Roots-blues guitarist Elvin Bishop first found fame as a member of The Butterfield Blues Band, a Chicago-based powerhouse white blues group that became one of the premiere live acts of the hippie years. Bishop left Butterfield Blues in 1968 and eventually formed his own group, where he fused blues with country-rock along with the nascent Southern rock style. In 1976, he briefly became a Top 40 star, when his swoopingly romantic single, "Fooled Around And Fell In Love," became an aitch-you-gee-eee, HUGE hit on rock radio (and doubtless paid the bills for many years to follow...) Afterwards, he went back to being a more-or-less straight blues dude, continuing on for decades as a stalwart of the American blues and roots-music scene. Here's a quick look at his work...
Elvin Bishop "Sure Feels Good: The Best Of Elvin Bishop" (Universal, 1992)
Paul Butterfield Blues Band "The Paul Butterfield Blues Band" (Elektra, 1965)
(Produced by Paul Rothchild & Mark Abramson)
Classic white urban blues, some of the best of the era. The opening track, "Born In Chicago," with the lyrics playing all tough and streetwise, has an air of silliness and posturing, except that the musicianship is rock-solid and hard-driving -- these guys put to rest the idea that white boys couldn't "really" play the blues (although it should be noted this was actually a mixed-race band, which was also controversial at the time, with Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay, of Howlin' Wolf's band sitting in on bass and drums...) Laced throughout the album is a sly taste of Northern soul that gave the Buttlerfield crew a sweet, funky sound that they would all carry into their solo careers, including Elvin Bishop, who added a rough, muscular edge to his contributions that balanced out the slicker styles of pianist Mark Naftalin and bandleader Paul Butterfield. Great stuff.
Paul Butterfield Blues Band "East-West" (Elektra, 1966)
(Produced by Paul Rothchild & Mark Abramson)
For many fans, this album is the apex of the Butterfield Blues Band, with soulful piano and multiple lead guitars trading off hot licks while supporting each other's efforts, the synergistic whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Sizzling electric numbers like "Walking Blues" and funky New Orleans-style soul stompers such as "Get Out Of My Life Woman" put the band on a par with British blues revivalists such as the Yardbirds, but it was the epic, jazz-tinged thirteen-minute jam session, "East-West," on Side Two, that set a new bar for blues bands across the world, and served almost as a statement of purpose for the acid-laced improvs of the psychedelic era. This one's a winner, and certainly one of the hottest, most cohesive white blues albums of the era.
Paul Butterfield Blues Band "The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw" (Elektra, 1967)
Bishop played lead on this album, following Mike Bloomfield's departure from the band...
Paul Butterfield Blues Band "In My Own Dream" (Elektra, 1968)
Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper "The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper" (Columbia, 1969)
Elvin Bishop "The Elvin Bishop Group" (Fillmore, 1969)
Elvin Bishop "Feel It!" (Fillmore, 1970)
Elvin Bishop "Rock My Soul" (Epic, 1972)
Elvin Bishop "Let It Flow" (Capricorn, 1974)
Our boy Elvin sure had an interesting career path... In the early 1960s he emerged as a hotshot whiteboy blues player, a founding member of the Butterfield Blues band, from where he launched his solo career in '68. Somewhere along the line, as the southern rock scene emerged and he got into that funky groove, Bishop got kind of weird and tweaky and made some of the goofiest hippie-blues-boogie-country-twang mashups ever recorded. This album, in particular, is a real gem, one of the kookier hippiebillie albums you'll ever hear, with several swell songs, including my faves, "Honey Babe" "Ground Hog," "Fishin'," and "Travellin' Shoes," all of which were staples on the legendary KFAT, Gilroy radio station. But if you want to hear him delve into country music, with his uniquely funky, humorous style, then definitely track this one down and bring it home. It's a great record.
Elvin Bishop "Juke Joint Jump" (Capricorn, 1975)
Elvin Bishop "Struttin' My Stuff" (Capricorn, 1976)
This is the album that made Elvin Bishop a household name during the American Bicentennial, as the hit single "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" rose to #3 on the American Pop charts. Bishop didn't actually sing on the track, giving over lead vocals to backup singer Mickey Thomas, who in turn got a gig as lead singer of the then-wobbly Jefferson Starship. This album has a more mainstream "pop" sound than his earlier albums, shedding much of the Southern rock sizzle and hillbilly twang, but it's still got some nice tunes, and I'm sure its success paid more than a few bills. Plus, "Fooled Around" remains one of the all-time great guilty pleasure singalong songs of the 'Seventies: go on... you know you wanna hit that high note!
Elvin Bishop "Hometown Boy Makes Good!" (Capricorn, 1976)
Elvin Bishop "Hog Heaven" (Capricorn, 1978)
Elvin Bishop "Big Fun" (Alligator, 1988)
Elvin Bishop "Don't Let The Bossman Get You Down!" (Alligator, 1991)
Elvin Bishop "Ace In The Hole" (Alligator, 1995)
Elvin Bishop "The Skin I'm In" (Alligator, 1998)
Elvin Bishop "Party Till The Cows Come Home" (Acadia, 2004)
Looks like this is a tasty set of live recordings of old stuff from the '70s... If I track it down, I'll give you a full report.
Elvin Bishop "Gettin' My Groove Back" (Blind Pig, 2005)
Elvin Bishop "The Blues Rolls On" (Delta Groove, 2008)
Elvin Bishop "Red Dog Speaks" (Delta Groove, 2010)
A solid, funky set from roots music elder Elvin Bishop, one of those guys like Delbert McClinton whose work so casually interweaves country and blues that it's kinda silly trying to box him into any one category. Of course, he started out as a blues player, notably with the 1960's Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and he makes his living playing blues festivals and club gigs, but Bishop is no stranger to hillbilly twang or slash-and-burn Southern rock, and the fluidity with which he's combined these styles has been one of his trademarks over the years. Another trademark is the velvety, conversational tone of his guitar, a 1959 Gibson ES-345 named "Red Dog," which is the subject of the album's title track, a bluesy recitation in which Bishop's goofball vocal tones rise out of the aether, an old friend we're glad to hear from. It's great to hear him sounding so vigorous -- Bishop is almost seventy years old -- and so full of good humor, as always. Other album highlights include a thumping cover of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross," re-imagined as a grinding blues anthem, and the comedic "Clean Livin'," in which Elvin recounts every ailment he's ever had (can't wait to put that in a playlist next to George Jones' "Nothing's Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You)") Nice record, definitely worth checking out!
Hick Music Index