Rob Paparozzi still vividly remembers the first time he heard the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, as a kid in Linden, in the mid-’60s.
“I didn’t know what the blues was,” says the singer and harmonica player, a longtime mainstay of the Jersey blues and jazz scene who also does a lot of session work and fronted Blood, Sweat & Tears from 2005 to 2011. I was listening to the Beatles and Motown on the radio at the time. And when I heard (Butterfield’s) amplified harmonica, it sounded almost like a saxophone or something. I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know the harmonica could sound like that.’
Collaborating with the Ed Palermo Big Band, Paparozzi released an album last year, “Electric Butter,” that paid tribute to the music of both the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag (which PBBB guitarist Mike Bloomfield co-founded after leaving the group). They will play songs from it, and maybe some other Butterfield/Electric Flag material, at The Iridium in New York, Jan. 18. Visit TheIridium. com.
Guests on the album include guitarists Steve Cropper (of Booker T. & the MG’s) and Jimmy Vivino, keyboardist Mark Naftalin (of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band) and bassist Harvey Brooks (of Electric Flag). Butterfield’s son Gabriel, a Woodstock, N.Y.-based drummer who is devoted to keeping his father’s music alive, introduces the band at the start of the album, and gives an interview, as a bonus track, at the end.
When making the album, Paparozzi didn’t know that Butterfield’s band would be selected for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (“I finally got lucky with my timing!” he says.) But he isn’t tremendously surprised, either.
“Butterfield was passed over so many years,” says Paparozzi. “It just seemed like, as time went on, the time was getting right. I was getting calls from his son to come out and do some gigs. It was like there was a vibe in the air. And then last year, they came out with a beautiful boxed set on Mike Bloomfield. Al Kooper put it together, and it came with a DVD, so it seemed like the attention was getting focused.”
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is a rare example of a group that didn’t have any hit singles, but is being recognized by the Hall purely for the greatness of its music and the scope of its influence.
“I think if there was no Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” says Paparozzi, “there would have been no Electric Flag, and there might not have been a Blood, Sweat & Tears or a Chicago, because it was really these guys who first said, ‘No, you can do it, you can bring the horns out.’ And Butterfield and Bloomfield actually went to (the powerful concert promoter) Bill Graham, back in the day, and Bill Graham said, ‘No, they don’t want to hear this old blues stuff.’ And they’re going, ‘No.’ Butterfield and Bloomfield were friends with him, and they said, ‘Look, you’ve got to hire B.B. King. You’ve got to get Aretha on the bill.’ And they really pushed and pushed and pushed. And then when they went to interview B.B. King years later, he said, ‘Man, if it wasn’t for Paul Butterfield, I might still be doing the chitlin’ circuit.’
“So I think they’re recognizing that part of what Butterfield did. Of course, the Brits did it on their side of the ocean, by exposing the United States to all this great (blues) music we had right under our nose. But Butterfield and Bloomfield did it coming out of Chicago. And ya gotta respect them for that. They had a lot of respect for the masters, but yet said, ‘We also can take this music in a rock direction.’ And they did, and they influenced a lot of the San Francisco bands. They were a big influence on Santana.”
Paparozzi calls Butterfield his own biggest influence, as well.
“From him, I learned about Chicago blues, and then went back and did the homework, and found out that there’s this whole world I needed to know about. And then I went and found the wonderful guys that really created the electric sound: He was getting it from Little Walter, and Little Walter was getting it from the acoustic guys, the pre-war blues harp players.”
Besides the Iridium date, there are no other tribute shows scheduled, though Paparozzi would be interested in doing more, at nightclubs or at festivals this summer, he said.
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