The Electric Flag - A Long Time Comin' (1968) - Album Review
By Sergio Ariza
American music according to Mike Bloomfield
There are many times that the enormous mark left by Mike Bloomfield is forgotten. If few in the UK were left untouched by the enormous impact of Clapton's appearance - mainly because of his album with John Mayall -, in America the reference for all subsequent guitarists was Bloomfield. His impact can be seen in the work of Carlos Santana, Johnny Winter, Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman and even Stevie Ray Vaughan himself; if you doubt that, just listen to Texas, which is mentioned below.
When Bloomfield formed Electric Flag in 1967; with a deluxe lineup that included Buddy Miles on drums and vocals, Barry Goldberg on keys, Harvey Brooks on bass, Nick Gravenites on vocals, plus Herb Rich, Marcus Doubleday, Peter Strazza and Stemsy Hunter on horns; everyone knew that the guitarist's band was going to be the new sensation. Dylan (with whom Bloomfield had recorded Highway 61 Revisited) considered him the best guitarist of his generation; Clapton called him "music on two legs"; and David Crosby told everyone that they had to listen to his band, in the middle of the Byrds' concert in Monterrey.
It was precisely at that Festival that Electric Flag made their debut. The band were one of the Festival’s sensations, but not as much as the man who replaced Bloomfield as the new beacon for the electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix. The brilliant appearance of the latter took the spotlight away from Bloomfield, which was a pity because Bloomfield was at his best and I think this album and the one he recorded next, the mythical Super Session, with Al Kooper, are the best things he ever did.
The album was called A Long Time Comin' and lived up to its name, instead of being released as soon as Monterrey was finished, it had to wait until March 1968, when all the hype surrounding the band and their guitarist had gone. It didn't make it past number 31 on the Billboard charts, which was a shame because it was an excellent album. It opened with a great version of Howlin' Wolf's Killing Floor that began with a speech by President Johnson, interrupted by laughter, that gave way to a song in which blues, soul and psychedelia went hand in hand and Bloomfield shone with an explosive solo, accompanied by a brilliant horn section.
This is the music with which Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago would triumph very soon after, but much better. The pity of it is that at the beginning of 1968 people were still looking for a new Sgt. Pepper's and this was definitely not it.
This was a work by a group of musicians who were crazy about blues and soul, and all black music, like that other great release Wine, which was already ahead of its time in Monterey, or that slow-cooked blues Texas, in which Bloomfield responds to every vocal inflection by Miles with a wide array of nuances and subtlety on his 1959 Les Paul Standard.
And this was an American album in every way: blues, soul, rock and pop, which were combined by an exceptional band and a guitarist in a state of grace. Buddy Miles was the best vocalist in the band and he proved it on Over Loomin You, composed by Bloomfield and Goldberg (and which had the blessings of Miles Davis himself), and You Don't Realize, a solo composition by the guitarist. The song is a great piece of soul, which would have been perfect for Otis Redding, and possibly was the consequence of sharing the stage with Redding in Monterrey, with Bloomfield in his best Steve Cropper mode.
However perhaps the best songs are by Ron Polte, a friend of the band, who wrote Groovin' Is Easy, the single released in 1967 and the band's poppiest moment, plus the two longest pieces on the album, She Should Have Just, which starts as a psychedelic ballad until it becomes another soul song with a good melody and Gravenites on lead vocals. The song has an instrumental bridge that sounds like Morricone, with trumpet and Spanish guitar and, at the end, there is an excellent sax solo to which Bloomfield responds with a solo that promises a lot, but gets lost in a fade.
Another hidden gem by Polte is Another Country, which is a song that is full of changes that demonstrates the enormous potential of this band. Then there is a collage of sounds from which Bloomfield produces a solo in which you can appreciate the enormous influence he had on Santana (Bloomfield was his favorite guitarist and here you can appreciate why). It is a jazzy and emotional solo but it increases in intensity until it becomes a storm of electric and wild rock.
By the time the album came out, Miles had already displaced Bloomfield as the band's leader and Bloomfield was beginning to be affected by his perennial insomnia and heroin addiction. A Long Time Comin' was never followed up, but it is further proof that Mike Bloomfield was one of the greatest musicians of his generation.