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,” though Gladys disqualifies that desperate notion with “I ain’t gonna have it.” True to King’s intro that “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is more about signifying that sanctifying, all three singers give full voice to their distinctly different expressive powers.
You may not associate Chaka Khan with classic blues, but better known is the album of jazz standards she recorded in 1981 that was released as Echoes of An Era. The title also doubled as the name of the all-star group that was assembled for the date including Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White. The following year, she recorded “The Melody Still Lingers On” for the album, What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me. The song is Khan’s and producer Arif Mardin’s lyricized updating of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop classic, “A Night in Tunisia.” Chaka’s tribute 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. Gillespie (and Herbie Hancock) appeared on her studio version of “The Melody…,” but the producers took a short cut by having a programmed keyboard finesse the brilliant stop-time break (immortalized as “Famous Alto Break”) that Charlie Parker played 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 Randy and Michael Brecker were on the band and the late tenor saxophonist plays Bird’s challenging passage with aplomb.
As for Butterfield, a new trove of audio files 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.
Butterfield first recorded “Born Under A Bad Sign” in 1967 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 Mike 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, Jimi Hendrix’s girlfriend and other young icons who would launch the Summer of Love are seen in the audience. This clip opens with Bloomfield at the Newport Folk Fest in 1965 where he matter-of-factly states that he’s no Son House, but says Butterfield transcends the racial divide, and in one of the final frames of the Monterey footage, he gives it up for his old boss. (Bloomfield’s Electric Flag made their debut at Monterey Pop too.) The Butterfield Blues Band includes Bishop, pianist Mark Naftalin, bassist Bugsy Maugh, drummer Billy Davenport, trumpeter Keith Johnson, and tenor saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie.