While this column has spotlighted some newer musicians, this edition of The Blues Fix centers on a true living legend. Elvin Bishop first came on the scene as a guitarist in The Paul Butterfield Blues Band alongside Mike Bloomfield, on their 1965 debut. Since then he’s gone on to do over 25 studio and live records and recently released a brilliant record called 100 Years of Blues with fellow legend Charlie Musslewhite. I recently spent some time with Elvin talking about the new record and his long career.
Please press the PLAY icon below to hear my Conversation with Elvin Bishop –
It’s hard to believe that it took until 2020 for Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musslewhite to record a full album together, but it certainly was worth the wait. 100 Years of Blues is a modern primer into the front-porch blues style that influenced the great early blues players. Elvin points out that even though this is the first full record the pair has done, they’ve played together quite a bit over the years. In fact, the title of the record comes from a song the pair did on Bishop’s 2016 release Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio.
“We wrote this tune together “100 Years of Blues”, and it worked out so well that we started doing shows together”, explains Bishop. “And the shows went over great. And so we just said, Oh, hell, we better make a record” The record is a strong mix of original music and a few covers. When asked about the song selection, Bishop replied, “I just picked out a few songs I wanted to do, and Charlie picked out a few he wanted to do, and we just back to each other up as well as we could,”
Elvin is also quick to talk about how much fun the recording process was. The pair began the recording without a label so they only need to please themselves. “There wasn’t much rehearsing going on”, Bishop said of the sessions, “And I don’t think anything went over one or two take and no overdubbing”.
“Birds of a Feather”
As the feel of this record is a throwback to the early days of the blues, I asked Bishop about his early days on the Chicago blues scene.”It was an amazing experience. It was unexpected.” While in Chicago as a young man, Bishop had the opportunity to play with some of the greats, but it was one man who he felt immediately drawn to, “First day I was in Chicago, just walking around, just checking it out and amazed by the whole thing. And there was a guy sitting on the stairs playing blues on the guitar and drinking a quart of beer. And I said, “Oh, man, this has got to be my type of fella” and went over to make friends with him”. The guy on the stairs happened to be Paul Butterfield. Bishop remembers, “He didn’t play that much harmonica. And when I first met him, he really played guitar. But after he picked up the harmonica and got serious about it within about six months, he was just gone to the stratosphere. He was a natural genius on the instrument.”
“100 Years of Blues”
As the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was coming together, second guitarist Mike Bloomfield was soon added to the mix. “It wasn’t competition”, Bishop explains of his relationship with Bloomfield, “I wasn’t very far along in my development at the time and I saw it was an opportunity to learn things from Bloomers. He kind of opened up my eyes to a lot of stuff. Like how we could play horn parts on the guitars.” Bishop goes on to say that Bloomfield had “been playing music for a long time since he was a young teenager, and he was pretty far along, you know? So there was no sense to me trying to be jealous about it.”
“Fooled Around and Fell In Love”
Although that lineup of the band was fairly short-lived, they were rewarded with an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Bishop reunited with surviving members Sam Lay, Mark Naftalin, Jerome Davenport, and Billy Arnold. Bishop says that the induction was a complete surprise and that his “first thought was Damn, we must have sold fewer records than anybody in this sucker.” While that may be true, few have had more influence.
Once the pandemic clears and touring is safe again, Bishop hopes to hit the road and play at least a few shows with Musslewhite in support of this landmark release.
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