Elvin Bishop has been travelling the Blues road longer than most, and he’s got the stories to prove it – many of which are contained within the songs on this release. Stops along the way include his work as a founding member of the groundbreaking Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the early ‘60s, recordings with legends such as Clifton Chenier, John Lee Hooker, and The Allman Brothers, and Pop success with his own 1976 smash hit “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”. Bishop’s long and varied career has included plenty of side trips along the way as well, from deep down gutbucket Blues played in smoky South Side Chicago taverns, to raucous roadhouse R&B, to good time Rock & Roll on concert stages and festivals around the world. And at every stage along the way, he’s instilled all of his music with passion, creativity, and a healthy helping of wisdom, wit, and good humor.
Elvin was born in Glendale, California, and grew up on a farm near Elliott, Iowa. His family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he was ten years old. His earliest exposure to music came from the family’s radio, where in between “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” young Elvin could sometimes catch classic records of Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Once he’d got his feet wet, there was no turning back. He quickly acquired his first guitar and on his own began working out the basic outlines of the Blues, R&B and Rock & Roll that had captured his soul.
By the time he was preparing for college in the late 1950s, Bishop had earned a National Merit Scholarship that allowed him to go to almost any school he chose – and the only choice on Elvin’s mind was the prestigious University of Chicago, which just happened to be located on Chicago’s South Side, ground zero for much of the urban Blues Elvin had so far been studying only from a distance. He arrived in Chicago in 1959, and before long crossed paths with a fellow student Paul Butterfield. Together, they explored the taverns and Blues joints in the black neighborhoods surrounding the university campus at a time when Blues giants like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Howlin’ Wolf could be found playing in corner bars for a $2 cover charge just about any night of the week.
By 1963, Bishop and Butterfield were ready to graduate – not from the university, but from their apprenticeship under Chicago’s Blues veterans. They made their first recordings that year, doing a session with veterans Billy Boy Arnold and James Cotton. That same year, they recruited Howlin’ Wolf’s former rhythm section of Sam Lay on drums and Jerome Arnold on bass, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was born. In 1965, after adding Mike Bloomfield and Mark Naftalin to the lineup, their revolutionary debut LP was released, opening the door for virtually all the young white Blues bands that followed. Bishop remained in the fold for three albums with the Butterfield band, including their innovative “East-West” release (on which Bishop and Bloomfield’s intertwining guitars helped set the stage for the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead, among many others who followed), before getting the itch to move on and venturing out on his own. Elvin released several well-received albums in the early ‘70s, before experiencing his biggest Pop success, the gold-record earning national hit “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” from his 1976 LP “Struttin’ My Stuff.”
Road work kept Elvin busy through the ‘80s, and as time went by his journey led him back to the Blues that were at the root of all his musical endeavors. And that fertile territory has been his focus ever since.
Delta Groove Productions president Randy Chortkoff has been a fan and follower of Elvin’s music through all the many phases of his career, beginning with Butterfield Blues Band in the mid 1960s, and when the opportunity arose to bring Elvin into the Delta Groove fold, Chortkoff jumped at the opportunity. The result was Elvin’s Grammy-nominated 2008 CD “The Blues Rolls On,” and a flurry of other awards and accolades, including being named 2009 Male Blues Artist of the Year by Blues Blast magazine. Elvin’s new releases are exciting next steps in his Blues journey.
Right out of the gate, on “Red Dog Speaks”, Bishop leaves no doubt where his heart is, cleverly introducing his long-time cohort “Red Dog” with a gritty slow blues calculated to set the pace for what’s to come. Along the way he smoothly steers the way from strutting Blues and R&B , through a good dose of good-time Rock & Roll, and even an occasional detour through Doo-Wop, Zydeco, and Gospel. Elvin has made plenty of talented friends over the years, and many of them jumped at the chance to help out on “Red Dog Speaks”; Buckwheat Zydeco, Tommy Castro, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and John Németh all make guest appearances. And all of it adds up to an amalgam that can only be called “Elvin Bishop music.”
[Rays photo by Bob Hoskins]