Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Westporter Mark Naftalin is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And not just to see the exhibits.

The keyboardist will be inducted in April, along with fellow members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The seminal blues-rock band joins Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers in the “Class of 2015.”

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

According to the Hall of Fame website, Naftalin — along with bandmates including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop —

converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James. With the release of their blues-drenched debut album in the fall of 1965, and its adventurous “East-West” followup in the summer of 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll.


And they played at Monterey:


After leaving the band in 1968, Naftalin — the son of former Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin — produced records, concerts, festivals and radio shows.

He started his own label, recording with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner and James Cotton.

He’s been a sideman on over 100 albums — including the great jangly piano riff on Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line.”


Last night, Naftalin reflected on what he calls “a great honor.” He is proud of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s interracial makeup; grateful to have worked with such creative, energetic musicians, and gratified that from the 1960s through today, people tell him the group’s music meant something to them.

“We’ve gotten fervent testimonials that we helped get someone through high school, college or Vietnam,” Naftalin said.

“And a number of musicians have said they were drawn to exploring blues music because of our influence. It’s a real privilege to be a little part of that.”

Mark Naftalin today.

Mark Naftalin today.

He and his wife Ellen — a 1967 Staples High School grad — started coming to Westport in 1991, the year they got married in the house she grew up in. They moved here permanently in 2002.

Naftalin will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. You can go to Cleveland for the ceremony.

Or you can head to the Westport Historical Society on December 31. From 6-8 p.m. he’s at the electric piano, part of his 7th annual First Night gig.

You can catch “Mark Naftalin and Friends” at the Pequot Library too, the weekend of January 17-18. He’ll play the Steinway concert grand.

It’s a long way from Monterey to Westport. But that detour to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile.


16 responses to “Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

  1. Thanks Dan for choosing a conversation most of us can agree upon. Congrats Mark and
    Paul Butterfield Blues Band for securing your place in Rock history!

    • Thanks, Jamie — but “most” can agree on? So I’m assuming we’ll be hearing from all the folks who think the band does NOT belong in the Hall of Fame? And those who think their music is the spawn of the devil? And those who would argue that they’re not REALLY a rock-and-roll band, because they’re so blues-based? And those who say the Paul Butterfield Blues Band never in fact existed…

  2. Congratulations to Mark – I didn’t know he was a Westporter. Thanks, Dan. St. Dominic’s Preview (Van Morrison, 1972) is my favorite LP of all time – Mark’s work on that was incredible! : – )

  3. There may well be another local angle to this story–and one that is perhaps unique to Westport.

    Since Mark’s wife, Ellen, is a Staples ’67 grad, that means–during her high school years–she could have seen three bands play at Staples who were later inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame: the Animals, the Yardbirds, and the Rascals. I wonder how many people there are who are married to a member of the Rock Hall of Fame and who also had the opportunity to see Hall of Fame bands perform at their local high school during their school days.

    I actually initially thought the Paul Butterfield Blues Band might have played at Staples but, thanks to Mark Smollin’s new book, I realized it was the Blues Project that had performed back in 1967.

    • Hi Fred, Thanks for the observation. I had not considered all that but do remember that I figured all high schools had such groups in concert. It wasn’t till years later that I realised how Staples was so special in that regard, and in so many other ways. Just want to add that I also got to see the Beatles, in the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1964, so with Ringo’s induction this year, that adds 4 other Hall of Famers to the list. Actually 5 since the group was also inducted. My dear old friend Steve Ward (who recently passed) took me when we were just 15. His father was a CBS exec so the way was paved.

      • Wow! You are indeed one very fortunate fan to have been at the Ed Sullivan Theater in February ’64. ( And, fortunate, too, to have seen those great concerts at Staples.) You certainly had a front-row seat to some great rock history.

      • Ellen, were you there for the same show as Andrea Tebbetts? Check out the story I posted last February, during the 50th-anniversary hoopla around the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan show.

        • I was there for their second appearance. It was every bit as much of a mad house but not quite as cool as Andrea’s being there for the first. Still, it is my go-to topic-drop when the conversation begins to lag at a dinner party. My other star struck moment when I was a younger kid, maybe 9 or 10, (so ’58 or ’59) was seeing Arthur Prysock at a nightclub called The Phone Booth in NY. I notice they filmed a scene of Mad Men in a mock-up of that club. It had phones on each table so one could call other tables. Oh and then there was the time I was in the peanut gallery on the Howdy Doody show. Well I guess that about covers it.

  4. Yo Mark, and congrats on the award !
    i’ll never forget the night you hired me to play at McCabe’s in Santa Monica with you and Mike Bloomfield and Buddy the drummer. As you may recall, after the first tune of the second set, Bloomfield jumped from the stage, and punched his mother (who was sitting front row center) right in the mouth; she was sitting next to Mike’s brand-new teenage wife, and Mike apparently sensed Mom was sending bad vibes to her new daughter-in-law !
    my datebook tells me that was Jan.1, 1977. someone recently sent me a CD called “I’m With You Always” which is an aural document on Tacoma produced by Denny Bruce, who never payed me for the recording session;
    how about you ?
    contact me with your mail info, and i’ll send you a dub. Yo again on the prize !

  5. Hi Buell, Mark is delighted to hear from you. He says he’s not questioning the reliability of your memory, but he doesn’t remember ever seeing Mike punch anybody and he’s not aware of Mike’s remarrying after being divorced from his first wife. Please contact Mark directly. He would love to be back in touch with you. His phone number is on our website, at the top of the home page, and you can email him from there, too.

  6. Many thanks Dan for this very nice article. ..Ellen

  7. Nancy Powers Conklin

    If I recall correctly, way back when we were in Staples, the SSO or whatever organization planned and made these concerts happen, took surveys in our homerooms. i remember filling one out that listed four bands, one of which was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.