Born on October 21, 1942, in Tulsa, OK. Education: Attended University of Chicago. Addresses: Record company--Alligator Records, P.O. Box 60234, Chicago, IL 60660, website: http://www.alligator.com.

Since arriving on the music scene in the early 1960s as a core member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Elvin Bishop has risen to bandleader and chart-topper, scoring a bicentennial-year hit single with "Fooled Around and Fell in Love." Along the way he has also played alongside and recorded with some legendary blues figures, including Hound Dog Taylor, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, and B.B. King. His own work has melded pure blues with gospel, R&B, and country. While he was not able to sustain the popularity he enjoyed in the mid-1970s, he has, nonetheless, continued to perform and produce new albums that continue his career-long exploration of blues and R&B music.

Born on October 21, 1942, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in a predominately white neighborhood, Bishop was first introduced to the blues as a teenager by listening to R&B radio broadcasts from Mexico and Shreveport, Louisiana. When he began collecting records by his favorite blues artists he found that many of them were recorded in Chicago. While rooted in the rural sounds of the Mississippi Delta, the Chicago blues sound added amplification and adopted a more carnal, muscular approach that would later help forge a link between blues enthusiasts and the burgeoning rock 'n' roll generation.

In 1959 Bishop received a National Merit Scholarship to attend the University of Chicago, located on the city's South Side. Bishop soon immersed himself in the local blues scene. He was befriended by blues guitarist Smokey Smothers, who had played with the legendary Howlin' Wolf, and the older bluesman taught Bishop the rudiments of playing the blues. Two years after his arrival, Bishop dropped out of the university and devoted himself full-time to music. During this period Bishop honed his craft playing with numerous blues artists including Junior Wells and Hound Dog Taylor. He soon joined up with another white blues fan and former University of Chicago student, harmonica player Paul Butterfield.

Bishop and Butterfield played together around Chicago, often sitting in with artists like Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. In 1963 Bishop and Butterfield began playing regularly at Big John's on Chicago's North Side. Butterfield recorded with a group of Howlin' Wolf's sidemen, including Smothers, in 1963, before formally putting together the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Bishop on guitar. Guitarist Michael Bloomfield was soon added as the group's lead guitarist and the racially integrated band quickly established its credentials as a bona fide representative of the Chicago Blues. A turning point came in 1965 when the Paul Butterfield Blues Band appeared at that year's Newport Folk Festival, providing the backup to Bob Dylan's infamous electric debut.

The band soon gained national recognition as one of the first to fuse Chicago's electrified blues sound with rock 'n' roll. The band's self-titled first album was released in 1965 on the Elektra label. The first change in direction from straight electric blues with R&B leanings came when original drummer Sam Lay fell ill and left the band. Lay was replaced by Billy Davenport, whose jazz background helped introduce new rhythmic influences. The band continued to expand beyond the limits of its blues foundation, and guitarist Bloomfield's growing interest in Eastern music helped propel the group toward their eclectic masterpiece, East-West, released in 1966. The title track incorporated elements of jazz, raga, rock, and blues and was one of the earliest Western recordings to show the influence of sitar master Ravi Shankar. A live recording of the album's material, East-West Live, was released in 1966.

By 1967 the band had reached the peak of their popularity, with their searing brand of blues-rock anchored by Butterfield's electrified harmonica and the dual-lead guitar dynamics of Bishop and Bloomfield. The interplay of the two guitarists laid out a blueprint followed by other groups, most notably the Allman Brothers, featuring Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, and Derek and the Dominoes, featuring Allman and Eric Clapton.

Bloomfield, however, was interested in pushing his musical explorations further than the band would allow. He left the band in 1967, forming Electric Flag with Nick Gravenites and Buddy Miles. With Bloomfield's departure, Bishop resumed duties as the band's lead guitarist.

The 1967 release, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, is titled after a persona adopted by Bishop. In 1968 the Paul Butterfield Blues Band released In My Own Dream, which was Bishop's last recording with Butterfield. In all Bishop recorded three studio albums with Butterfield and, as a writer, he contributed the songs "Drunk Again" and "Our Love Is Drifting."

Bishop left his home base of Chicago and relocated to San Francisco, where he quickly signed with the organization of rock impresario Bill Graham. A 1969 press release from the Millard Agency, available at the Museum of the City of San Francisco website, noted that the group's members, "with widely varied backgrounds in blues, jazz, R&B, and rock, combine these styles in their own music--basically blues, but also original compositions which they say are 'unclassifiable' and 'indefinable.'"

The Elvin Bishop Group performed regularly at the Graham-owned Fillmore West, appearing on the same bill as acts like B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. The debut album The Elvin Bishop Group appeared in stores in 1969, on Graham's Fillmore label, followed by Feel It! in 1970. While Bishop had developed a reputation as a lively performer, the albums failed to produce any hit singles. Nonetheless, Bishop signed with Epic and released Rock My Soul for the label in 1972. After disappointing sales, Bishop was dropped by Epic. His next release, Let It Flow, was released in 1974 and produced a single, "Traveling Shoes," that managed to chart.

Bishop once again changed labels, beginning his association with Capricorn. Both the band and label were rewarded when Bishop's next release, 1975's Struttin' My Stuff, yielded the hit single "Fooled Around and Fell in Love." The song featured future Jefferson Starship vocalist Mickey Thomas and rose to number three on the pop charts in 1976. The song was a radio staple during the bicentennial year and its homey, laid-back sound anticipated that of future Bill Graham protégés Huey Lewis and the News.

The band remained with Capricorn throughout the rest of the 1970s, releasing Hometown Boy Makes Good! in 1976. A live album, Raisin' Hell, was released in 1977 to capitalize on the group's enduring popularity. A return to the studio resulted in Hog Heaven, released in 1978. None of these albums, however, was able to match the popularity of Struttin' My Stuff. Faced with its decline in popularity, the band opted to dissolve at the end of the decade, ending its affiliation with Capricorn after the release of Best of Elvin Bishop in 1979.

Bishop was relatively quiet for much of the next decade, after releasing Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby in 1981. In 1988 he returned to active duty, signing with Alligator Records and effectively returning to his blues roots. That year's Big Fun marked the debut of Bishop with his new label, followed by 1991's Don't Let the Bossman Get You Down. In 1995 Bishop released Ace in the Hole and also performed on the first solo album of his former mentor, Smokey Smothers. The 1998 album The Skin I'm In addresses, among other things, the artist's experience of growing older. In January of 2000, Bishop's career appeared to close the circle when Smokey Smothers joined him onstage for three nights of sold-out shows in San Francisco. The performances were captured on That's My Partner!, released later that year.

by Kevin O'Sullivan

Elvin Bishop's Career

Started playing in Chicago with Junior Wells and Hound Dog Taylor; joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, 1963; released first recording with Butterfield, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, 1965; released East-West, followed by East-West Live, 1966; released The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, 1967; released last album with Butterfield, In My Own Dream, 1968; left Butterfield, moved to San Francisco, formed Elvin Bishop Group, 1969; signed to Bill Graham's Millard Agency, released The Elvin Bishop Group, 1969; released follow-up LP, Feel It!, 1970; signed to Epic, recorded Rock My Soul, 1972; released Let It Flow on One Way label, 1974; released Juke Joint Jump, 1975; moved to Capricorn label, released Struttin' My Stuff, 1975; Hometown Boy Makes Good!, 1976; released live album, Raisin' Hell, 1977; released Hog Heaven, 1978; Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby, 1981; moved to Alligator label, released Big Fun, 1988; Don't Let the Bossman Get You Down, 1991; Ace in the Hole, 1995; The Skin I'm In, 1998; released live recording, That's My Partner!, 2000; released King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Elvin Bishop in Concert, 2001.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

August 16, 2005: Bishop's album, Gettin' My Groove Back, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, August 18, 2005.

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

I'm happy every time Elvin is playing somewhere close so I can go see him. He is playin at Jackson Rancheria 1/23 Fri. I got tickets as soon as they went on sale. I've seen him every since I used to go to the city and see him with Butterfield blues band. Love his Chicago electric blues. Have most all albums some where. Jim

almost 9 years ago

For anyone looking for Elvin's website, it's here: http://www.elvinbishopmusic.com He's on myspace too!