An exhaustive biography gives the legendary Chicago blues-rock guitarist his due—and then some.
More than a half-century ago, Mike Bloomfield (1943-1981) was routinely ranked with the likes of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. His was the guitar that electrified Bob Dylan’s watershed performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and that stung its way through his breakthrough “Like a Rolling Stone.” As the lead guitarist for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bloomfield brought extended, jazzlike improvisation to the form and performed with a flamboyance that charged his every gesture. In 1967, he formed a band called the Electric Flag, which added horns to the blues-rock-soul-jazz mix and would attempt to transcend musical genres. But by the early 1970s, Bloomfield walked away from the spotlight—or stumbled and staggered away, a victim of substance abuse, insomnia, insecurity, and an inability to deal with the pressures of the spotlight and the demands of touring and performance. By the time he suffered a fatal overdose in 1981, he had been all but forgotten, a footnote in rock’s progression. “The obscurity Bloomfield longed for in his last decade he achieved posthumously with stunning success,” writes Dann, who has approached his task with an archivist’s expansiveness rather than the selection of detail and stylistic grace that distinguish a biographer’s craft. The author includes every club owner, performance booker, and long-forgotten sideman as well as every recording session in Bloomfield’s slide toward obscurity. Amid the dross, there is a compelling narrative of a young blues fanatic whose problems with drugs and mental instability predated his fame—and who continued to perform in projects for which he had indifference or even contempt because he was so deeply in debt to the manager he had once shared with Dylan.
Those with a passion for the music will enjoy revisiting a time when Bloomfield’s influence exceeded even Stevie Ray Vaughan’s.