some strange reason, we referred to each other by
our "proper" names, Michael and Alan.
To everyone else, it was Mike Bloomfield and
Al Kooper. In fact, Michael was the only one,
besides my family, who called me Alan. If anybody
else tried a stunt like that, they'd get a quick
slap in the head from me. But when Michael said
it, it was somehow endearing and flattering.
His brother's name was Allen, and I felt that
he was taking me into his nuclear family by
calling me by my given name.
was one-of-a-kind—completely loose and uninhibited
but almost constantly dogged by inner demons that
kept him reclusive and far from sleep. If he was
your friend, you were damned lucky. He would go
the limit for you—lend you money, feed you,
give you his clothing or let you crash at his house.
He surrounded himself with a rag-tag crew of ne'er-do-wells
who somehow found him. They mostly took advantage
of his kindness and did not have his best interests
at heart. But he was too lazy to go out and look
for better friends. Those would come to him through
met in 1965 at the Bob Dylan "Like A Rolling
Stone" recording session. Approximately the
same age and religion, we got along famously and
instantly. Our economic backgrounds, however, were
markedly dissimilar. I was lower-middle class, raised
in Queens, New York. My father was a lawyer who
worked for his "friends" who never paid
him. Bloomfield's father was in the restaurant supply
business. He held the patents on some classic stove-side
accessories: the hexagon-shaped glass salt shaker
with the holes on top in the shape of a Star of
David, the glass sugar canister with the stainless
steel trap-door top and the classic diner coffee
machine that still, to this day, bears the Bloomfield
moniker. By 1965, the elder Bloomfield had cashed
in his coffeemaker and other patents to Beatrice
Foods, one of the top corporations in the world,
and walked away with mucho millions.
grew up in a privileged household in the suburbs
of Chicago. He rebelled against it almost immediately
and, by his teens, was down on the Southside, taking
in the native blues sounds that bloomed in the fields
of Chicago's "bad" neighborhoods. He had
a certain innate talent for playing the guitar that
was instantly obvious to his mentors. They knew
this was not just another white boy; this was someone
who truly understood what the blues were all about.
Among his early supporters were B.B. King, Muddy
Waters, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy. Michael used to
say, "It's a natural. Black people suffer externally
in this country. Jewish people suffer internally.
The suffering's the mutual fulcrum for the blues."
he maneuvered out of his family's moneyed grasp,
he chose to live in comparative squalor. "I
once rented a really nasty, flimsy house in Chicago
in a rough neighborhood. I moved in there in November.
Me and a puppy. The puppy shit was everywhere in
the house, man. I wasn't inclined to clean up dog
shit every couple of hours, so I'd just cover it
with newspaper. It was cold; the wind blew right
through that house and took the smell with it. But
every time the puppy took a shit in there, I'd cover
it up with flat sheets of newspaper. A man's gotta
be able to walk comfortably in his own home, after
what happened when it got really hot in June?"
I asked curiously.
don't really know," he laughed, "I moved
out in March!"
by choice, he was not a shirt-and-tie-limousine-riding-son-of-a-rich-man.
Au contraire. But he was well read and surely had
a high IQ. He loved to talk about books he'd read
and new music he had just encountered. A good day
to him was curling up in his bathrobe with a great
book. A good night? Watching television while accompanying
on guitar everything that transpired on the screen.
He knew all the tunes from every commercial, too.
once went to the Apollo Theater in Harlem to see
James Brown, along with a married couple he was
friendly with. While we were standing in line to
get in, a hardcore brother started hitting on the
woman of the couple. Really hard. Bloomfield was
aghast. He lost it completely. "Hey man, that
is this man's wife, his woman! How dare you come
up in his face like that? Now go ahead, apologize
and move on!" And the guy did. Simple as that.
Michael never saw black and white in contexts like
that. People were people. It was a Chicago thing.
It was a good thing.
we were scheduled to do an interview together for
Hit Parader magazine, and I went to
his hotel in Manhattan to pick him up. When I called
his room from the lobby, he said to come upstairs.
When I got there, the door was ajar and I walked
in. He was sitting on the toilet, with the door
open. "Hey man, how ya doin'? Sit down, sit
down." Now I'd heard of shooting the shit,
but ... c'mon! Did he greet all his guests like
that—or should I have been flattered?
the enigmatic young man. Recently I recovered some
tapes of a show we did at The Fillmore East in 1968,
which had been lost in Sony's vaults for 32 years.
When we played live, we would each pick a sideman;
if I picked the drummer, then he would choose the
bass player or vice versa. Then we would have one
rehearsal and just sort of blunder our way through
the gig. We liked it that way. Now in the year 2000,
as I sat listening to the tapes for later release,
I marveled at the intellectualism of his playing.
was years ahead of everyone. His melodic sense and
feel were incomparable. I saw him outfox Hendrix
one night in an after-hours duel. At this show I
was listening to, from 1968, he invited Johnny Winter
onstage to make his New York City debut. Johnny
had no record deal, and no one in the audience had
ever heard of him before so it was truly a big chance
for him. He got up and played amazingly. People
were mesmerized as he put on a spectacular display
of blues guitar playing. Bloomfield generously stepped
aside and played rhythm guitar quietly behind him.
After Johnny had played for about six minutes, to
a standing ovation, he nodded for Bloomfield to
solo. Michael remained in the back and played, in
two choruses, what it had taken Winter six minutes
to do. The audience freaked. It was not a cutting
contest, either. They both had tremendous respect
for each other. And believe me, Johnny Winter's
six minutes were truly exceptional, but it's just
the way it was that night.
let's not forget the fire eating. What's that you
say, Alan? No ... really. He could eat fire, just like a circus act. I
have no idea how or why he did that! On rare occasions,
right in the middle of the Butterfield Band's set
piece "East-West," Bloomfield would light
a torch and plunge it down his throat—right
in the middle of the song! He'd finish up by illegally
blowing flames right over the audience's heads!
What other guitarist could follow that? Bless you
if you were lucky enough to have witnessed one of
1970, I was playing in Chicago and Bloomfield's
brother, Allen, invited me to Sunday brunch at his
parents' home. I went up there about 10:30 a.m.
Michael was there unexpectedly. A few days before,
he had checked himself into a mental institution
because he hadn't slept in a week. When I walked
into their place, he was in the kitchen regaling
Allen and his mom with stories from inside the asylum.
The father stood by the mantel in the dining room,
dressed in jodhpurs, brandishing a riding crop,
either on his way to or having just returned from
some equestrian experience, one can only hope. He
did not utter a word the entire time I was there.
Is this dysfunctional? It begs for its own special
course, the musical experiences are the ones I treasure
the most. By 1968, our careers were uncannily parallel.
We had met at the Dylan sessions, then both joined
existing blues bands; he, Butterfield, I, The Blues
Project. Then we both quit the blues bands to form
horn bands; he, The Electric Flag, I, Blood Sweat
& Tears. Sure enough, we both were asked to
leave our respective horn bands in short order by
fellow band members. We seemed destined to record
together. And as I sat in my new office as staff
producer at Columbia Records, just post-Blood Sweat
& Tears, all these thoughts ran through my head.
had just performed on a jam session album included
with Moby Grape's second album Wow.
Why not do an entire jam album together? At the
time, most jazz albums were made using this modus
operandi: pick a leader or two co-leaders, hire
appropriate sidemen, pick some tunes, make some
up and record an entire album on the fly in one
or two days. Why not try and legitimize rock by
adhering to these standards? In addition, as a fan,
I was dissatisfied with Bloomfield's recorded studio
output up until then. It seemed that his studio
work was inhibited and reigned in, compared to his
incendiary live performances. Could I put him in
a studio setting where he could feel free to just
burn like he did in live performances?
result: the album called Super Session,
the highest-charting album of either of our careers.
It went to 11, like Spinal Tap, but
it missed 10, unlike Spinal Tap. Super
Session, although successful in its attempt
to capture Bloomfield's live fire, was a record
tossed off by him in one night. Maybe that was the
secret of getting a great performance out of him
in the studio. The two of us had nothing at stake.
We had finished the initial hectic portion of Part
One of our careers, begun in 1965. In 1968, it seemed
okay to just have fun in the studio without being
concerned about the consequences. And that's how
that album was recorded—completely free of
business or career-concerned distractions.
the first night's recording, all the musicians repaired
to a Hollywood home, replete with swimming pool,
I had rented (courtesy of Columbia Records) for
some well-earned sleep. In the morning, Bloomfield's
room was vacated. He had checked out at dawn. A
note semi-explained his plight:
sleep. Went back home to San Francisco.
thanks, and good luck.
a fellow insomniac, no further explanation was needed.
And that's why he's only on one side of the album
and Stephen Stills is on the other side.
is made of Bloomfield's drug use. After all, it
brought about his demise. He was found on a lonely
road, dead in his car, under mysterious circumstances.
Like few of his hangers-on, he was not a heroin
addict. He was what they called "a week-end
chipper." He'd save up a little "fun-money,"
go over to the dealer's house and buy and do a hit
right then and there. That was sufficient for him.
Michael was never high on heroin around
me. He would have been too embarrassed. He knew
I would have disapproved and given him a lot of
shit about it. We never even discussed it. From
what his friends know of him, it is surmised that
one night he went solo to the dealer for that one
fun hit. The guy must have OD'ed him by accident
and, panicking, put him in his car and driven him
somewhere and just left him to die. What an unnecessary
waste of such a unique talent and personality.
1981, spurred by Reagan's election, I had relocated
to London. One night I sat, reading the paper, and
it said Michael had died. I did a newspaper double
take and then re-read the article three times. I
put the paper down and had a good cry. A month before,
we had spoken by phone. He told me his girlfriend
was a dancer and was going on a European tour soon,
and he would tag along. They would be in England,
and would I book some gigs for him and me to play
in London? He said he was in great shape—buffed
actually, that he had been in a gym working out
regularly. I laughed right in his face, through
the transatlantic cables. "You are such
a liar. The thought of you with muscles is just
hilarious to me!" We both laughed, and I told
him I'd book the gigs.
was our last conversation. I sat there with the
newspaper in my lap all night, thinking about the
times we had spent together and all the good guys
and bad guys we knew. As dawn arrived, I wrote this
is a funny thing
way it wraps itself around you like a second skin
you start to go up
But at the same time you start to go down
Friends that you knew before
Are never quite the same friends anymore
And the new ones leave a lot to be desired
discovering how I love to play and I love to sing
I'm quite content to stand back here on the shore
a teardrop in each eye
Cause I have watched most of my friends die
And they just don't make 'em like that anymore
remember when we stood at the bar
we thought that we'd conquered the world
we always had the latest drugs
And our choice of the prettiest girls
today's such a long way from that bar
And a much longer way from that super star
And I'm no big deal just a veteran of that war
And if you could just learn from the past
Maybe you wouldn't wanna live your life so fast
'Cause that's not what we were put on this earth
And they just don't make em like that anymore
No they just don't make em like that anymore
©2000 Rekooped Music Company BMI, All Rights
Michael—I miss ya big time—it's really
gettin' crazy down here now, like you wouldn't believe.
I'll see ya in awhile.