Bishop will grace Park City with the blues
March 4, 2014
Blues guitarist Elvin Bishop has performed all around the world throughout his 50-year career.
One of the places that’s dear to the co-founder of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band is Japan, and not only because his wife is Japanese-American.
"We played the Fuji Rock Festival in Niigata, Japan, at a ski resort," Bishop told The Park Record during a telephone call from his home in Northern California. "There were more than 100,000 people there and it was great. Then we did a couple of club shows in Yokohama and Tokyo."
This week, Bishop will return to another one of his favorite places, Park City, for a three-night stand at the Egyptian Theatre.
Furthermore, he will perform as a West Coast Blues Hall of Fame inductee.
The guitarist was inducted into the hall last April.
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"It’s a pretty big honor," Bishop said. "I felt grateful for it because a lot of my heroes are also inductees. People like Jimmy McCracklin and Roger Collins, who I met at Jimmy’s funeral, are all in there and something like this makes the bumps in the road seem not so bad."
Even so, the bumps or challenges for Bishop haven’t been significantly difficult.
"I’ve been really lucky, because I did enough hard work in the early part of my life so I know what hard work is all about," he said. "I did enough work that I could appreciate playing music for a living and got away with that for 50-something years."
Bishop was born in California and raised in the Midwest and before dedicating his life to blues, worked in the oil fields, the steel mills and the family farm.
"I also tore up streets with a jackhammer, and after that, when you pick up the guitar, it feels awful light in comparison," he said.
The guitar Bishop has played for most of his career is the 1959 Gibson ES.
"I don’t know why that’s my go-to guitar," he said. "It just feels right in my hands. I like the sound I get out of it.
"I know a lot of guys like playing, say, a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster," Bishop said. "I’ve tried all those, but they all feel like a piece of wood with wires on it, you know? They just don’t suit me like the ES does."
Bishop and his guitar have performed and recorded with everyone from Clifton Chenier and The Allman Brothers.
"Having a chance to play with other people is just gravy to me," Bishop said. "I think the important thing is to get yourself together and make your own contribution."
One of his career highlights is getting to know the late blues pioneer John Lee Hooker.
"I remember listening to his recordings when I was 14 or 15 and I would just dream," Bishop said. "I would think, ‘Is this guy even human?’ and ‘Will I ever get a chance to meet him?’ and then I ended up with a chance to play with him and became friends with him."
These days when Bishop hits the road, he is backed by his trusty band comprised of trombonist Ed Early, drummer Bobby Cochran, bassist Ruth Davis, guitarist Bob Welch and keyboardist Steve "S.E." Willis.
"The guy who has been with me longest is Ed," Bishop said. "He was the music director for Albert King when I met him. We had a jam in Houston and we hit it off real good."
Bishop’s former drummer recommended Cochran.
"Bobby has a tremendous background playing in doo-wop groups back in the day and heavy gospel greats like Walter Hawkins," Bishop said.
Davies joined Bishop after her tenure with late blues pianist Charles Brown.
"She’s really good and can play anything up to jazz, but she won’t have to do too much of that on this gig," Bishop laughed.
The youngest band member is Welsh.
"He’s a go-getter and we’ve worked up a whole bunch of dual-guitar parts," Bishop said. "They’re going to be great."
Rounding out the band is Willis, who is a recording artist in his own right.
"He has backed Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Rogers and Albert King," Bishop said.
A couple of weeks ago, the band finished recording a new album.
"We’re sending it around to find a home for it," Bishop said. "There are several tunes that I wrote, but we don’t have a title. There are some possibilities, but I don’t want to commit anything, yet. We will still play some of the songs from the album, so our show will be different than last year — for the better we hope."
Over the past 50 years, Bishop has kept his focus on feeling the music, rather than explore the technicalities.
"When I first got into is, I went in 24 hours a day and kind of learned the layout of the guitar," he said. "I learned scales and chords and got the basics down.
"Any improvement after that was up to me," he said. "I mean if you play jazz or something that requires a technical investment, then you have to keep practicing. But with blues, you don’t need much of a technique, but do need things to fall into place."
That comes with time, Bishop said.
"It’s like being a rock on the beach," he said. "Time smoothes out all the rough edges and shows you what to do."
Still, playing blues is a process that the guitarist enjoys.
"It’s what I do for a living," he said. "I’m lucky I chose this occupation. It’s not like football where you have to quit when you’re 40. You just keep on rolling."
Blues guitarist Elvin Bishop will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., March 6 through March 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $49 to $70 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.