Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - 52

ColuMn

elvIn BIShop

The Circuitous Journey of a Blues Crusader
By Wolf marshall

W

ith his cowboy hat, overalls, Oklahoma
drawl, and homespun demeanor, guitar
legend Elvin Bishop hardly paints the
picture of a National Merit Scholarship recipient
studying physics as a teenager at the University
of Chicago.
Equally unlikely is the vision of his jamming
with Hendrix, Clapton, and B.B., or his role as
prime architect in the '60s blues-rock movement. At face value, one might assume him
a proponent of some reconstituted Westernswing school (after all, his native Tulsa was the
birthplace of the genre), or perhaps a member
of the J.J. Cale roots-rock camp. But, Bishop is a
lifelong blues crusader who has traversed varied,
often incongruent musical terrain wherein
he operated without compromise or artifice
underscored by the diversity and integrity of
his contribution and dedication to America's
indigenous folk music.
Born in Glendale, California, in 1942, Bishop
was raised on a farm without electricity or run-

ning water in rural Iowa, and moved to Tulsa
when he was 10. His family was not musical, but
he was drawn to the pop records on '50s radio.
He succumbed to the allure of R&B, rock and
roll, and the blues, acquired a budget guitar and
taught himself to play. A confessed "good test
taker," Bishop earned a National Merit scholarship and attended the University of Chicago in
1959, coincidentally (wink) on Chicago's south
side, home of the blues he had been studying
from afar. There, he met fellow student and
blues aficionado Paul Butterfield and began a
deep exploration of the city's musical heritage
when night clubs were regularly offering Muddy
Waters, Little Walter, Otis Rush, Magic Sam,
Buddy Guy, or Howlin' Wolf. In this period,
Bishop was mentored by Smokey Smothers,
Howlin' Wolf's guitarist, who coached him
on blues music and the lifestyle. He returned
the favor, honoring their friendship in a duet
session, That's My Partner (2000).
Butterfield and Bishop made their first

Vintage guitar

52

July 2016

recordings in 1963 with Billy Boy Arnold and
James Cotton. They then recruited Howlin'
Wolf's rhythm section of Sam Lay (drums) and
Jerome Arnold (bass). The Paul Butterfield Blues
Band was born, and with it the beginnings of
America's white-blues movement. Bishop paid
his dues alongside Butterfield at Big John's, playing six nights a week. Like-minded locals Mike
Bloomfield (lead guitar) and Mark Naftalin
(keyboards) joined the lineup just before the
eponymous '65 debut recording. The followup, East-West (1966) was a groundbreaking
masterpiece that featured Bishop's lead vocals
on "Never Say No" and adventurous shared
solos on "Work Song" and "East-West." The
latter, inspired by modal and avant-garde jazz
and Indian raga, was a precursor of the extended
improvisations of fusion and acid rock.
After Bloomfield's departure in '67, Bishop
reinstated his lead-guitarist credentials on the
R&B-inflected Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw
and the jazzier In My Dreams. Both presented
Butterfield's changing direction with Bishop
complementing a horn section (sporting a
young David Sanborn). He delivered memorable
guitarwork on "Driftin' and Driftin,'" "Drivin'
Wheel," "Get Yourself Together," "Just To Be
With You," and "Drunk Again." Accordingly, he
increased his visibility, jamming with everyone
from Jimi Hendrix to B.B. King. In fact, one of
the period's iconic photos captured King and
Clapton seated on Twin-Reverbs with Bishop
to their left in an impromptu guitar summit.
In '68, Bishop went solo and moved to San
Francisco, where he performed regularly at Bill
Graham's Fillmore and was on the bill when
the Allman Brothers recorded their classic Live
at Fillmore. He had developed his own sound
apart from Butterfield, heard on recordings with
Clinton Chenier, John Lee Hooker, Al Kooper,
and Mike Bloomfield, and formed his own
band. Contracted to the Fillmore label, Bishop
released The Elvin Bishop Group ('68) and Feel It!
('69). While playing in the South, he deepened
a kinship with Duane Allman and Dickey Betts
who helped secure a record contract with Capricorn. Trading on his Pigboy Crabshaw alter
ego, Bishop adopted a country-boy image and
incorporated country-blues and boogie-rock
sounds on Let It Flow ('74), producing the hit
single "Travelin' Shoes" and becoming his first
album to make the Top 100. The next effort,
Struttin' My Stuff ('75), saw Bishop earning
pop success with "Fooled Around and Fell in
Love" , which reached #3 and featured Mickey
Thomas (later of Jefferson Starship) on vocals.
Its follow-up, Hometown Boy Makes Good,
found Bishop repeating the Thomas-fueled
pop formula with "Spend Some Time," along
with nods to reggae, disco, and funk sounds

Elvin Bishop: Neil Zlozower/Atlasicons.com.

fretprints


https://youtu.be/3B3_7j6NwYA?list=PL1293D4CB8DBFF1B9

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - Cover1
Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - Cover2
Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - 1
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Vintage Guitar - July 2016 - Open - Contents
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