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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mike Bloomfield Interview

The disappearance of Bloomfield's fabled '59 Les Paul Standard is the stuff of legend. Accounts vary from teller to teller, but the most likely scenario was recalled by Mark Naftalin. Michael had been hired by a Vancouver club for a week-long gig with Michael Bloomfield & Friends. Naftalin said in an interview for Wolkin & Keenom's "If You Love These Blues ..." that Bloomfield played the first few shows and then left, leaving one of his terse notes of apology behind. The club owner kept Michael's guitar as compensation for his losses, and Bloomfield did nothing to try to get it back. Mark could offer no reason for Michael's abrupt departure.

One scenario for the Les Paul's disappearance takes place in the winter of 1974. It's possible that Michael abandoned his prize instrument during a five-day run from November 12-16, 1974, at an upscale night club in Vancouver called The Cave. The venue was an odd choice for Bloomfield's loosely structured, blues-based repertoire (the performer who appeared the following week was Playboy Bunny Barbi Benton), and Michael may have been put off by the reception the band received from the Cave's patrons. He may also have wanted to see the PBS Soundstage tribute to Muddy Waters that he had recorded in Chicago in July; it was set to air the second week in November but was not being carried by Canadian television.

In an article in the June 2011 issue of Vintage Guitar, guitarist and researcher John Picard confirms that The Cave was indeed the club where Bloomfield ditched the '59 and the rest of his equipment. Club owner Steve Grozina kept the instrument when Michael quit, and a week later sold the Les Paul for $980 to Canadian guitarist Chris Okey. Okey used it in performance for several years before selling it to a Canadian collector. That person had much-needed repair work done on it and eventually sold it to a third party who reportedly brought it back to the United States.

Since that time the Sunburst's provenance is uncertain. A guitar collector reported having the opportunity to buy the Bloomfield Sunburst from the second owner in Toronto in 1980 for $4,000. He later regretted passing up the chance to acquire a formidable piece of American music history, but did confirm that the eventual purchaser brought the guitar back to the States. Some sources say a collector in Florida has it, while others claim a woman in Chicago now owns it.

The year of the '59's loss also remains in question. While 1974 seems the likely date, producer Toby Byron, who was living with Michael at the time, recalls that the '59 Sunburst was not gone until sometime after the fall of 1975. He can't say precisely when it disappeared, but he is certain Michael had it for much of 1975.
Whatever the date for the guitar's abandonment, after the winter of 1974-75 the '59 Sunburst was never to be seen again. And, interestingly enough, not only the Sunburst was lost when Michael failed to fulfill his gig contract, but the Blue Telecaster as well. Where that guitar is today is anyone's guess.

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