October 31, 2018

The Elusive Bluesman


The documentary, Horn From The Heart The Paul Butterfield Story takes a look at the life of a “humorous, talented and complex” musician

Paul Butterfield learned the blues from the original masters on Chicago’s South Side. His interracial band added a rock hard edge to the blues and played a key role in introducing the blues to the white, rock audience of the mid-1960s. Paul continued to re-define the blues, while standing up for racial equality, until his death in 1987 at age 44.

Horn From The Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story is a feature-length documentary about his life and career.

Butterfield, Elvin Bishop, David Sanborn, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Maria Muldaur, Jac Holzman, Sam Lay, Mark Naftalin, Marshall Chess, Michael Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Nick Gravenites, Buzz Feiten, Happy Traum, Clydie King, Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Corky Siegel, Barry Goldberg, Paul Shaffer, James Montgomery, Trevor Lawrence, Joe Boyd, Cindy Cashdollar, Todd Rundgren, Steve Madaio, Jim Rooney, and Bob Dylan are seen and heard in the movie.

The terrific and acclaimed film debuted theatrically this past October in the U.S. and screenings continue for the month of November.

I interviewed Sandy Warren, the executive producer, producer, and co-writer about the mission behind Horn From The Heart The Paul Butterfield Story.

“As a young ‘folkie’ in the ’60s who grew up with traditional folk music from the Pete Seeger songbook, my musical evolution took me to bluegrass music (such as The Greenbriar Boys); jug band music (such as Dave Van Ronk, the Ragtime Jug Stompers and the Kweskin Jug Band); “traditional” blues (such as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee); and to folk singers of the 60s, such as Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Patrick Sky, Fred Neil early Donovan (Catch the Wind). I confess to having been among the folkie ‘snobs’ referred to by Maria Muldaur in Horn From The Heart, the purists who resisted music played on electric instruments.

“I used to buy a lot of records put out by Elektra — a label that released the folk music I was listening to — and one of them was the ‘sampler’ record called Folksong ’65. That record included tracks from Tom Rush, Judy Collins, Koerner, Ray & Glover, Hamilton Camp, Fred Neil, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. And incongruously, it also included ‘Born in Chicago’ by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

“Of course, by 1965, music was exploding and beginning to define my generation. I was too young to go to the Newport Folk Festival that year, but I sure listened to Folksong ’65 and especially the Butterfield track. And after that, there was What’s Shakin’, another Elektra sampler with amazing music including The Lovin’ Spoonful, Al Kooper, Eric Clapton and more tracks from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

“There was no looking back. The electric blues played by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band captured me in a way that was different than the folk music I had been listening to. It was intense and pounding, totally immersive; sensual and challenging. For me, this opened up the musical floodgates. I listened to the first and then the second Butterfield records until they were so scratched up they popped and hissed. East-West was mind-blowing; it was a mesmerizing combination of rockin’ thumping electric blues and San Francisco trippy rock.

“By 1966-1967 I was listening to Cream, the Yardbirds, Ten Years After and other British electric rock bands; Hendrix; the San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape and Country Joe and the Fish; and The Blues Project (I loved that band). But to my mind, Paul Butterfield was the guy who played electric blues first and opened up all these musical and other doors.

“I started going to Café Au Go Go around 1966 or 1967. Whenever the Butterfield band was playing there I was there too, after that same thing at the Filmore East. To this day, I think that the live performances by the Butterfield band are hard to surpass. Even the recordings, I think, didn’t quite capture the excitement and intensity of the live performances.

“Roll forward decades….I happened to meet some of Butterfield’s family in 2014, and the idea of making a documentary about him starting to grow. The more I learned about Butterfield’s life and the more I thought about his pivotal impact on rock and roll, the more I became convinced that his place in the history of pop music ought to be recognized and preserved. It seemed to me that he was disappearing into the dustbin of history. Because he died so young. And perhaps also because he did not self-promote, he spoke through his music and if you didn’t get it, so be it, he didn’t care. There is scant footage of him performing or even speaking, so his recordings and the memories of those of us lucky enough to have heard him live are his legacy. Thus this project was conceived and pursued.”

Sandy Warren enlisted director, editor and co-writer John Anderson to capture the artistic and troubled world of Paul Butterfield.

I interviewed John Anderson about the endeavor.

“I saw Paul at The Atlantic City Pop Festival at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on August 2, 1969. The sheer power of his performance — he had the 5-piece horn section, including David Sanborn, Steve Madaio and Trevor Lawrence, all of whom are in the film and the last two of whom will be attending in LA — surpassed anything I’d ever heard. It was like an unstoppable train coming right at you for 60 minutes. It struck me how intensely focused Paul was on the music and the band. He said little between songs and had his back to the audience much of the time. All that mattered to him was the music, an attitude that left a big impression.

“In 2014 Corky Siegel was asked who might make the film and he recommendsed me.

“Having worked on Born In Chicago and Sam Lay In Bluesland over the previous six years, I had a basic understanding of the Paul story and knew many of the key players. Through phone conversations with Paul’s very generous friends, relatives and bandmates, the picture continued to fill in until we were able to determine who we needed to get on-camera, while keeping the main focus on the music.

“Given Paul’s worldwide renown, there’s remarkably little archival footage of him. He did few interviews and only a handful of complete live performances were committed to film or tape. David Hawkins at the blogspot ‘The Complete Paul Butterfield’ was a tremendous resource.

“Paul’s ex-wife Kathy and his brother Peter and Peter’s family were very helpful in providing stills and in providing insight into this very humorous, talented and complex man.

“I love music and the number of great music docs produced in the last 15 years is encouraging and inspiring. We hope this film brings to light not only Paul’s importance to the history of popular music but also his key role in U.S. race relations in the ’60s and ’70s. And what he got out of that little thing, as Sam Lay says, ‘ain’t even on it.’”

For more information and additional screenings visit


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