A native of Chicago, Mike Bloomfield studied the local electric-blues legends like Muddy Waters and Howling' Wolf up close while he was growing up, and he packed those lessons into a piercing clean-treble tone and solos that took off with fluid, modal-jazz ecstasy. The blues was central in Bloomfield's musical life and by the late '50s, and by 1960 he was a frequent guest performer at many Southside Chicago blues venues. He would bring his electric guitar and amp and sit in with greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sunnyland Slim and many others. "Michael always sounded like a salmon going against the current," Carlos Santana says. "He comes from B.B. King. But he went somewhere else."
"He didn't get a chance to expand the mission of his soul, but those few albums he played on – those are enough," says Santana, referring to Mike Bloomfield's death in 1981, of a drug overdose at age 37, and the key recordings Bloomfield left behind. Bloomfield helped Bob Dylan go electric with his work on Highway 61 Revisited and two albums with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, including the 1966's raga-blues monster, East-West. (Check out Bloomfield's winding, epic solo on the title track. in the video below)
Mike Bloomfield's main guitars are a 1964 Fender Telecaster, a 1956 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop and a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. In the early months of 1965, Bloomfield purchased a new 1964 Fender Telecaster. It would be the first of three Telecasters that Bloomfield is known to have owned. He bought just the guitar – he couldn't afford a case. In the fall of 1965 he also acquired a 1956 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. Guitarists Freddy King, Chuck Berry, Johnny Littlejohn, John Lee Hooker and Michael's mentor, Muddy Waters, all had Goldtops, and Michael must have been very pleased to get one. Bloomfield used the Goldtop as his primary instrument but kept the new Telecaster handy during gigs, probably for slide work. These were his guitars throughout his tenure with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It was the Goldtop paired with a Gibson Falcon amplifier that Michael used to record the landmark Butterfield album "East-West."
The guitar most associated with Mike Bloomfield is the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. With it, Bloomfield recorded his most successful records and developed his trademark "fat" tone. Michael had heard guitarist Eric Clapton's work with Powerhouse, the Yardbirds and with John Mayall, and was eager to meet the British guitarist when the Butterfield Band arrived in London at the end of October 1966. He was particularly taken with Eric's sound on Mayall's "Bluesbreakers" LP. Clapton had recorded it with a newly-purchased Gibson Les Paul Standard. Michael later bought his '59 Les Paul in Apr 1967. He debuted his new guitar at the historic Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, a debut for his new band, the Electric Flag, as well. He continued to play the Sunburst throughout the next seven years, using it to record the Flag's first release, "A Long Time Comin'," his jam album with Al Kooper called "Super Session," and many other recordings.