Guitar & Vocals
Growing up in the 1940s on a farm in Iowa with a loving but non-musical family, Elvin seldom heard music as a kid. “This was before TV,” Elvin says, “and on the radio you got a lot of Frank Sinatra and ‘How Much Is That Doggie In the Window’ type of stuff.” The family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when Elvin was 10, in 1952. Tulsa was “totally segregated,” says Elvin, “I mean, hard core.” However, “the one thing they couldn’t segregate was the airwaves. When rock and roll started up, in the mid-’50s, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard showed up on white radio.”
And then, late one night when Elvin was 14 or 15, the atmospheric conditions a little rough, Jimmy Reed’s harmonica came cutting through the static from WLAC in Nashville, and Elvin Bishop’s life was changed. The song was “Honest I Do.” “That piercing harp came through, cutting in like a knife, and I said, ‘Oh, man, that’s it.’ I found out that blues was where the good part of rock and roll was coming from.”
And about that time, he started trying to play guitar. “I wanted to play it from the beginning,” Elvin says. “I kept trying and then quitting it. Hurtin’ my fingers, playing those old pawn-shop guitars with the strings two inches off the fret board. Nobody I knew played.” But he kept after it. “Not being able to dance, and seeing how the musicians did with the girls, and loving the music, I finally stuck with it.”
Hooked on the sounds emerging from the radio, Elvin had to find out where they were coming from and who was responsible. When he was awarded a National Merit Scholarship in 1959, he could have gone to pretty much any college he wanted, but chose The University Of Chicago, because that’s where the blues were. And so he landed in the middle of one of the richest and most vital scenes in blues history. “Any night of the week you could hear Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Bobby King, Eddie King, Little Smokey, Big Smokey, and a whole ton of people you never heard of.”
His first week in Chicago, he came across Paul Butterfield, who was sitting on some steps drinking beer and playing blues on guitar. “We fell together right away,” says Elvin. “I was amazed to find other white guys into blues.” After playing with a lot of different people, including J.T. Brown, Hound Dog Taylor and Junior Wells, Elvin hooked up with Butterfield to form the legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay, who’d been Howlin’ Wolf’s rhythm section. Producer Paul Rothchild of Elektra Records encouraged them to add guitarist Michael Bloomfield. “I’d met Bloomfield before, in a pawn shop,” says Elvin, “when I was looking for guitars. We got to talking. He got a guitar out, started playing circles around the world.”
In 1965 the Butterfield band went into the studio and recorded The Paul Butterfield Blues Band album, which turned out to be a sea-change record for thousands of rock fans and musicians. An integrated band playing blues music in 1965 was unheard of. It introduced a lot of people to the blues, and to the musicians who had influenced the Butterfield band. After several more albums with Butterfield, including the pivotal genrebending East West, Bishop took off on his own. “I wanted to stretch out, see how far I could take it on my own,” says Elvin. Bishop had visited San Francisco with the Butterfield band during the Summer of Love in 1967. “I loved the people, the weather, and not having to watch my back all the time.” And like several other Chicago musicians he ended up moving to the Bay Area.
The 70’s saw Elvin hit the charts with solo tracks like “Travelin’ Shoes,” “Sure Feels Good” and what would become his biggest hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” with a powerful vocal by Mickey Thomas. During the 1980’s, Elvin spent most of his time on the road, “entertaining the people and maybe having a little too much fun myself.” Later in the decade he hooked up with Alligator for a number of excellent albums that grew right out of his blues roots.
Photo: Mitchell Glotzer (www.napaphoto.net)
Trombone & Percussion
Ed Earley has been on the blues scene for almost 30 years between St. Louis and the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s backed up Elvin Bishop, Albert King, Joe Louis Walker, Buddy Ace, Luther Ingram, just to name a few. He also has his own band, self named with two CDs with his band and other musicians as back up. He also has many studio credits you can find on EdEarleyBand.com.
Guitar & Piano
Hailing from Covington, La. Bob moved to the Bay Area in his late teens, where he’s been part of the blues scene for almost twenty years. He started out in the Rusty Zinn band, and from there has backed up & toured with multiple luminaries all over the world, including Jackie Payne, Charlie Musselwhite, John Nemeth, Mark Hummel, Roy Gaines, Snooky Pryor, Pinetop Perkins, E.C. Scott, Kim Wilson, Billy Boy Arnold, Lazy Lester, James Harman, James Cotton, and many others. He has also recorded with many artists whose names can be found on his web site: BobWelshJr.com
Born in Oakland California, Ruth Davies fell in love with the bass in high school and has enjoyed a successful career in the jazz and blues world ever since. Ruth spent 10 years touring around the world with legendary Charles Brown leading to great opportunities to work with John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur, Henry Butler, Etta James and Little Jimmy Scott. She has an extensive discography (including platinum and Grammy-winning recordings), which can be found on her website RuthDavies.com. Ruth Joined the Elvin Bishop band in 2011.
Keys & Accordion
S.E.Willis moved to the SF Bay Area from Arizona, where he was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame. He has released four CDs under his own name and backed such artists as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Jimmy Rogers, Zigaboo Modeliste, and Albert King. His country-inflected roots-boogie piano and accordion playing and singing have been an integral part of Elvin Bishop’s sound since 1999. SEWillis.com
Drums & Vocals
Bobby Cochran has performed four and a half decades on the San Francisco Music scene. Bobby has also performed with Bobby Freeman, The Edwin Hawkins Singers, Cold Blood, Tom Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), post C.C.R. group Ruby, Lowell Fulsom, Jimmy McCracklin, John Lee Hooker, Maria Muldaur, and Sy Klopps Blues Band. Bobby has been playing with Elvin Bishop since 1997, performing, recording and writing. He also recorded on the last CD recorded by Country Music legend Vassar Clements.