Elvin Bishop interview
with ELVIN BISHOP (by phone by Ron Johnson 4/14/2004 and questions by Ron Johnson and Philippe Archambeau)

RTJ : Hi Elvin, I'm Ron Johnson from the Southern rock webzine "Road To Jacksonville", thanks a lot for the interview today.

EB : No problem.

RTJ : First of all, when did you start playing guitar ?

EB : Well, living in Oklahoma, I listened to the early blues on the radio. Living out on the flatlands like we did, we could pick up radio stations as far away as Louisiana. Mexico, Chicago. Listening to all that good music prompted me to try it myself.

RTJ : Tell us about your first guitar.

EB : Oh, I really don't remember, it was probably an old Kay or Harmony or something, with the strings two or three inches off the neck. I didn't have a clue and no one in my family played music, so it was like trying to do a crossword puzzle to figure it out. I think I traded some baseball cards or something to get it.

RTJ : So you first heard the blues on the radio then ?

EB : Right. People like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Light'ning Hopkins, they were what I listened to.

RTJ : How is it you finally ended up in Chicago ?

EB : I went to school there, I got a National Merit Scholarship in Physics and used it to get into the University of Chicago. I don't know if you've ever been to Chicago but the school is tucked away down there in Hyde Park, which is in the southside ghetto. First thing I did was to look up the fellas in the cafeteria, and they hooked me up.

RTJ : And you met Paul Butterfield there ?

EB : He was also going to school there at the time. I met him the first day I was there. He was sitting on some steps, playing some music and drinking beer. Prima beer, you could get it real cheap then. Anyway, yeah, we started messing around, playing music together.

RTJ : You played in clubs with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy while you were there ? How was that ?

EB: It was all good. I used to go and see them and after they got to know me I'd ask to sit in with them. Some fellas would help me a lot. I hooked with a guy, Little Smokey Smothers who showed me around a bit. He showed me some good blues licks and I got better.

RTJ : In fact you recently reunited with Smokey for an album ?

EB : That's right. "That's My Partner" (on Alligator Records). We recorded that live in a club in San Francisco, Biscuit and Blues over a two-night period. Thought it came out pretty good, too.

RTJ : You have a nice version of "Little Red Rooster" on that album.

EB: Thanks.

RTJ : You started your own band in 1967. Can you tell us which kind of musical direction you wanted for the band ?

EB : Well, of course I was interested in playing blues mostly. But when you're in a band you only get to decide about 25% of the material. The other guys wanted their say in it, too. I had played in a band before then with Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield, which turned into the Butterfield Blues Project, but eventually I wanted to try my own thing. It didn't last too long because I headed out to the West Coast.

RTJ : In 1967, were the Beatles an influence at all ?

EB : They were big then, but not really an influence, I'd say. Most of my influences were already set by then. I did listen to a lot of Bob Dylan, some Stones back then.

RTJ : And then you went to San Francisco ?

EB : Well, a lot of musicians headed out that way. Chicago in the fifties was still a place of racial prejudice and was even dangerous at times. Plus it was real cold, so it seemed like a good idea. California is laid back, the weather's nice, the people are cool.

RTJ : And you still live there, right ?

EB : Oh yeah.

RTJ : Tell us about the Fillmore Sessions in San Francisco.

EB: Well, that was one jam with some great musicians. I think it included Carlos Santana, Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield and Harvey Brooks. There were a lot of jams back then, that was just one of them.

RTJ : And you met some great artists there, people like Clapton, Hendrix…?

EB : Right. Bill Graham ran the place and we were always jammin' with a lot of people; The Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, it was a good time. I played with Clapton and Hendrix in New York as well.

RTJ : You eventually hit it big with "Fooled Around And Fell in Love' ?

EB : I had recorded with Epic and Capricorn Records and I had already charted with "Travelin' Shoes" but yeah that's the one everyone remembers.

RTJ : And Mickey Thomas was the vocal on that song…?

EB : Right. I tried singing it but it was a good song and I didn't do it justice. I tried to get two of my band members to sing it, Rick Kelly and Joe Barber but there was some discussion about it not being a real blues song, as I recall; More of a Southern Rock thing. Anyway, I knew a fella by the name of Gideon who was traveling throughout the south and he had picked up Mickey in Cairo, Georgia. Of course Mickey nailed it.

RTJ : And then went on to sing for the Jefferson Starship, etc…

EB : I guess the song helped him out. yeah.

RTJ : And now you're with Alligator Records ?

EB : Yep, still putting 'em out. We're doing a CD right now, it sounds real good. It doesn't have a title yet, but it has some interesting songs on it, including "What the Hell is Going on?", "When I Get my Groove Again" and "That's My Thing."

RTJ : Any household names playing on it ?

EB : No, just my band, who are all exceptional musicians by the way. Although we do have a project coming up soon with B.B.King. We'll probably get a CD out of that, I'm sure.

RTJ : Still playing your Gibson ES 345 ?

EB : Oh yeah. It's the one I play.

RTJ : We personally love your live album "Live Raisin' Hell". What's the story behind that ?

EB : It was just a string of gigs we did on the West Coast (California). It turned out pretty good though.

RTJ : And one of our favorite songs is "Traveling Shoes." Is there an Allman Brothers influence in there at all ?

EB : Not really. That song is loosely based, very loosely based on an old gospel song. That's probably why you heard some Allmans in it, they tend to use gospel influences a lot more than people think.

RTJ : Is there a chance you'll play Europe or France anytime soon ?

EB : I think we're looking at something in Europe this year but, hell, you never know. I'd love to go and play there. I now we sell a lot of records there.

RTJ : OK, last question. If you were trapped on a desert island for the rest of your life,
which 5 albums would you take with you ?

EB : Well, I'm not sure how you'd play them on a desert island. I mean you wouldn't have any needles or even electricity to play them…

RTJ : (Laughter)

EB : Wouldn't you want something you could use ? Like food ?!

RTJ : Ok, you got us on that one. Let me rephrase that. If a music student asked you which 5 albums you'd
recommend to listen to, which ones would you pick ?

EB : Oh, I dunno. Let's see. Maybe "Best of Muddy Waters", the Robert Johnson collection, "Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers" a gospel album, and let's see, maybe B. B. King "Live at the Regal" and uh…I dunno, you pick one…

RTJ : How about Elvin Bishop's "Live Raisin' Hell" ?

EB: Sounds good to me.

RTJ : We really appreciate your talking with us today, it's been great.

EB : Y'all take care.


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