Back To Woodstock (Vague Records 074)
Record Plant, Sausalito, CA – December 30th, 1973
(48:24): New Walkin’ Blues, Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It, Broke My Baby’s Heart, Done a Lot of Wrong Things, He’s Got All the Whiskey, It All Comes Back, Running Shoes, Too Many Drivers, Outro
In the early seventies Paul Butterfield disbanded the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, relocated from California to Woodstock, New York, and began work with his next band Better Days. They released several albums before he decided to become a solo artist by the end of the decade.
One of the early promotion was an appearance on KSAN radio in San Francisco. They recorded a short set before a very small studio audience at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California on December 30th, 1973. Better Days were composed of “Geoff Muldaur” on guitar and keyboards, Amos Garrett on guitar, Ronnie Barron on organ, Christopher Parker on drums and with Rod Hicks on bass instead of Bill Rich.
The broadcast first circulated with the above listed forty-eight minutes with the addition of a piano instrumental, “He’s Got All The Whiskey,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Please Send Me Somebody To Love.” But in 2003 a much better sounding tape surfaced without the four tracks. Nobody has been able to figure out when they were.
Back To Woodstock on Vague Records utilizes the better sounding complete authentic broadcast. It is an almost perfect recording with wonderful balance whose only slight fault is a bit of hiss.
“Live from the Record Plant tonight, some of the Windy City boys getting together” the announcer deadpans at the start. The set is a judicious mixture of songs from the two Better Day LPs, Better Days and It All Comes Back.
Butterfield wanted to establish Better Days as a different direction compared to his famous Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and he does that convincingly with the first song “New Walkin’ Blues.” This is the second time he’s covered the Robert Johnson song (the first in 1966 on East-West, the second Blues Band LP). The first was a stark straight blues arrangement, but the new version has a rockier beat.
The first new song is “Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It.” Far from blues, this owes much more to the early seventies funk and R&B. It’s followed by “Broke My Baby’s Heart” with organist Ronnie Barron taking vocals.
That Paul Butterfield didn’t completely abandon the blues, or his trademark style on harmonica, is in evidence on the songs in the second half of the set. “He’s Got All the Whiskey” in particular contains a long instrumental interlude in the middle.
“It All Comes Back,” the title track to the new album, is the most blatant sublimation of the two styles. Butterfield plays a scorching harp over Barron’s Stevie Wonder-like clavinet madness.
“Running Shoes” is listed as the seventh and penultimate track of the set. In reality is is a song called “Down In The Bottom,” written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1961. (The Rolling Stones recorded a cover in 1964, given their love for “all things Chess-Records.”)
The set ends with the fast paced “Too Many Drivers” and the DJ thanking the band and promoting their new LP.
Vague is a Japanese label with an American blues – Southern rock bent. They issued the massive Allman Brothers Band shows on June 9th and June 10th, earlier. The front cover is a variation of the Better Days album cover, a close up photograph of a harmonica.
Back To Woodstock is a fantastic sounding document of a relatively obscure project. Butterfield’s untimely death in 1987 has almost shifted him into obscurity which is unfair since he and his early bands were instrumental in the formation American blues based rock and roll. It has great music and is worth checking out.