Hyde Park native who
introduced a generation to
the swaggering energy
of Chicago blues
Chicago filmmaker John Anderson’s 2018 documentary, Horn from the Heart: the Paul Butterfield Story, is a detailed and passionate tribute to the life and career of Chicago vocalist and harmonica player Paul Butterfield.
Known to most fans as an incomparable musician, Butterfield was also an influential bandleader, a charismatic performer, a fierce civil rights advocate, and a cultural revolutionary.
While documenting the life of the Hyde Park native, Anderson recounts a bluesy chapter of Chicago history, explains an evolution of American music, and describes Butterfield’s commitment to desegregation.
With an endless supply of first-hand accounts, vintage clips, historic photos, and old concert posters, he amplifies the harmonica player’s influence on the nation’s cultural transformation from acoustic folk to psychedelic improvisation during the 1960s.
“It’s very much a civil rights story,” says the director. “Paul Butterfield had a mixed band, he stood up for the African Americans in his band, and he would not travel to the south if the accommodations did not respect them.”
HORN FROM THE HEART: THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD STORY | OFFICIAL TRAILER
Paul Butterfield learned from Muddy Waters, hired Howlin’ Wolf’s rhythm section, and indirectly convinced Bob Dylan to plug in and play electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. He also performed at the Monterey Pop Festival as well as Woodstock, and inspired bands from Great Britain to San Francisco along the way.
“Eric Burden, John Mayall, Moby Grape, and The Grateful Dead are all acolytes of Paul’s,” Anderson continues. “When they saw him play American hard-edged blues, they said, ‘hey, we better learn our instruments.’”
Anderson is well known for his work in the music documentary genre. Over the past decade, he shot the feature-length Born in Chicago, about the history of Chicago Blues, and Sam Lay in Bluesland, about legendary Chicago blues drummer Sam Lay.
After being selected as a “Critic’s Pick” by the New York Times, Horn from the Heart enjoyed a weeklong, sold-out run at Tribeca’s Roxy Cinema. Upon finishing its current West Coast run, the film will come to the Gene Siskel Film Center for a November 9 Chicago premiere, followed by a week of screenings.
Rolling Stone described Horn from the Heart as “an enlightening look at an under-documented musician,” and Film Threat called it a “must-see for music fans,” adding that, “others who are too young to remember Butterfield ought to check it out, too.”
Anderson credits Executive Producer Sandra Warren for not only helping to make the film successful, but also getting it off the ground in the first place.
“Sandra tracked me down through Corky Siegel, the Chicago-based harp player,” he explains. “She was knocked out by Paul going back to the mid-60s Greenwich Village rock and blues joint, Café Au Go Go, and she really believes that he deserves a place in the blues music pantheon.”
The film is a worthy celebration to the legacy of a Chicago bluesman whose influence on modern music cannot be underestimated.
Todd Rundgren, Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Rait, Al Kooper, and Mike Bloomfield are among the family, friends, bandmates, club owners, fans, and managers who reminisce about the charismatic white kid who grew up to embody the swaggering energy of Chicago blues. They remember him as a strong leader, a loyal friend, and an occasional jokester.
Horn from the Heart also describes Butterfield’s final years, which were nowhere near as glamorous as his peak, but the legacy he left will always play on.
“Paul believed in the blues,” says Anderson. “He was going to jam it down peoples throats whether they wanted to hear it or not.”