Elvin Bishop: Rollin' Forward

The blues was invented by people in an impossible position in the Mississippi Delta, and it just wasn't gonna get right and there was a lot of suffering built into it. But the blues is the kind of music that if you play it and sing it good enough somehow it makes you feel better about things, even though nothing has really changed.

-Elvin Bishop


His style of slide is so different from Duane.

It's so different from anybody! Unless you play slide you don't know how difficult it is to do what he does. He doesn't play licks that fall easily into your hands. He searches out these licks, and he knows what he wants. He uses phrasing you only hear from mature gospel singers. The jazz part of his playing I don't know about – I'm no jazz expert – but the blues and gospel stuff I really love it. To play that fast, that tasty and in tune is almost beyond my understanding.

I always feel I'm witnessing something vaguely superhuman when I see him play.

Elvin Bishop
I know. He might "The One" in a generation. He's a sweet guy, and when he agrees with you he don't just say, "Yeah," he says, "Yeah, yeah!" He and Warren [Haynes] got me to sit in on one of the Beacon things, and just the three of us sat down and opened up a show. We did the tune "What The Hell Is Going On," and they were so great that I got to talking with them afterwards. They have SO much more sense than the guys of my generation. They don't fall into the traps that we did. I went to Derek's recent gig at The Fillmore and he's got his mom, his dad, his wife, his wife's mom, his brothers, his sisters, their kids and they're ALL great people [laughs]. I love 'em all! This guy has some sense; this is the way to do it. How many broken homes have you seen because musicians are separated from their families?

Warren got me up at a recent [Gov't Mule] gig and that was fun, too. The blues is just five-percent of what he does. That guy blows my mind. He tells me, "We know 200 tunes," and he makes up the setlist before each show and it's a total surprise to all the guys. They never play the same show twice, and I guess it's a good thing for them because if they play three nights in a town their hardcore fans have to go all three nights! These guys are not wasting time high on drugs and shit. They put an amazing amount of time into the music.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about Pigboy Crabshaw, which is one of the best blues pseudonyms ever. People don't often pick their alter-ego persona so well. What possessed you to choose this nickname?

Why don't you ask John Lee Hooker why he goes "how, how, how"? It was just something that popped into my head. This was in the hippy days, and I painted my guitar up and I made myself a t-shirt that had 'Pigboy Crabshaw' on it. Clapton saw it and said, "Isn't that rather romantic?" I think he meant it in the English literary sense.

Taking a new name is part and parcel of the blues.

Well, Lonesome Sundown was already taken, and Howlin' Wolf and all that.

I've always liked how you've championed and supported musicians that don't get the credit they deserve, particularly Hound Dog Taylor. He's a personal fave of mine but not real well known outside real blues nuts.

Elvin Bishop
I was lucky because I got to play with Hound Dog before I got together with Paul Butterfield. I was in his band for a while. What a guy! I tried to match up the old guys with the new guys on [The Blues Rolls On]. I figured Roy Milton would be right up B.B.'s alley. And actually he was. B.B. and I talked for two hours before tape started rolling and he told me about how he used to open up at the Negro League Baseball parks. Satchel Page would be pitching and B.B. and Roy would be playing. That would have made a hell of a date right there, wouldn't it?

I matched up Hound Dog with George Thorogood because there's a lot of Hound Dog in George, in the way he gets up there and just goes for it. He's just up there grinning and hitting the musically wrong notes and making people love it.

It's true! It's kind of a glorious mess from both guys.

He's over there playing the one-note over the four-chord and five-chord and everything while grinning his ass off. And the people go, "Yeah!!!" I didn't want this to be one of those CDs you see a bunch of names on the front of and then take it home and go, "Oh well." Everybody was so nice and put their heart and soul into it and brought their A-Game.

The whole concept of the blues rolling on through people maybe made them aware of their own part in this tradition and fueled their contributions a bit.

I think the best thing I did on this CD was just pickin' the people.

JamBase | Crossroads
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[Published on: 12/18/08]

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Flat5 starstarstarstarstar Thu 12/18/2008 09:17PM
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hell yeah! Great article Dennis. I always like interviews with musicians where you can tell they don't take themselves too seriously. Most of these blues guys who have been around a while are real down to earth. honest too

"They never play the same show twice, and I guess it's a good thing for them because if they play three nights in a town their hardcore fans have to go all three nights! These guys are not wasting time high on drugs and shit. They put an amazing amount of time into the music"

fuckn cool

happydestiny starstarstarstarstar Fri 12/19/2008 12:48AM
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Stealin' watermelons off the vine, so much fun I do it all the time!

Nice article jambase, very well written dennis. Good to see stuff on an old favorite of mine.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Fri 12/19/2008 04:13AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

this guy can bring the blues, and funk!!!

he is an unknown legend. prolly won't get but three posts here, hope Im wrong.

Jambizzle Fri 12/19/2008 07:41AM
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seems like a real chill guy whose had a good life.

Proved you wrong miles!

dmoon starstarstarstarstar Fri 12/19/2008 07:51AM
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Great reporting. We're lucky that Elvin is still bringin' it every show and every recording. Let's see another story focusing on the details of the early days when he was cruising the West Side and Southside Chicago clubs. That story needs to be told, and Elvin needs an honorary degree from the University of Chicago.

jazzfester starstarstarstarstar Fri 12/19/2008 08:18AM
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How about a set in the Blues Tent at Jazzfest? Great article.

BlowsAgainsttheEmpire Sat 12/20/2008 01:36PM
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You wanna hear Derek Trucks? Don't waste your $ on this. Get the new DTB disc out Jan 13th Already Free.

TennesseeEmma starstarstarstarstar Sat 12/20/2008 03:09PM
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Great article, and I have the new CD and it is just fantastic. Like the writer, I got into Elvin B because of my stoner older brother in my case. And I saw him once at a blues festival. This disc led me to discover some other great musicians, like Warren Haynes and john Nemeth. I hope to see any of them live some time soon

Tenner starstarstarstar Fri 12/26/2008 06:40PM
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Elvin got it right "I honestly don't think people give Derek enough respect"

....more respect for Derek... more respect

Berns starstarstarstarstar Tue 1/6/2009 02:20PM
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yeah bishop, see ya in new orleans


skye berns