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Guitar King

Guitar King
Michael Bloomfield's Life in the Blues

This first comprehensive biography of the late, great Michael Bloomfield brings to life a dazzling electric-guitar virtuoso who transformed rock ’n’ roll in the 1960s and made a lasting impact on the blues genre.

October 2019
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776 pages | 6.125 x 9.25 | 35 b&w photos |

Named one of the world’s great blues-rock guitarists by Rolling Stone, Mike Bloomfield (1943–1981) remains beloved by fans forty years after his untimely death. Taking readers backstage, onstage, and into the recording studio with this legendary virtuoso, David Dann tells the riveting stories behind Bloomfield’s work in the seminal Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the mesmerizing Electric Flag, as well as on the Super Session album with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, and soundtrack work with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.

In vivid chapters drawn from meticulous research, including more than seventy interviews with the musician’s friends, relatives, and band members, music historian David Dann brings to life Bloomfield’s worlds, from his comfortable upbringing in a Jewish family on Chicago’s North Shore to the gritty taverns and raucous nightclubs where this self-taught guitarist helped transform the sound of contemporary blues and rock music. With scenes that are as electrifying as Bloomfield’s solos, this is the story of a life lived at full volume.

  • Prologue
  • Part I. Guitar King
    • Chapter 1. Social Misfit
    • Chapter 2. North Shore Hotshot
    • Chapter 3. Folk Fanatic
    • Chapter 4. Marriage, the Pickle, and Big Joe
    • Chapter 5. Old Town
    • Chapter 6. Auditioning for Hammond
    • Chapter 7. Big John’s and the Group
    • Chapter 8. Butterfield Blues
    • Chapter 9. Plugging in at Newport
    • Chapter 10. Electrifying Dylan
  • Part II. His Holy Modal Majesty
    • Chapter 11. On the Road with Butter
    • Chapter 12. East-West
    • Chapter 13. Blues to Britain
    • Chapter 14. Hoisting the Flag
    • Chapter 15. Music, Love, and Flowers
    • Chapter 16. Groovin’ Is Easy
    • Chapter 17. Another Country
    • Chapter 18. Shucks and Sessions
  • Part III. Knockin’ Myself Out
    • Chapter 19. Entertainer No More
    • Chapter 20. Live Adventures
    • Chapter 21. Michael’s Lament
    • Chapter 22. Stoned Leisure
    • Chapter 23. Reed Street
    • Chapter 24. Loving These Blues
    • Chapter 25. Count Talent
    • Chapter 26. Last Call
  • Epilogue: Great Gifts from Heaven
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Additional Resources
  • Recordings
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author
  • Index

David Dann
White Sulphur Springs, New York

Dann is a commercial artist, music historian, writer, and amateur musician who worked for many years in the news industry, including serving as copublisher of an award-winning Catskills weekly. Most recently, he was editor of Artenol, a radical art journal described by the New York Times as “a cross between The New Republic and Mad Magazine.” He has produced radio and video documentaries of Michael Bloomfield and served as a consultant to Sony/Legacy on their recent Bloomfield box set.


“Encyclopedic…packed with enough info to make a blues nerd giddy with joy…[a] rich, resonant, detailed account…this book draws you in the way a novel does, one by Dostoyevsky, say, in which the hero is part genius, part stumblebum, a flawed artist making his way half-aware through a world of joys and pitfalls—someone very much like most of us, in other words, if a lot more talented and a little more careless.”
Wall Street Journal

“Thanks to new interviews with associates and animated descriptions of Bloomfield's playing, motor-mouth way of talking and scholarly music knowledge, [Bloomfield's] tug of war between the commercial and the uncompromised makes for an absorbing read. Guitar King isn't the first book on Bloomfield but is most fleshed out, and it also feels like one of the last great untold classic-rock tales, right up through Bloomfield's mysterious passing...Even as the book will make you reach for or stream A Long Time Comin’Super SessionEast-West or even Triumvirate (his overlooked 1973 album with John Hammond and Dr. John, another failed supergroup plan) Guitar King gives you its own version of the blues.”
Rolling Stone

“Bloomfield hated stardom, and what unfolds is the story of a genius ‘relegated to footnote status’ by a self-sabotaging streak Dann lays out in tragic, vivid detail.”
Rolling Stone, "Best Music Books of 2019"

“A compelling narrative of a young blues fanatic whose problems with drugs and mental instability predated his fame...Those with a passion for the music will enjoy revisiting a time when Bloomfield's influence exceeded even Stevie Ray Vaughn's.”

“This monumental book illuminates the legacy of a musician who has been overshadowed by other Sixties luminaries but who helped bring the vernacular of the blues to rock and whose playing influenced the course of rock and roll.”
Library Journal, Starred Review

“Dann makes a persuasive case for how this white kid from Glencoe, Illinois, played a central role in introducing white audiences to urban blues.”

“[A] monumental examination.”
Music Connection

“Bringing Bloomfield's worlds alive, with sections drawn from his meticulous (you can feel this is more than thorough) research…the author deserves a medal for this work.”
Blues Matters

“Exhaustive and engaging.”
Largehearted Boy

Guitar King is voluminous in size—as befits a man whose contribution to modern music is greater than history has ever acknowledged. Drawing from his deep research and numerous interviews, it is clear that Dann put tremendous effort into this book. It is a biography that puts Bloomfield back into his rightful place on the roster of rock and blues greats. The result is a tremendous and magnificent work.”

“In this exhaustive, detailed doorstopper of a tome, Dann...explores seemingly every nook and cranny of [Bloomfield's] music…with Guitar King, the spotlight is absolutely on the subject, a wealthy, Jewish kid who just wanted to play the blues.”
Houston Press

“Breathtaking…Monumental and massive, Guitar King gives its subject a suitably epic feel, even as it moves at a brisk pace through the peaks and valleys of Bloomfield's life.”
Chairman Ralph

“Readers of Guitar King will be both impressed and frustrated as they read the fascinating tales of Bloomfield's life. The rocker always seemed at the precipice of stardom, but whether it was turning down Bob Dylan or getting deep into the world of drugs, he continually found ways to be his own worst enemy.”
Ultimate Classic Rock

“[Guitar King] goes beyond previous Bloomfield books to examine his music and turbulent life at a near-molecular level…[Dann] reveals the depths of Bloomfield's musical passions, genius and personal despair…Guitar King establishes his pivotal role in American music history.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“This is the definitive book on Michael Bloomfield…Guitar King reads like a novel with stunning points of new information and a great compassion for the vagaries of Bloomfield's life…[Guitar King is] one of the greatest books written about any musician, of any genre.”

“[Dann] adds detail and nuance to our understanding of the life and career of a guitarist who was one of the most respected performers of his generation.”
The Current

“[Guitar King is] a rich and definitive presentation that will enhance the converted and convert the unfamiliar.”
The Oakland Press

“A volume that's both extremely detailed and a very enjoyable read from beginning to end…[Guitar King] is worth the considerable investment of time you'll need to digest the whole tome, and a significant addition to blues-rock scholarship.”
Folkrocks, "Top Two Dozen Rock Books of 2019"

“Bloomfield's emblematic life is tirelessly documented in Guitar King.”
Shepherd Express

“Holding a reader's interest through hundreds of pages is a daunting task in a work of non-fiction, but Dann keeps the story flowing in a way that steadily helps readers develop a truer sense of Bloomfield the artist, and the person…No matter how much knowledge you may already have about Michael Bloomfield, reading Dann's biography will certainly add multiple layers of understanding about his life and the extent of his influence on the lineage of blues guitar playing...[Guitar King is a] magnificent tribute to a man who undoubtedly was a 'Guitar King,' making this book a highly recommended addition to any musical library!”
Blues Blast Magazine

“Dann gives accounts of episodes in Bloomfield's life like he was there, even describing Bloom's fill and solos on any given night like a guitar player telling another guitar player all about it. Fans of Bloomfield will find it hard to put the book down and music history buffs will respect the fales involved...Dann's writing puts you there next to Bloomfield as he encounters the legends in his orbit like Dylan, Butterfield and Bloom's competitors like Eric Clapton...and Jimi Hendrix.”
Punk Globe

“Dann offers close to eight-hundred pages virtually all of which are worth equally careful reading. Even the play-by-plays of studio and stage performances, including the ill-conceived super-group KGB, conjure a palpable sense of suspense…there's a sense of purpose in Dann's writing mirroring that of Bloomfield's and that makes Guitar King hard to put down once the reading starts and delivers a dual sense of melancholy and accomplishment when it's complete...Compelling reading from start to finish...only this prolific artist's music itself could be a more vivid act of advocacy.”
All About Jazz

“Without doubt, author David Dann has the goods on who could well be the most exciting electric guitarist to come out of all the 60s’ musical machinations. And though the ’70s were pretty much a bust for Bloomfield, the decline and eventual sad demise of this nonpareil bluesman holds so many intriguing what-could-have-beens that for anyone who is super-interested in how the modern musical landscape was born and why it went so far south during the ’70s for such a pivotal original, this is the tome that tells the tale.”
Americana Highways

“[Dann] restores Bloomfield to the prominence he once enjoyed, careful to avoid hagiography as he documents the musician's rise to glory and swift, heartbreaking (but seemingly inevitable) demise.”

“Essential reading for serious rock and blues fans.”
Goldmine Magazine

“An important and compelling book about an important and compelling artist. Bloomfield’s peers—Hendrix, Clapton, Joplin, the Rolling Stones, and of course Dylan—have had their lives chronicled in exhaustive detail, and this biography is long overdue. Dann's research is excellent, and the writing strong and engaging, tracing Bloomfield's journey and telling his story with skill and understanding.”
Elijah Wald, author of Escaping the Delta and Dylan Goes Electric!

“David Dann has restored bluesman Michael Bloomfield’s premier place in the pantheon as the very first American rock guitar god. The author brings the excitement of Michael’s searing licks to the written word and paints a poignant portrait of a man who was unequipped for and uninterested in playing the games that the entertainment-industrial complex demands of artists. This soulful bio reminds us of one man’s dedication to excellence at the expense of fame and fortune.”
Michael Simmons, contributor to MOJO and author of liner notes to Michael Bloomfield: From His Head To His Heart To His Hands

“I love this book. It’s the best thing I’ve read about Mike Bloomfield and about the whole era.”
Charlie Musselwhite, Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica player and bandleader

“Michael Bloomfield was a heart-to-hand guitar player who was able to take everything he learned from B. B. King, Hubert Sumlin, and everyone else he ever encountered—including the piano style of Little Brother Montgomery—and turn it all inside out and make it his own. He is still the well I draw from for inspiration in the blues, and I drink from it daily. Written from heart to hand just like Bloomfield played his music, Guitar King is a must-read book for all guitar players and music fans alike. It should be the final word on Michael Bloomfield’s journey and his legacy.”
Jimmy Vivino, music director on Conan and leader of Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca