Al Kooper first crossed paths with Michael Bloomfield during Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 sessions: Kooper was on hand to play guitar; however, when Bloomfield strapped on his Telecaster and fired off a few warm-up licks, Kooper quickly moved to a berth behind the Hammond B3 (which he’d never played before). Not only was history made during those sessions, but a friendship forged. Bloomfield and Kooper collaborated both in the studio (including the well-known Super Session album) and on stage in various settings over the years leading up to Bloomfield’s death in 1981.
From His Head To His Heart To His Hands is a 3-CD/single DVD box set, produced by Kooper. The music is laid out basically chronologically, spread over three discs simply titled “Roots”, “Jams” and “Last Licks”. The accompanying 40-page booklet contains wonderful photos and extensive liner notes; the music, however does the real telling of the tale. It’s clear that the right man was at the helm.
One of the points the box set makes along the way is how Bloomfield often pulled the players in his immediate vicinity into his orbit when he made music, pushing them to go further. The studio version of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “East-West” is a classic example of that – a piece that will forever blow the mind of anyone hearing it for the first time, backed by the double whammy of realizing it was recorded in 1966.
Get your head around that, folks: 1966. The Dead were just beginning to explore the far reaches of their own inner space at that point; and in the years to follow, the Allman Brothers would see how far they could take things with pieces such as “Mountain Jam”. But when the Butterfield band tore into this 13-minute-plus Chicago-blues-meets-modal-Miles-meets-acid-fueled-raga, there wasn’t a template to follow … just Bloomfield’s post-trip epiphany that he’d unlocked the door to Indian music in his mind (and thus in his heart and with his hands). Elvin Bishop is the perfect wingman for Bloomfield in this performance, providing the “West” anchor with some cool rhythm work and fierce-yet-tasteful soloing of his own; when Butterfield makes his entrance at the 1:27 mark, you’d swear it was Coltrane blasting out of the center of the earth; and Bloomfield proves that he had not only blazed that Far East route in his musical mind, but figured out how to hot-wire a flying carpet while he was there. And made room for the whole band to ride along as well.
Keep on jamming: click HERE to read the rest of my review of From His Head To His Heart To His Hands at Jambands.com