Paul Butterfield

Paul Butterfield (17 December 1942 – 4 May 1987) was an American blues vocalist and harmonica player, who founded the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the early 1960s and performed at the original Woodstock Festival. He died of drug-related heart failure.[1]



The son of a lawyer, Paul Butterfield was born and raised in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.,[2] where he attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, a private school associated with the University of Chicago. After studying classical flute with Walfrid Kujala of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a teenager,[2] he developed a love for the blues harmonica, and hooked up with white, blues-loving, University of Chicago physics student Elvin Bishop.[2] The pair started hanging around black blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and Otis Rush. Butterfield and Bishop soon formed a band with Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay, both hired away from the touring band of Howlin' Wolf. In 1963, the racially mixed quartet was made the house band at Big John's, a folk music club in the Old Town district on Chicago's north side. Butterfield was still underage (as was guitarist Mike Bloomfield.)

Butterfield Blues Band

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was signed to Elektra Records after adding Bloomfield as lead guitarist.[2] Their original debut sessions were scrapped, to appear in 1995 as The Original Lost Elektra Sessions. A second attempt was recorded live at the Cafe Au Go Go, but these too were rejected by producer Paul Rothchild. Some of the discarded tracks appeared on the What's Shakin LP shared with the Lovin' Spoonful.

At the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965, Bob Dylan went electric in a move considered controversial at the time by much of the folk music establishment, backed by members of Butterfield's band - Bloomfield, Arnold, and Lay - but not Butterfield himself.[2] In October, the self-titled debut recorded a third time after the addition of organist Mark Naftalin on some tracks, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, containing Nick Gravenites' "Born in Chicago," was released.[2] Shortly thereafter, Lay became ill with pneumonia and pleurisy and Billy Davenport took over on drums. The Butterfield Band's second album was East-West, released in 1966, after which Bloomfield, Arnold, and Davenport left the band.

Bloomfield formed The Electric Flag with Nick Gravenites, and Bishop began playing lead guitar on The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw (1967). The band now included saxophonists David Sanborn and Gene Dinwiddie, bassist Bugsy Maugh, and drummer Phillip Wilson. In 1967, The Butterfield Blues Band played the seminal Monterey International Pop Festival along with the Electric Flag, Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar, The Who, Otis Redding, the counterculture bands of San Francisco, and many others.

After the release of In My Own Dream, both Bishop and Naftalin left by the end of 1968. Nineteen-year-old guitarist Buzzy Feiten, joined the band for its 1969 release, Keep On Moving, produced by Jerry Ragavoy, and Rod Hicks replaced Maugh on bass. The Butterfield band played at the Woodstock Festival, although their performance wasn't included in the resulting Woodstock film. In 1969, Butterfield also took part in a concert at Chicago's Auditorium Theater and a subsequent recording session organized by record producer Norman Dayron, featuring Muddy Waters and backed by pianist Otis Spann, Michael Bloomfield, Sam Lay, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Buddy Miles, which was recorded and portions released on Fathers And Sons on Chess Records.

Better Days

Following the releases of Live in 1970 and Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smiling in 1971, Butterfield broke up the horn band with David Sanborn and Dinwiddie, and returned to Woodstock, New York. He formed a new group including Chris Parker on drums, guitarist Amos Garrett, Geoff Muldaur, pianist Ronnie Barron and bassist Billy Rich, naming the ensemble "Better Days." The group released Paul Butterfield's Better Days and It All Comes Back in 1972 and 1973, respectively.

In 1976, Butterfield performed at The Band's final concert, The Last Waltz. Together with The Band, he performed the song "Mystery Train" and backed Muddy Waters on "Mannish Boy".


The late 1970s and early 1980s saw Butterfield as a solo act and a session musician, doing occasional television appearances and releasing a couple of albums. He also toured as a duo with Rick Danko, formerly of The Band, with whom he performed for the last time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He also toured with another member of The Band, Levon Helm, as a member of Helm's "RCO All Stars", which also included most of the members of Booker T and the MGs, in 1977. In the 1970s, Butterfield dated fellow musician Elizabeth Barraclough.[3]

In 1986 Butterfield released his final studio album, The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again.[4]

Harmonica style

Butterfield played and endorsed (as noted in the liner notes for his first album) Hohner harmonicas, in particular the diatonic ten-hole 'Marine Band' model. He played using an unconventional technique, holding the harmonica upside-down (with the low notes to the righthand side). His primary playing style was in the second position, also known as cross-harp, but he also was adept in the third position, notably on the track East-West from the album of the same name, and the track 'Highway 28' from the "Better Days" album.

Seldom venturing higher than the sixth hole on the harmonica, Butterfield nevertheless managed to create a variety of original sounds and melodic runs. His live tonal stylings were accomplished using a Shure 545 Unidyne III hand-held microphone connected to one or more Fender amplifiers, often then additionally boosted through the venue's public address (PA) system. This allowed Butterfield to achieve the same extremes of volume as the various notable sidemen in his band.

Butterfield also at times played a mixture of acoustic and amplified style by playing into a microphone mounted on a stand, allowing him to perform on the harmonica using both hands to get a muted, Wah-wah effect, as well as various vibratos. This was usually done on a quieter, slower tune.


Paul Butterfield died from heart failure due to an overdose of drugs on May 4, 1987 [5] at his home in North Hollywood, California. A month earlier, he was featured on B.B. King & Friends, a filmed concert that also included Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Etta James, Gladys Knight and Eric Clapton. Its subsequent release was dedicated to Butterfield in memoriam.

In 2005, the Paul Butterfield Fund and Society was founded; one of their aims is to petition for Butterfield's inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


  • 1965 – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  • 1966 – The Butterfield Blues Band - East-West
  • 1966 – The Butterfield Blues Band - Live at Unicorn Coffee House
  • 1966 - The Butterfield Blues Band - What's Shakin' - Elektra compilation album
  • 1967 – The Butterfield Blues Band - The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw
  • 1967 - John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Paul Butterfield - John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Paul Butterfield, EP
  • 1968 – The Butterfield Blues Band - In My Own Dream
  • 1969 – The Butterfield Blues Band - Keep on Moving
  • 1970 - The Butterfield Blues Band - Live
  • 1971 – The Butterfield Blues Band - Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin'
  • 1972 - The Butterfield Blues Band - An Offer You Can't Refuse (recorded 1963)
  • 1972 - Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Golden Butter/The Best of the Butterfield Blues Band
  • 1973 – Paul Butterfield's Better Days - Better Days
  • 1973 – Paul Butterfield's Better Days - It All Comes Back
  • 1976 - Paul Butterfield - Put It In Your Ear
  • 1981 - Paul Butterfield - North-South
  • 1986 - Paul Butterfield - The Legendary Paul Butterfield Rides Again
  • 1995 - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - The Original Lost Elektra Sessions (recorded 1964)
  • 1996 - The Butterfield Blues Band - Strawberry Jam
  • 1996 – The Butterfield Blues Band - East-West Live (recorded between 1966–1967)
  • 1997 - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - An Anthology: The Elektra Years (2 CDs)
  • 2005 - The Butterfield Blues Band - Live - (Limited Edition with additional tracks)

Butterfield also played harmonica for:

  • 1968 - Jimi Hendrix - Blues at Midnight
  • 1969 - Muddy Waters - Fathers and sons
  • 1972 - Bonnie Raitt - Give It Up
  • 1975 - Muddy Waters - Woodstock Album
  • 1976 - The Band - The Last Waltz


  1. More blues singers: biographies of 50 artists from the later 20th century By David Dicaire. p. 59.
  2. a b c d e f Allmusic biography
  3. 27 Leggies page: "Elizabeth Barraclough."
  5. All music guide to the blues: the definitive guide to the blues By Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine. Hal Leonard Company. p. 92.