Elvin Bishop: Rollin' Forward

The job seems to be to contribute something of your own. I don't think the world needs another "Got My Mojo Working" or "Stormy Monday." We need something that connects up blues with real life.

-Elvin Bishop


It's such a crappy soundbite culture, where they want to stuff lifetimes into a few simple words.

People don't like to think. They can't rest until they find a pigeonhole to put you in and then move onto the next thing. It's just file footage.

When I think of your music the two words that most often come up for me are "boogie" and "strut." There's some hips to your music, even the sad stuff.

John Lee Hooker & Elvin Bishop
I like my syncopation. I like things to swing like that. I think boogie means something different to everybody. I was born in 1942, which means for the first 12 or 13 years of my life the best that a white person, who wasn't totally into country music, could do was say Frank Sinatra and "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?" There was no rock 'n' roll. People are born with rock now. I think for most people boogie came in with John Lee Hooker and became codified. When I first heard of boogie woogie it was Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, the original piano boogie woogie stuff.

Lots of really nasty songs if you break through the language. Anytime you hear about food in those old boogies it's usually filthy. Wynonie Harris' "Keep On Churnin'" ain't a salute to the dairy industry!

Double entendre! I grew up on a farm in an old fashioned place that didn't get electricity. So, I was maybe 11 or 12 [when that song came out] and if you've ever done churning by hand it's a physical, grinding thing.

There's a lot of "life lived on the ground" in the blues. These are the people who make the sandwiches for sure.

All the classic blues guys started out on farms and plantations in the South. B.B. was a tractor driver. You talk to Hubert [Sumlin, legendary guitarist with Howlin' Wolf] and Pinetop [Perkins, longtime pianist with Muddy Waters] and they started drinkin' corn liquor when they were nine-years-old. They picked corn and cotton and they know what it's all about. The reason they're musicians is the same reason I'm a musician – that red guitar is so much lighter than the tools I used in the oil fields and the steel mills and tearing up the streets with a jackhammer. You get up every morning and thank God you're a musician!

Did you find you were accepted fairly readily by black musicians simply because of your enthusiasm for the blues?

Elvin Bishop
I really was; it was amazing. That's actually what got me started on The Blues Rolls On.

This album is a great stand-alone piece, a nutshell encapsulation of the blues as filtered through you.

Remembering how miraculously and surprisingly kind people were to me, when they absolutely didn't have to be, got me thinking. As they say in Chicago, I was square as a pool table and twice as green. They took me under their wing and took care of me, and that got me onto the concept of The Blues Rolls On, just how it gets passed from one generation to another. Then, I got thinking about the young guys coming up now, guys who aren't recognized as much as they should be. So, I thought, "Maybe it's time to do something that shows off the whole continuous thing."

Do you find that people want to come sit at your heel the same way you did with established players in your early days?

There are a lot of guys that give me a lot of props and respect for having influenced them. It just gives me a warm feeling.

Do you feel some responsibility to pass on what you know to some of them, to offer your own wing?

It's kinda like that. I like to do what I can. I see a lot of guys standing at the crossroads that have good blues backgrounds and really love the blues but they're so torn by pressures to do other stuff. I like to encourage the ones that really have what it takes to stick with the blues. I want them to do what they wanna do but I just offer them some appreciation.

Who do you like these days?

Albert Collins & Elvin Bishop
A lot of the guys I like are actually on [The Blues Rolls On]. John Nemeth is just a tre-men-dous up & coming talent, and if there's any justice he'll be a big star. And I love Ronnie Baker Brooks. I've known him for quite a while, and I've known his dad, Lonnie Brooks, since 1961 or 2.

You want to hear people carrying the blues to new places rather than being pure recreationists. I really love Otis Taylor from Colorado these days; very African rooted but also utterly fearless in mixing things up. He writes about some of the heaviest things ever, but like a lot of Bessie Smith recordings, it's weirdly uplifting despite the subject matter.

As far as young guys go, there's quite a few of them I like. And there's guys I wouldn't say are young guys but more underexposed – they need to be checked out. One guy, Kid Andersen, is from Norway and he does the Smokey Robinson tune on the CD called "Who's The Fool." He's a real cool player. Another guy is Lurrie Bell from Chicago. He's just a monster! And another guy is Rusty Zinn. These are guys it would not be a waste of anybody's time to check out.

My daughter is 20-years-old and she listens to lots of people. Some of them I like, some not so much. I like Ben Harper. I love Derek Trucks. I honestly don't think people give Derek enough respect. Here's another case of that pigeonhole mentality, where they say, "He's the new Duane Allman." That's easy because of the Allman Brothers connection with his uncle and all that but it's just not true!

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