(a portion of this piece was published by Planet JH Weekly)
Elvin Bishop simply knows how to boogie and have a good time with an audience. The humble, good-souled seventy-one year is one of the most respected guitarists in blues-rock history, and the feel of his music instills exuberance.
A career that’s as long and storied as Elvin Bishop’s is roots worth tapping into. He won a full scholarship to the University of Chicago as a National Merit Scholar to study physics, so Bishop trekked from his Tulsa home to Chicago in 1960. Near the university on Chicago’s south side—ground zero for the urban blues he’d been studying from afar—Bishop met fellow student and harmonica player Paul Butterfield.
“I was amazed to find other white guys into blues,” Bishop said of Butterfield.
Together, they explored the blues joints where Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Howlin’ Wolf could be found playing in corner bars for a $2 cover charge. The late-night education led to forming the legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band with second guitarist Mike Bloomfield and Howlin’ Wolf rhythm section of Jerome Arnold (bass) and Sam Lay (drums). Arguably the first true blues-rock group, they came together several months before the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Bishop stayed in the band during a string of classic records including the seminal East-West (1966) before forming the Elvin Bishop Group in 1968, which co-headlined a series of shows at the Fillmore East with The Allman Brothers. According to Bishop, one must have some luck in the music biz, not just solid chops.
“I think there are guys who are as good or better than me that haven’t been lucky enough to get the right breaks and meet the right people,” Bishop said over the phone. “Sometimes you can work your ass off and not get much of a result. I’ve just had a lot of good luck with being in the right place at the right time. [It’s true] you got to have the stuff when you get the chance. I started out on a farm, and before I was able to make a living playing music I worked in the steel mills, the oil fields, construction, tearing up streets with a jackhammer. I know what real work is and the guitar feels pretty light compared to