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The Electric Flag was a blues rock soul group, led by guitarist Mike Bloomfield, keyboardist Barry Goldberg and drummer Buddy Miles, and featuring other well-known musicians such as vocalist Nick Gravenites and bassist Harvey Brooks. Bloomfield formed Electric Flag in 1967, following his stint with The Butterfield Blues Band. The band reached its peak with the 1968 release, A Long Time Comin', a fusion of rock, jazz, and R&B styles that charted well in the Billboard Magazine Pop Albums listings. Their initial recording was a soundtrack for The Trip, a movie about an LSD experience by Peter Fonda, written by Jack Nicholson, and directed by Roger Corman.
The group was initially formed at the instigation of Bloomfield, but with the strong encouragement and organization of Goldberg. Harvey Brooks, who had previously worked with Bloomfield in 1965, recording Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, joined as bassist, and recommended Buddy Miles, then 19 years old, who was the drummer at the time for Wilson Pickett. Bloomfield and Goldberg had originally been considering approaching Billy Mundi, then playing with the Mothers of Invention. Miles was persuaded by Goldberg and Bloomfield to leave Pickett, after the former attended Murray The K's Easter Show in New York, on March 26, 1967 and met Miles afterwards. Mitch Ryder was initially approached to be the vocalist, since Bloomfield had, through Goldberg, been contributing with Goldberg to some Ryder recording sessions. Ryder declined the invitation, preferring to remain with the Detroit Wheels. Bloomfield next approached Nick Gravenites, originally also from Chicago, who agreed.
Peter Strazza, whom Goldberg knew from Chicago, joined on tenor saxophone. Jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, who had developed his career in Seattle while a university student, recommended Seattle-based Marcus Doubleday on trumpet.
Bloomfield and Goldberg developed the group in San Francisco, under Albert Grossman's management, and immediately began working on the band's first project — the soundtrack for the film The Trip. Actor Peter Fonda approached Bloomfield for the project, as a replacement for Gram Parsons' International Submarine Band. Director Roger Corman did not find the music of Gram Parsons' band appropriate for a movie about the LSD experience. At the time, the Electric Flag was rehearsing in Gram Parsons' Laurel Canyon home.
Bloomfield was solely credited for all of the compositions on the album. He hired keyboardist Paul Beaver to add texture to the soundtrack, through the use of one of the first Moog Synthesizers on record. The soundtrack recording was reportedly completed in ten days. While the movie received mixed reviews, the soundtrack attracted positive critical notice. As described by David Dann in his biography of the Electric Flag, "The record was also one of the most adventurous for pop music in 1967, sampling freely from jazz, rock, blues and classical idioms, and doing so with wit and intelligence. It very much favored the eclectic approach toward American musical forms that Bloomfield wanted the new band to embody. That Michael could create such unusual and wide-ranging pieces said much for his appreciation and knowledge of those forms, and displayed his characteristic fearlessness when it came to experimentation."
One of the Bloomfield compositions from The Trip soundtrack, "Flash, Bam, Pow," was later included in the soundtrack to the 1969 film Easy Rider.. The song was omitted from the release of the original soundtrack and has not been included in subsequent reissues.
The band made its debut appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the first of the '60s rock music extravaganzas. Now called the Electric Flag, the group was well received by the audience of 55,000, though its performance fell short of Bloomfield's high standards. Following Monterey, the Flag proceeded to tour the Northeast and perform in the San Francisco area while working on a recording for Columbia Records. Though a critical success, the Flag remained largely unknown to the general public due in part to the band's inability to complete its first album in a timely manner. In addition, Marcus Doubleday had joined the Electric Flag as a heroin addict, while Peter Strazza, Barry Goldberg and Michael Bloomfield developed heroin problems thereafter. In November, 1967, Barry Goldberg left the Electric Flag in an effort to bring his personal circumstances under control. He was replaced by Michael Fonfara, at the time playing with David Clayton-Thomas in New York, and who was recommended by Buddy Miles. Fonfara was fired by Albert Grossman by December, after a drug bust in Los Angeles. Herb Rich, who had been playing saxophone, assumed Fonfara's role on keyboards and was in turn replaced on saxophone by Stemzie Hunter, a friend of Buddy Miles.
Subsequent to completing the soundtrack to The Trip, the band commenced work on its long-awaited first album, A Long Time Comin'. The album, released in March, 1968, was recorded between July, 1967 and January, 1968. The album was one of the first pop recordings to blend sound and voice samples with music. By early 1968, drummer Buddy Miles had become a dominant force in the Flag's musical direction. The group's repertory by then included numerous contemporary soul covers, featuring Miles on vocals, plus many classic blues tunes. The band produced fewer than a dozen original pieces, mostly written by vocalist Nick Gravenites. Bloomfield's original "American music" concept appeared to have narrowed considerably. In terms of the band's original material, Miles Davis praised the Bloomfield - Goldberg composition, "Over-Lovin' You", in a Downbeat Blindfold Test in 1968.
By June, 1968, only weeks after the release of the album, Bloomfield
quit the group, based on exhaustion brought on by continuing insomnia
that was ineffectively medicated through heroin. In the weeks prior to
his departure, there had been much public speculation as to whether
Bloomfield was leaving the group or whether the group was leaving him.
Buddy Miles, rather than Bloomfield, had become the de facto leader of
the group. Though they strove to carry on under Miles' direction, the
Electric Flag was effectively finished. Personality conflicts, differing
esthetics, and a series of drug problems hastened the band's downfall.
Al Kooper left BS&T in April 1968, and was inspired by a jam recording with Moby Grape to the organize the similarly structured Super Session album. He included Bloomfield, Barry Goldberg and, after Bloomfield left the session due to a bout of insomnia, Stephen Stills. Bloomfield and Kooper also toured together, while drummer and vocalist Buddy Miles went on to form the Buddy Miles Express and also play in Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys. Bloomfield also developed a solo career, commencing with the release of It's Not Killing Me in 1969, and which included former Electric Flag bandmate Marcus Doubleday on sax.
A reunion of sorts took place in 1974, with the Electric Flag releasing The Band Kept Playing, but the recording was not a commercial or critical success and the band quickly disbanded after several months of sporadic gigs.
On July 28 and 29, 2007, a concert took place at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival. One of the acts featured was a one-time reunion of The Electric Flag, anchored by original members Gravenites, Goldberg, and Hunter, backed by members of the Tower of Power and The Blues Project. The one hour set featured material from the first album, as well as several blues covers.