he always wanted be, a straight up ‘blues man’, and we are the lucky recipients
of his success in meeting his goal.

6 Comments

  1. Sausalito Sam

    Excellent commentary. Mike Bloomfield was one of my favorite guitarists since age 13, now approaching and alongside late 60’s. Just purchased his biography by Dan. He had quite a blues and folk childhood. Sitting in with Muddy Waters regularly at the age of 17. The Rolling Stones were highly influenced by Muddy Waters but they weren’t raised at his Knee.

    Reply
  2. Sausalito Sam

    I’m listening to the album while reading this.

    Reply
  3. talkfromtherockroom

    Thanks for reading Sam. Agreed! Bloomers was the REAL deal, right from the source!

    Reply
  4. Gutbuster

    Rather like Sausalito Sam I have been listening to Mike Bloomfield since my schooldays and am now 67. I am a UK citizen. Back in the sixties not too many of my schoolmates shared my love for Mike Bloomfield but more fool them. Great commentary on the album to which I am listening as I type this.

    Reply
  5. talkfromtherockroom

    Thanks for stopping by and reading along! Welcome. Bloomfield is still terribly underrated by many. I recommend reading the recent Bloomfield bio, Guitar King. Great read. Take care!

    Reply

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