The Electric Flag





The short-lived but successful, Electric Flag was formed in 1967 by guitarist, Mike Bloomfield after he'd left The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, ostensibly to give original guitarist Elvin Bishop, in Mike's words, "a little space." Undoubtedly he had also become uncomfortable with Paul Butterfield's position as bandleader and was anxious to lead his own band. When Bloomfield left, he brought vocalist Nick Gravenites with him.

The rest of the original group was a collection of seasoned professionals from some of America's most successful bands. Drummer Buddy Miles had done session work with Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, bassist Harvey Brooks had been with Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Judy Collins. Keyboard player Barry Goldberg had previously played with Steve Miller and Mitch Ryder, Peter Strazza on tenor saxophone had also played for Miller. Trumpeter, Marcus Doubleday had backed The Drifters, Jan and Dean as well as Bobby Vinton. Herbie Rich, a well seasoned session man completed the ensemble on baritone sax .

Oddly, before even playing any live concerts, the group recorded the soundtrack for the 1967 psychedelic exploitation movie, "The Trip", which afforded them the opportunity to experiment with some of their ideas without much pressure. Their live debut was at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, although they didn't make it into the documentary film of the event.

Their first album, "A Long Time Comin'" was released in the spring of 1968 with additional members Stemziel (Stemsy) Hunter and Mike Fonfara. It was an erratic collection, predating Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago as an attempt to fuse the big band sound with hard rock. The album's success is difficult to judge, in light of the facts that Gravenites really wasn't a top-notch vocalist, and that the band's instrumental skills outshone their songwriting. It did manage to reach # 31 in the U.S. album charts.

There was enough promise on the album to merit further exploration, but it had hardly been released before the Flag began to droop. Drugs, egos, and poor management started to take their toll. Goldberg left, followed shortly by Bloomfield, the most important component of the group's vision. Buddy Miles, however, was determined to keep the band together and recorded a second album titled simply, "The Electric Flag". Despite climbing to number 76, the record failed to mask the internal turmoil that hard drug abuse and internal stresses had created and which led to the band's disintegration in 1969. They did reunite in a studio project with Mama Cass shortly after, which was completed, then promptly shelved.

Miles went on to form "The Buddy Miles Express" and later joined Jimi Hendrix's Band Of Gypsies, while Gravenites worked briefly for Big Brother and The Holding Company before becoming a songwriting legend in San Francisco. He would later produce Brewer And Shipley's US Top Ten hit, "One Toke Over The Line". Brooks, following years of session work that included the Bloomfield/ Al Kooper / Stephen Stills Super Session, reappeared as a member of Sky.

Bloomfield, weary of the road, suffering from insomnia, and uncomfortable in the role of guitar superstar, returned to San Francisco to score movies, produce other artists, and play studio sessions. One of those sessions was a day of jamming in the studio with keyboardist Al Kooper, who had previously worked with Bloomfield on the 1965 Dylan sessions. "Super Session", the resultant release, with Bloomfield on side one and guitarist Stephen Stills on side two, once again thrust Bloomfield into the spotlight. Kooper's production and the improvisational nature of the recording session captured the quintessential Bloomfield sound: the fast flurries of notes, the incredible string bending, the precise attack, and his masterful use of tension and release.

Although "Super Session" was the most successful recording of his career, Bloomfield considered it to be a scam, more of an excuse to sell records than a pursuit of musical goals. After a follow-up 'live' album, he retired to San Francisco and lowered his visibility.

In the seventies Bloomfield played gigs in the San Francisco area and infrequently toured as Bloomfield And Friends, a group which usually included Mark Naftalin and Nick Gravenites. Bloomfield also occasionally helped out friends by lending his name to recording projects and business propositions, such as the ill-fated Electric Flag reunion in 1974. In the mid-seventies Bloomfield recorded a number of albums with a more traditional blues focus for smaller record labels. He also recorded an instructional album of various blues styles for Guitar Player magazine.

By the late seventies Bloomfield's continuing drug and health problems caused erratic behavior and missed gigs, alienating a number of his old associates. In the summer of 1980 he toured Italy with classical guitarist Woody Harris and cellist Maggie Edmondson. On November 15, 1980, he joined Bob Dylan on stage at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco and jammed on "Like A Rolling Stone", the song they had recorded together 15 years earlier. Sadly, Michael Bloomfield was found dead in his car of a drug overdose in San Francisco, California on February 15th, 1981.

On July 28th and 29th, 2007, a one-time reunion of The Electric Flag, anchored by original members Gravenites, Goldberg and Hunter, took place at a show at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival. The original members were backed by members of the Tower of Power and The Blues Project. They played one hour set featuring material from the first album, as well as several Blues covers.

Drummer Buddy Miles passed away on February 26th, 2008 at the age of 60.