In blues music circles, where salaries are rarely in the six figures
and substance is more important than style, there is something
supremely satisfying about coming "full circle." For Jimmy Vivino,
the New Jersey raised producer and guitarist for television’s "Late
Night with Conan O’ Brien" band, coming full circle means being part
of an ongoing series of shows concocted by him and the late harmonica
player-singer Paul Butterfield’s son, Gabe.
Called "Paul Butterfield Revisited," the band is busy with an on-going
series of tribute concerts to his hugely influential father that
include the upcoming performances at this week’s 52nd annual
Philadelphia Folk Festival.
For many years after leaving his native Chicago, Paul Butterfield made
his home in Woodstock, New York, a point that will be made in a film
documentary about Butterfield, his short life, and musical times.
The Butterfield Blues Band was extremely important and ground-breaking
in the 1960s and should have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame years ago, says Vivino.
Although Paul Butterfield was 45 when he died on May 4, 1987, due to
complications from peritonitis, Vivino met and sometimes even jammed
privately with the musician whom he calls one of his earliest blues
Then years later he met the younger Butterfield. "I must have met
[drummer and singer] Gabe more than 20 years ago. He was Paul’s kid,"
Vivino recalls while calling from his home in Burbank, California.
His brother Jimmy joins him on the late night show.
"I never officially played with Paul’s band, but I knew him and hung
out with him. We caroused a bit in clubs in New York and he would come
up to hear me after their shows some times," Vivino recalled of his
earliest days on the then-healthy New York blues and rock club scene
in the 1980s.
"The thing I remember about Paul is he always wanted to play piano, he
never wanted to play his harps. He was a great singer and a natural
bluesman," Vivino says, "as opposed to guys like the Rolling Stones
who listened to records from American blues men and tried to get it.
Butterfield actually went on stage with Muddy Waters, with Howlin’
Wolf and with Buddy Guy."
"The uncanny thing about Gabe is he sounds just like his father when
he’s singing," Vivino says, and "Gabe hasn’t had it very easy in his
young life, because his father was on the road a lot and he also died
very young. He’s learned how to live, he’s happily married now and
living in Woodstock and I’m happy for him like an uncle; happy to see
how he’s grown up."
The genesis of the series of shows that Vivino and Butterfield will
continue to present in honor of the late Paul Butterfield came about
at the late Levon Helm’s home studio in Woodstock, site of the famed
"Midnight Rambles," which continue every few weeks even though former
band drummer and vocalist Helm passed away in April, 2012.
"We came together at the Barn. I was playing with Levon and Gabe came
by. One of our first gigs was last summer and I know he did the Black
Potatoe Festival in New Jersey last summer," Vivino says.
Vivino, who played trumpet and piano before switching to jazz guitar
as a 23-year-old — is not only a very quick study when it comes to
blues guitar — but also the youngest of three talented brothers.
Comedian, former TV show host, and New Jersey pop culture historian
Floyd Vivino, a.k.a. Uncle Floyd, is the eldest. Saxophonist, flutist,
and composer Jerry Vivino is the middle brother. And guitarist,
singer-songwriter, bandleader and producer Jimmy is the youngest.
The three were born in Paterson but mostly raised in Glen Rock, where
the family moved in 1964, because their doting parents wanted their
children to have a good education. Their father worked as a carpenter
and wood craftsman and played trumpet professionally. Both parents
were enormously supportive of their sons and their varying musical
endeavors. In their case, it paid off, as they’ve all found fame and
[some] fortune, anyway.
In "Paul Butterfield Revisited," Gabe and Vivino are joined by bassist
Jim Curtin, keyboardist Pete Levin, and guitarist and vocalist Jimmy
"For Philadelphia Folk Festival, we’ll have Steve Guyger on
harmonicas, but we often use Rob Paparozzi for gigs in New York,"
Vivino explains. The Cranford-based Paparozzi is the dean of blues
harmonica players in New Jersey, and one of the few who was playing
authentic blues in Garden State clubs in the late 1960s and early
"Since I’m on the West coast, the band just goes on without me. For
me, it’s just a lot of fun," he says, adding, "Gabe always wanted to
do something in tribute to his father, and he’s earned his wings now;
why not play Paul’s music? There’s been a lot of activity recently
with what would have been [the late guitarist] Michael Bloomfield’s
70th birthday. And then there’s the constant question: why haven’t the
Paul Butterfield Blues Band been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall
"This is a band that Dylan made his ground-breaking performance with
at Newport Folk Festival, they were one of the first integrated rock
bands, and they were responsible for a whole new movement in rock
music," Vivino says.
"But Jann Wenner and the other people on the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame induction committee don’t seem to agree; I guess it was more
important to put (the Pacific Northwest band) Heart in there. Not to
dis Heart or anything, but the Paul Butterfield Blues Band needs to be
recognized as pioneers, because in music, you have to move forward,
and it’s important to go back and find the pioneers and people that
first broke the ground as we know it."
Vivino’s current album for the blues label Blind Pig Records is called
"13 Live." It was recorded at the Helm’s Studio in Woodstock, the same
place where Larry Campbell produced Helm’s three Grammy Award winning
recordings for Vanguard Records.
"You can feel the barn on my new record," Vivino says, "there was
always something about the wood in that barn even though the Black
Italians were not a Woodstock band, they were a New York City band.
It was friendlier to record live in the barn for two nights and it
worked out exactly like I thought it would. It’s rare when things
come out exactly like you hope they would. This new record did."
As a producer, Vivino produced his records with his brother Jerry, but
also worked with Big Bill Morganfield, John Sebastian, mandolin player
Yank Rachell, Bill Perry, and Son Seals. His Telarc label blues
recording with the Son Seals Blues Band, "Let It Go," is particularly
impressive, drew rave critical reviews when it was released, and
includes a fine performance by Trey Anastasio, the locally raised
guitarist and co-founder of the jam-rock band, Phish. (The guys in
Phish would send for Son Seals when they were packing stadiums in the
"Playing with Gabe validates doing something for Paul, for me," Vivino
says. "And the fact that I could be in the same room with a guy like
Paul, was huge for me at the time when I first met him. The couple of
times we jammed together, as far as I was concerned, they were
immensely important to me when I was starting out in New York clubs
like the Bottom Line," he says. "It was very important to me to hang
out and learn from guys like Paul Butterfield, Al Kooper, the Blues
Project and the Rascals."
Philadelphia Folk Festival, Old Pool Farm near Schwenksville,
Pennsylvania, Friday through Sunday, August 16, 17 and 18.
Jimmy Vivino and Gabe Butterfield Present, "Paul Butterfield
Revisited," 3 p.m. Saturday, August 17, 3 p.m., Camp stage, 7 p.m.,
Other festival performers include Jake Shimabukuro, Amy Helm Band,
Todd Rundgren, Ben Vaughn Quintet, Spuyten Duyvil, Ellis Paul, Richard
Thompson Trio, Jeffrey Gaines, David Amram, Steve Guyger, David
Bromberg, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Ray Benson and Asleep at the
Wheel, and more.
For more information, go to www.folkfest.org or call 800-556- FOLK.