Elvin Bishop may be one of the quintessential good-old-boys, but he's also
one fine roots/blues picker. As a founding member of the Butterfield Blues
Band (Mike Bloomfield was grafted on later, DURING recording of their first
album), he was instrumental in introducing a rock-psychedelic audience to
blues. He also pioneered the hip-country character of "Pigboy Crabshaw"
while with Butter, and when he left to go on his own, he was on of the first
to wear bib overalls on stage, sometime before James Cotton or Buddy Guy
realized it could be hip to be down-home.
Bishop came by it naturally, born in Oklahoma he won a scholarship and opted
for the University of Chicago, because that's where all the great blues he
heard on late-night radio came from. In Chicago he met guitarist Smokey
Smothers, who became his mentor, schooling him in both six-string and
street-smarts styles. Smothers spent three years with Howling Wolf, but in
the late 60's dropped out of music for some 20 years, working construction
and raising a family. In the 80's he came back and in 1993 had his first
album release on a Dutch label. Open heart surgery, another album, and a
well publicized gig at a 56th birthday party for Mick Jagger later, he
joins here with Bishop for a live set, recorded over a three day club gig in
Backed by Bishops tight six piece road band, the two trade off verses and
licks or back each other up as they take the spotlight--the result is a good
time album with some deeper roots. The pair open with "That's My Partner",
a good natured tribute to Smothers by Bishop with lines like "if I make
mistakes don't blame me, I learned everything I know from him". The grins in
the cover photos are real, and you can hear the camaraderie in the music,
somewhat of a rarity in the ego-driven competition of most guitar combos.
Bishop reprises three tunes from his 1998 CD, "THE SKIN I'M IN" including
the title track (a wry look at black vs. white, young vs. old etc.), "Middle
Age Man" (extolling the virtues of the wisdom of experience) and "Slow Down"
("better put down that cocaine, get you some Rogaine"), aided by Smothers
Smothers has a funky workman-like guitar sound, and serviceable vocals. He's
featured on a couple of his own, both slower blues numbers; "Pleading With
You" and "Annie Mae" (a remake of Robert Nighthawks "Anna Lee"). He also
takes lead on "Little Red Rooster", which ends with him calling out various
epithets for the missing fowl till he runs out of ideas. The set closes
with one of Bishops radio hits, "Traveling Shoes". This is good-rocking,
sweet-soul stomping music made by old friends having a good time, doing what
they do best. Like much of Bishops work, the fun is infectious.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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