Paul Butterfield and Chaka Khan: Singin' Somethin' Good
I was trolling the internet waters last weekend for new Paul Butterfield material, and as happens on YouTube, one catch leads to another. Butterfield was one of the all-star guests of B.B. King on a special filmed in 1987, and one of the VSOP selections from “B.B. King & Friends” features Gladys Knight, Etta James, and Chaka Khan singing “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” the classic blues recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923. These ladies sing it as Porter Grainger wrote it, including the infamous line, “I’d rather my man should hit me, than for him to jump up and quit me,” but Gladys disqualifies that desperate notion with a quick aside, “I ain’t gonna have it.”
Gladys and Etta come across at the peak of their expressive powers here, while Chaka’s a bit too fever-pitched for my tastes. But that’s not the case with this sensational clip of "Night in Tunisia," which features Khan's lyricized treatment of Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz classic. Chaka's tribute, which became known as "The Melody Still Lingers On," gives it up for the daring innovations of Dizzy and Bird, Max and Miles, sings of their influence on Coltrane and Stevie (who wrote her Rufus classic, "Tell Me Something Good"), and invokes Duke and Prez as forefathers. Dizzy appeared on her original studio version of “The Melody...” in 1981, but the producers took a short cut by having a programmed keyboard play the famous stop-time break that Charlie Parker immortalized as “Famous Alto Break” on his Dial recording of “Night in Tunisia” in 1947. Chaka's live version at the Roxy in Los Angeles lays on plenty of funk, but jazzmen Randy and Michael Brecker were on the band and the late tenor saxophonist plays the challenging passage with aplomb.
As for Butterfield, there’s a new trove of audio files that have appeared in recent weeks, and they include at least two genuine rarities, this 45 rpm that Chuck Berry made in 1965 with the original Butterfield Blues Band featuring Michael Bloomfield, who’s heard playing slide guitar on “It Wasn’t Me.” The B-side is “Sad Day, Long Night,” an instrumental featuring Berry and Butter that matches up well with classic Berry tracks like “Deep Feeling” and “Blues for Hawaiians.”
Speaking of funk, Butterfield’s late 60’s horn-driven band specialized in some of the most soulful grooves of the day. Here’s a previously unreleased performance of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the Booker T. Jones original that Albert King introduced in 1965, and Butter jumped on two years later. It remained a staple of his repertoire for the next several years, and this is as strong a version as the many I heard him play. That's David Sanborn on alto saxophone, and a newcomer to the band, 19-year-old Ralph Wash, on guitar.
(cover photo: Melody Tent, Hyannis, MA, 1970) (Butterfield and bassist Rod Hicks)
Butterfield first recorded “Born Under A Bad Sign” on The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw. It was his third album, but the first to feature the horn section that would become nearly as renowned as his original lineup with guitarists Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Before recording Resurrection, Butterfield premiered his new band at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and here's the 24-year-old impressing a bevy of California beauties with Charles Brown's classic blues, “Driftin’ and Driftin’.” Brian Jones, Mama Cass, Steven Stills, and other young icons who would launch the Summer of Love are seen in the audience, and in one of the final frames of this footage, you’ll see Mike Bloomfield offering his old boss a smile and hearty round of applause. (Bloomfield's Electric Flag made their debut at Monterey too.) The band here includes Bishop, pianist Mark Naftalin, bassist Bugsy Maugh, drummer Billy Davenport, trumpeter Keith Johnson, and tenor saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie.
Paul Butterfield died 25 years ago on May 4, 1987 at age 44. As befitting a man whose signature tune was "Born in Chicago," Butter's most influential music was fiercely urban in nature, but he settled in Woodstock in 1969 among fellow musicians who were managed by the powerhouse Albert Grossman. He was living in Hollywood at the time of his death 18 years later, but family and friends around Woodstock maintain his legacy, and they'll remember him in a concert at the Bearsville Theater near Woodstock on July 13.