RS9
The Rolling Stone Interview: Mike Bloomfield Part 2
RS9: April 27, 1968

Mike Bloomfield is well known as one of the handful of the world's finest guitarists. His first substantial professional experience was with a group known as "the group" in Chicago. Shortly after that he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, did several sessions for Bob Dylan, and then left Butterfield to form his own group, the Electric Flag, which has just released their first album.

This interview was conducted by Jann Wenner at the end of February just before the Flag left for a string of appearances across the country. The taping was done at Michael's home in Mill Valley.

The first and major part of the interview was carried in the last issue of Rolling Stone, and may be obtained by sending 35¢ to "Mike Bloomfield Interview, Rolling Stone, 746 Brannan Street, San Francisco, California 94103."

WENNER:
Why do you think you could play better with Dylan now?
BLOOMFIELD:
When they played the songs back in the studio and the cats were listening, it was an incredible thing. Bob is a weird cat, you know: weird music, weird words, weird session. You know, "Where's the charts? Where's the papers? Chord sheets?" Very weird. But I had never been on a professional, big-time session with studio musicians. I didn't know anything. I liked the songs. If you had been there, you would have seen it was a very disorganized, weird scene. Since then I've played on millions of sessions and I realize how really weird that Dylan session was.
WENNER:
How long did the album take?
BLOOMFIELD:
Not long, two or three days.
WENNER:
Did Dylan take a strong control of the session?
BLOOMFIELD:
No, he's never in charge of anything. He merely sings his songs. He sings them and the musicians fit-themselves around them. He sings these long, complex, meaningful songs over and over. It's a drag for him to do over. And Dylan didn't want to have a hand in the music. He's a poet. He wants to publish in a listenable, consumable form. The music was not his job. It's the musicians' job. His job is to write.
WENNER:
But it doesn't look like it will continue like that, does it?
BLOOMFIELD:
It's going to be different on the next album. He's with a band, he plays with a band, he's a real band cat. He has lots to say about what's happening. The next album will probably be more developed as a piece of music with more emphasis on change.
WENNER:
What other dates have you played?
BLOOMFIELD:
The Mitch Ryder Album, What Now My Love, a couple of Sleepy John Estes albums and John Hammond albums, and a record recorded by a Chicago group. All sorts of singles. I've done a lot of studio work.
WENNER:
What kind of material have you done on your album?
BLOOMFIELD:
A soul tune, and there's a shuffle, a blues that shuffles like an old rock and roll number. The album is all-right. Some of it's really groovy. But some of it isn't groovy at all. It's not at all what I would dig it to be, because I didn't know what I know now.
WENNER:
I saw your band debut at Monterey. The audience seemed to love it, but the group seemed pretty poor to me. It was like a setup.
BLOOMFIELD:
I felt we played abominably, and they loved us. I thought it was flooky. I couldn't understand man, how could a band play that shitty and have everyone dig them? I said "Well, it's festival madness." Yeah, it was a set up.

I don't know who did it. I don't know who was guilty. I think still that it's flooky from that moment on. I don't know what it was. Monterey will remain a straight, jive pop phenomenon. You now, if we'd gone on first we would have bombed. We went on last.

WENNER:
I'm glad you know, too.
BLOOMFIELD:
Man, Barry and I looked at each other and we figured, "Wow, what a bomb." How could we have the image of a super band? We're shlebs, secret assholes. This is not a super band; the only thing super in the band is Buddy. Buddy is Super-spade. If you melted down James Brown and Arthur Conley and Otis Redding into one enormous spade, you'd have Buddy. He's about all that there is: He is the quintessence of all R&B amassed in one super talented human being. Buddy is super power; everybody else is just human.
WENNER:
You really think he's that superlative?
BLOOMFIELD:
In that field he's the last word. A genius. His singing is just superb, his drumming is just the best. He's the superman. That's what they were digging in Monterey; everybody dug him. Dig, man, after all that white blues, they got to see the real McCoy, and that was Buddy Miles. Man, after Miller and Big Brother and Butter, and Canned Heat and all of this, finally there he was, a big blues man, socking it to you. And that's what they dug, I think we were very earnest, we played very hard. Everyone was very nervous. I was so nervous, man. I had just heard Butterfield, I had never heard anything sound better. Then I heard Miller who sounded so good I was dizzy; everyone sounded out of sight. Then we went up there and it was like cripples.
WENNER:
Do you like playing for audiences whose form of appreciation is lying around the stage, totally zonked?
BLOOMFIELD:
I see it so much now I don't care. It's just that the Avalon looks funny when it's empty. There's just nothing but bodies laying there. And it's just funny. I've played in places where old colored women in their sixties have lifted their dresses in front of me with nothing on underneath. Man, I've seen it; I've seen gusty shit. You know, gusty shit is gusty shit. You know what really put me up tight? I played Holy Cross and there was nothing but goyim. That really put me up tight. It was wrong, I didn't see any Jews. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was wrong. What really put me up tight was to see all those Wasps in one room.
WENNER:
You just played on the same show with Jimi Hendrix — what do you think?
BLOOMFIELD:
Great. Monstrous. Really talented cat, super together cat. Now here is a young cat, extremely talented. For years, all the Negroes who'd make it into the white market made it through servility, like Fats Domino, a lovable, jolly, fat image, or they had been spades who had been picked up by the white market. Now here's this cat you know — "I am a super spade man, I am like black and tough. And I will fuck you and rape you and do you in, and I'm bad-assed and weird." Not only that, I mean that's his image which he sets forward about as well as anyone can. I mean there's no mistaking what's happening. He plays his ass off; he writes cool songs; he's got a good group. His few albums are some of the best albums ever recorded in the world. How often do you ever see someone really together in image and in head? In everything it's all there, out front. The music fits in with the person, the person fits in with the music and all is one.
WENNER:
What other guitar players, other than B. B., do you dig?
BLOOMFIELD:
I'll tell you other people that I like. I like the guitar player for the Beatles, George Harrison. I like Peter Townshend, he's a good guitar player. Henry Vestine, he plays with Canned Heat. One of the best bands I have heard was the Sons of Champlin, a San Francisco group, pretty outrageous, fantastic lead, guitar player. Oh man, things are just on really high standards of musicianship. I like most everything.

Now, man, you're going to get drugged by this. I've read almost all your articles about San Francisco and you love them, because you love San Francisco and you love them, and it's got your head—man, music coming out of the parks in the sunlight—but I don't dig San Francisco groups. I love San Francisco and I love the guys in the groups, and I love the people here, I love this nice cheap house that I live in in a groovy neighborhood. I like it here. But I think San Francisco music isn't good music. Not good bands. They're amateur cats; they're the amateurs. . . . I don't dig "Good Morning, Little School Girl," by the Grateful Dead. I don't dig PigPen trying to sing blues; it don't sound like blues. It sounds like some white kid trying to sing blues. It drags me, they're not funky. They don't have a good beat. I can't explain it. It's not the real shit, and it's not even a good imitation. It's not even like the Stones. I don't dig the Airplane. I think they're a third rate rock and roll band. I don't dig Country Joe and the Fish. I find them an abomination, a fraud perpetrated on people. I don't dig Big Brother; I dig Janis, but I think Big Brother is just a wretched, lame group of cats who she carries for no reason at all.

WENNER:
First off, the cats in Big Brother are not good at all, but Janis is just incredible . . .
BLOOMFIELD:
I know man, they're lame. Now, I saw them when she first got with them; she had to work them into shape. But you know, it's a fraudulent scene. I don't think that many good bands, have come out of San Francisco. The Quicksilver, fine band but what the hell? It's a band, you know a good band. I don't think San Francisco is the most prolific, groovy, Liverpool thing, at all. Too amateurish; not enough good musicians, no real heavies. There's no real heavies out here at all. Cassady is a pretty good bass player. Jorma is not one of the best rock guitar players, I just don't think he is . . .
WENNER:
If you think it's got my head, it's also got yours. Jorma is not a good technician, and he's not prolific, but his lines are interesting, well-suited to the material and well thought out. I'd rather listen to him than to a dozen cats imitate you or Eric.
BLOOMFIELD:
I think Jorma, imitating me, things he's heard. I have all his works; when he plays blues, he plays it sloppy. Or he doesn't play blues, he plays different melodies. It's fairly individual. Yeah, I guess I would rather hear Jorma than someone trying to imitate Eric or unless they could imitate Eric real good. I mean I'd rather hear that because I just don't think he's really that good a guitar player. I don't know. I don't think there's emotion in San Francisco blues . . . I mean they just don't move me enough. I have to be moved in some way. The Who moves me, their madness moves me. I like to be moved be it by spectacle, be it by kineticism, be it by the same throbbing on "Papa ooh mau mau" as a chorus, a million times over. It'll get to me eventually, I have open tastes. I like most everything.
WENNER:
I don't want to argue about San Francisco. There's a lot of shit here, like Blue Cheer is a joke, but there's shit everywhere. But there are a lot of good bands and good performers.
BLOOMFIELD:
Have you ever dug Mother Earth? That's a great band. They have a great piano player named Wayne. They sound just like a gospel group, very moving. I sort of dug Moby Grape, 'cause they were tight. But they were just too slick, too superficial.
WENNER:
I especially like the Grateful Dead, 'cause they are the essence of San Francisco, they're just where it's all at.
BLOOMFIELD:
They're San Francisco, everything that is San Francisco. They're hip. Really, and I like them for that. Just like the Stones for those uptight, meth-y little teenagers, that's where the Stones are. Everything that's involved with that scene and I dig them for that.
WENNER:
The English have some weird ideas about the blues.
BLOOMFIELD:
Good singing, but it's weak. The English groups are intimidated. All Europeans are intimidated by Negroes. They feel that they just can't do good. Except cats like Eric, who are so unmistakably good that they know no one can touch them. John Mayall is a good blues singer but I saw night after night, people were let down, they expected him to be tops. Have you ever seen Jimmie Cotton? Not out of the ordinary, but he works his balls off. John doesn't work hard enough really, I'd like to see him work a little harder and get himself into it a little bit.
WENNER:
What advice would you give a young guitarist who listens to your records and respects your playing?
BLOOMFIELD:
What's that group that's trying to imitate Eric, Blue Cheer? Those are kids that just play for hours and hours and never say anything. When I heard that bullshit, I really, man . . . Well, if someone listens to me, he should listen to what I have listened to to know how I got to where I am. I just can't think of the names. I think most of all he has to remember how to transmit his emotions, how he's feeling, his attacks to other people, so other human beings can understand it, so his music says what he's feeling. Until he gets to understand what music is, he won't know that it's not all a matter of runs and hot licks. I can't explain that to a new guitar player. A young guitar player won't know anything about what I'm talking about. There's really nothing to say. They can come close, but you've got to understand.