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Blues schooled
Elvin Bishop gets his groove back
BY TED DROZDOWSKI

Elvin Bishop is best known for his 1976 hit "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," a sweetly romantic song with a slide-guitar hook that replaced "Stairway to Heaven" as the closing number at your parentsí high-school dances ó or maybe your own. He recorded four more albums with his Elvin Bishop Group after that, but as the í80s began, he became a footnote in pop history.

Thatís okay with Bishop (who plays Scullers January 18), because by then he was already a legend in the blues world as a charter member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. When he says, "We introduced blues to the white public at large," he isnít exaggerating. The Butterfield bandís first three albums, including the raga-inspired psychedelic touchstone East-West (Elektra), fueled the passions of a young audience by making the sound of Chicago part of their own musical vocabulary. And the groupís 1965 debut fired the imaginations of Eric Clapton and a host of other white musicians who were just beginning to find their way in a style that Bishop, harmonica player and frontman Butterfield, and the guitarist Michael Bloomfield had already absorbed from Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams, and the other Windy City masters who were their mentors and neighbors.

Now Bishop has a new album called Gettiní My Groove Back (Blind Pig), and the titleís literal. The disc is his first in seven years that were colored by the murder of his daughter Selina in 2000. Heíd already re-emerged as a bluesman with 1990ís Big Fun (Alligator) and was recording the album that would become Gettiní My Groove Back when that tragedy slammed into his life.

"Thatís why the songs have such a wide emotional range," he says over the phone from his Northern California home. "I recorded these songs before, after, and during the time I was trying to absorb that." The slow, broilingly passionate solo contemplation "Come On Blues" captures psychic torture in his moaning voice and the dark, fingerpicked rumble of his guitar. And the tumbling cadence of "What the Hell Is Going On" underscores Bishopís confusion over the bloody state of the human condition while raising a juke-joint ruckus that fans of Junior Kimbrough would dig. The CD is also lightened by the humor thatís been his trademark. "Ride That Blues Train" celebrates greasy down-home culture with New Orleans piano giant Henry Butler guesting, and thereís a homage to Bishopís beagle Kirby, "Heís a Dog," that sounds like an update of the string-band style of the 1920s and early í30s.

"The albumís the result of my doing whatever I felt like at the time, which has pretty much been my career strategy," Bishop says. Thatís what first led him from Tulsa to Chicago. "I went there to go to college ó at least that was my cover story ó in 1961, and on my first day I saw a white guy sitting on steps playing blues on guitar and drinking a quart of beer. That was Paul Butterfield, and we fell right in together. I still have him to thank for keeping me out of day jobs for 40 years or so."

Bishopís real education took place in the clubs. "The guys back then were real generous about letting you sit in regardless of ability, because they typically played from 9 pm until 4 am and were happy to take any help filling that time they could get. I was real green, but they were real nice about it, and I appreciate it to this day."

Elvin Bishop | Scullers, DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston | Jan 18 | 617.562.4111

 


Issue Date: January 13 - 19, 2006
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