Paul Butterfield on Wolfgang’s Vault

Posted on: Sunday, Apr 5, 2009

http://concerts.wolfgangsvault.com/dt/paul-butterfields-better-days-concert/50824-16779.html

Paul Butterfield – vocals, harmonica
Amos Garrett – guitar
Geoff Muldaur – vocals, slide guitar, organ
Ronnie Barron – piano, vocals
Billy Rich – bass
Christopher Parker – drums

Following the disbanding of the final Butterfield Blues Band lineup, Paul Butterfield relocated to the artist colony that had developed in the Catskill Mountains around Bearsville and Woodstock, NY. He began hanging out with members of the Band, Van Morrison, Jesse Winchester, and an ever-growing roster of high profile musicians who had also relocated there in recent years. Here Butterfield assembled a new band, which featured some of the cream of that crop of veteran musicians. The new group, christened Better Days, had an extraordinary frontline consisting of Butterfield on harp and vocals, former Jim Kweskin Jug Band founding member Geoff Muldaur on keyboards, guitar, and vocals, Ronnie Barron on piano and vocals, as well as legendary studio vet, Amos Garrett, on lead guitar. The rhythm section boasted former Buddy Miles Express and Taj Mahal bassist Billy Rich and former Holy Moses drummer, Christopher Parker, who would eventually work with a long list of legends including Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Steely Dan. Better Days released two excellent studio albums on the Bearsville label and this concert features much of the material from their debut album, when the band was still relatively new and full of enthusiasm for playing together. Butterfield, Muldaur, and Barron were all strong lead vocalists and Garrett was probably the best guitarist to work with Butterfield since Michael Bloomfield. Sadly overlooked at the time, this group was just as intriguing as Butterfield’s former band and the music they created was as good, if not better, than much of what directly proceeded it within Butterfield’s catalogue.

On this night at San Francisco’s Winterland, the triple bill featured the Elvin Bishop Group, Michael Bloomfield and Friends, with Paul Butterfield’s Better Days headlining. With close friends and former band mates also on the bill, things were certainly in place for a memorable night. From the first song, “Countryside,” a track that was never released on the Better Days’ studio albums, Butterfield sounds inspired and the entire group plays with great style and finesse. There’s no grandstanding from this band. These guys knew how to bring out the best in each other and left ego trips behind. Geoff Muldaur takes over on vocals on the next two numbers. Beginning with an excellent reading of Nick Gravenites’ “Buried Alive In The Blues” (the track that Janis Joplin never got to finish, which was included on her final album as an instrumental), followed by “Small Town Talk,” a tune penned by Bobby Charles and Rick Danko, that would eventually surface on Danko’s first solo album years later.

The band also covers a Robert Johnson’s classic with “New Walkin’ Blues” and then Ronnie Barron takes over on his own composition, “Broke My Baby’s Heart,” delivering a vocal filled with Cajun soul. The remainder of the set is full of great moments and includes a fascinating take on Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” featuring a gorgeous guitar solo from Garrett. The group stretches out for an extended jam on “He’s Got All My Whiskey,” the only somewhat indulgent piece of the set before closing with a smoldering version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

Reports on this show have stated that following this impressive set by Better Days, the various alumni of the original Butterfield Blues Band, including Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, and Mark Naftalin commenced in a lengthy jam session. Recorded evidence of this has never surfaced, but seems quite possible in light of the musicians featured on this outstanding triple bill.

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