Interview: Elvin Bishop (solo, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: November 2018. He had the great honour to talk with a legendary guitarist: Elvin Bishop. He is best known as an original member of blues rock pioneers, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. His song “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” peaked at #3 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1976. During his career, he has played with Jimi Hendrix, B.B King, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead and many others. In July 2018, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio released their latest studio album, “Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here”. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Are you satisfied with the response you received so far from fans and press for “Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here” album?

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Well, I don’t know. Different people just say what they want to you. Our country is pretty divided.


I really like the instrumental “Bob’s Boogie” from the new album. Can you tell us a few words about this song?

I just told Bob (ed: Welsh –keyboards, guitar) “Play what you want to”. It’s just a 12-bar blues. He’s a great piano player. He’s one of the few guys I know that he can play the style of my favourite blues piano player of all time, Otis Spann, who played with Muddy Waters.


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You are doing spoken words on “Lookin’ Good”. What is the meaning of this song?

I don’t know. It just is what it is. I hate to sound like an athlete because they all say: “It is what it is”. I guess, it’s just my reflections on where I’m right now.


What are your plans for the near future?

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I just play music. I am playing with my trio all over the country, almost everywhere. I  also do some two-man gigs with Charlie Musselwhite. Just concerts, just the two of us.


Elvin Bishop Group and Johnny Winter And were on the same bill when The Allman Brothers Band recorded “At Fillmore East” (March 1971) and you also joined them for a version of your song “Drunken-Hearted Boy”. Do you remember these concerts?

Yes, I do. I remember the jam part of it happened really-really late, early in the morning. I think there was a bomb scare early in the evening and everybody had to leave the building for a while, until they checked it out. It finally came out that there was no bomb, so everybody went back in and the show went on really late, I remember. During that time, I saw The Allman Brothers quite often, our paths crossed in a lot of different concerts and they were good friends of mine. A lot more jamming took place in those days, than it does now.


Did you expect the commercial success of the song “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (#3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1976)?

No. It was a total surprise to me. It was almost an accident that it happened, at all.


Mickey Thomas did lead vocals in “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” and later joined Jefferson Starship and Starship. Do you feel responsible for his career?

For Mickey, no. I think his voice is responsible for his career. When I met him, he was singing in a gospel group. He was a great singer and I just loved him. I just did some things with him recently. His voice is still as good as ever. I don’t know if it’s better, what to do with it. He had several hits with the Starship after he left my band. No, I maybe was a part of his career. After that, I was not responsible for that, I would say.


The Paul Butterfield Blues Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. What does this recognition mean to you?

I was lucky to be in that band. I was in the right place, the right time. It was a great way to start off a career. Actually, I was more happy with being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, because I don’t know if that was a good thing.


What was it like to play alongside Mike Bloomfield (guitar –The Paul Butterfield Blues Band)?

It was great. At the time, I had nothing to compare it to. It just was what was happening. He was a great player and a really nice fella, so it was all good.


How much influence did live versions of the track “East-West” (1966) have on bands like The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service?

(Laughs) I don’t know. You have to ask them.


You ‘ve said: “Quicksilver, Big Brother and the Dead –those guys were just chopping chords. They had been folk musicians and weren’t particularly proficient playing electric guitar – Bloomfield could play all these scales and arpeggios and fast time-signatures … He just destroyed them”.

You are talking about trying to guess what would have happened if something else didn’t happen. It’s pretty hard to say. Maybe they hated that direction. Coming out of Chicago Blues scene, what was happening in San Francisco, did not seem very musically advanced, you know.


There is a great photo of you, B.B King and Eric Clapton jamming at Café Au Go Go in New York on 15 September 1967. Did you enjoy playing with these two guys?

Yeah, it was great. Like I said, in those days a lot more jamming was happening, than it happens now. For some reason, I think everybody was more serious about the musical side of things. At that time, it was pretty much all about the music. It was a good jam session. I jammed with B.B many times, around that time in New York and also with Jimi Hendrix.


You jammed at least three times with Jimi Hendrix at The Generation Club, Café Au Go Go and Ungano’s nightclub. What memories do you have of Jimi?

He was a very quiet guy and he was a good guy to jam with, because he wasn’t one of those guys with the big ego, that would turn up really loud, drown everybody out playing over. He was very sensitive to what other people were doing. Of course, he was a great player. It was a good experience jamming with him.


How difficult was it to discover the blues when you were growing up in segregated Tulsa, Oklahoma in the ‘50s?

The only way that you were gonna find out that, was the radio, basically. Because people of different races were not allowed to hang out together.


How did you feel when you started playing with black musicians in Chicago blues clubs?

It was my dream comes true. What I wanted to do, I wanted to be a blues player and it was just an amazing thing. It was great.


Are you optimistic about the future of blues?

I have never been able to predict any kind of future, including the musical movements. It looks to me that there will always be a taste for blues among at least a small number of people, because blues is something that appeals to the people, feeling the people. It’s not like pop music. It’s pretty much disposable. It’s like hairstyles or trending, clothing. It’s like a service part of life. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. But blues is for people who like to connect up their music with different things in life. So, right now, it’s fairly popular. Not as much as I have seen it in the past. It’s almost like it’s heading for a place like jazz occupies now, which is like a classic form of music. That’s only for a certain group of people, you know. Not a major thing like pop music.


You have played with many people in your career. Do you become a better musician by playing with different people?

Yes, of course. You learn something from everybody you play with. Some musical situations you get put in to all you learn is what not to do. But I have been very lucky to be able to play with some of my real heroes like John Lee Hooker and other pals like Muddy Waters and people like that. It’s been a great learning experience, yes.


You opened four nights for Miles Davis at Fillmore West in May 1971. Were you familiar with his music? Did you get to meet him?

Man, you know way more about this stuff than it do. I don’t have a great memory for that sort of thing, but yeah I know about his music. I had heard him since the early ‘60s. I love the album “Sketches of Spain” (1960). I knew who he was. I know he tried to go over and had this sort of pop thing and he was able to do it to a certain extent. I never talked to him.


You played at two Bill Graham’s Day on the Green concerts with The Beach Boys in 1976 and 1978. What was the reaction of The Beach Boys fans to your performances? Did you feel comfortable playing in front of huge crowds?

I have played in front of a lot bigger crowds than then. It wasn’t an unusual thing, in that respect. We would play down Bill’s with all kinds of people. We felt like at home. The San Francisco Bay Area was like my home base. We were very popular here, so there was no problem.


What was Jerry Garcia like as a person and a musician? You even replaced him for 5 songs in a Fillmore West concert (6-6-1969)!

Jerry Garcia, I replaced him? I don’t think so.


He was late for the concert. He missed 5 songs. There’s a recording of it

I don’t know. I don’t remember that. I’ll take your words for it (laughs). I don’t know anything about that. I know his was a nice guy. I used to be pretty good friends with Pigpen, who was a keyboard player in the Grateful Dead. He died pretty early. When I came to San Francisco, like the summer of ’68, the people that I liked to jam with, were basically people who were interested in blues, like Janis Joplin and Pigpen. Jerry was a very nice fella and we got along fine, but his musical interests were different.


Do you think social media like Youtube and Facebook have helped younger listeners to learn about your music?

Well, it’s great. I like for people to enjoy my music, however it happens. I’m not too much into the tech thing, the social media and all that. I don’t do it. You can spend a whole day on Facebook, if you want to. I know a lot of people do it. I don’t follow this thing.


Had you ever met Stevie Ray Vaughan?

Never met him, that I know of. He was a pretty good player and a great singer. Actually, I heard more of him lately than I did when he was around. I guess I was just busy doing at the time. Boy, he was a great player.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Elvin Bishop for his time and to Marc Lipkin for his valuable help.

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