Mike Bloomfield and Me at the Fickle Pickle

– The late great guitarist Mike Bloomfield used to tell me, “Man you’re the only REAL folksinger I know.” I took it with a grain of salt since I knew a lot of “real folksingers” myself and held many of them in awe at the time. But I fit his romantic image of the folksinger because I didn’t have a car and hitchhiked all over the U.S. and Canada with a sleeping bag and guitar and always had road adventures to tell him about. In addition, I was, at that time, playing a repertoire of mostly traditional songs from old English ballads to blues. Mike was managing a club on Rush Street in Chicago called the Fickle Pickle and booked me to play there several times during the mid 60s. He once booked me as a headliner with Big Joe Williams as my opening act. I said ” Man I’m embarrassed to have Joe open for me. The guy’s a legend. I should open for HIM!” He explained that he was dedicated to keeping Joe working and he couldn’t book him as a headliner all the time so he needed somebody else from out of town to headline.

At the time, along with being a sponge for the styles of the local blues artists, like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and others he was also booking those artists all over town. I really liked Mike. He was always enthusiastic and acted like life was racing ahead of him too quickly to catch it. He always seemed like he was in hyper-drive. In fact, whenever I asked him to show me some blues lick on the guitar he seemed incapable of slowing it down enough for me to follow him. I finally gave up. But it was still always a kick to hang with him because he invariably had something new he wanted to turn me on to. Sitting in his apartment one night he turned me on to a comedy album that would become a classic. HOW TO SPEAK HIP with the brilliant Del Close and John Brent of Second City made us laugh til we cried. The record is out of circulation but I hope you get a chance to hear it someday.

His then wife, Susan, and I had become friends during that time (no romance, just mutually supportive friends) and after their divorce I stayed with her for a couple of days after my own breakup with the girl who inspired one of my first songs. I wrote it in her apartment and it was later recorded by Linda Ronstadt/ Stone Poneys and the late Fred Neil.

I lost touch with Mike after that as he joined Electric Flag, played with Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited and the Newport Folk Festival and moved to San Francisco, but his searching spirit and the fun we shared still lives warmly in my memory.

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3 Responses to Mike Bloomfield and Me at the Fickle Pickle

  1. allen bloomfield April 26, 2009 at 5:40 am #

    Dear John,
    What you described is great. I would love to hear in greater detail the Pickle scene, stories you told Michael and his tales back to you. Fill us in on the atmosphere at that time, the oddest players you saw and the audience you came there.
    Allen Bloomfield

  2. John Braheny May 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    Allen – glad you liked the story. I’ll work on some more memories but though I worked at The Unicorn too, I didn’t spend a great deal of time in Chicago. However, you might enjoy another story about my first ever performance at a club, a “Hoot” night at Mother Blues on Wells St, also under Personal Tales here. I’m sure I must’ve told Mike that story as it involved some characters he knew.

  3. Ginger November 11, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    Hi, I was a waitress at the Fickle Pickle in the early 1960’s. I remember a barrista named “Fish.” I also remember having a fabulous time listening to all of the great music to pass through those doors and down the stairs. It was the time of my life, meeting The Smothers Brothers, Dick Gregory, Mason Williams, and lots of others.

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