Elvin Bishop’s calling is to play the blues
February 19, 2013
Elvin Bishop was the original guitarist in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and has played with Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Clifton Chenier, Bo Diddley and Derek Trucks, to name a few.
He is also in love with Japan. In addition to touring the Land of the Rising Sun almost annually, he speaks and reads Japanese, due to his wife’s culture.
"She’s a third-generation Japanese-American," Bishop said in Japanese during a telephone interview from his home in California with The Park Record. "But she doesn’t speak Japanese at all."
Still, that hasn’t stopped Bishop from trying to learn new words.
"If someone in Japan has some goodwill and patience, I can usually get a conversation going," he said with a laugh.
Not only does Bishop love the Japanese culture, he loves music and will share that when he comes to Park City to play the Egyptian Theatre on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23.
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After playing music for more than 50 years, Bishop doesn’t know where his musical passion comes from.
"I grew up on a farm in Iowa and we had no running water and electricity," he said. "So, I didn’t get to hear much radio back then, unlike the kids these days who are bombarded with music from the second they pop out."
Bishop’s only access to music was through a heavy, battery-powered transistor radio.
"It weighed something like five pounds and you would get to hear something only when the weather was right," he said. "Otherwise you’d hear a bunch of static."
Also, Bishop’s family wasn’t musically inclined.
"No one played an instrument," he said. "But I would get excited hearing someone sing the National Anthem or play the accordion, just because it was so rare for me."
When he was 12, Bishop and his family moved to another farm in Oklahoma, and that’s where he discovered rock ‘n’ roll.
"That was great, because before that it was Frank Sinatra and songs like ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,’ which wasn’t really going to move a young person," he said. "But when I hear rock and blues on the radio, it was as if 10,000 volts had passed through me."
With that jolt of inspiration, Bishop decided to embark on a musical journey that took him to California where he met Paul Butterfield, which, he said, was the result of his affinity for playing the blues.
"I’ve never been much of a sociologist or schemer and planner of long range goals," he said. "I just felt that going with the flow was a good idea at the time.
"I fell in love with the blues and wanted to be like my heroes, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and all those Chicago blues guys. I mean, to make a living doing just that was a beautiful thing as far as my eye could see."
In addition to playing with Butterfield, which featured future Jefferson Starship vocalist Mickey Thomas, Bishop has recorded with the Allman Brothers Band and had his own pop success with the 1976 hit "Fooled Around and Fell In Love."
"It’s been quite an interesting trip, that’s for sure," he said. "I mean, when I started out playing the blues in 1960, I would usually be the only Caucasian guy in the crowd. And now, there are more white people in the crowd than black people."
The trick, said Bishop of his continuing career, is to follow his instincts.
"I have always tried not to think about my career as a career," he said. "I have always just tried to do what feels good to me and hope somebody likes it."
In addition to playing shows around the world, Bishop does some guest speaking.
"I have a friend who plays slack-key guitar in Hawaii, his name is George Kahumoku, and he teaches a class at the University of Hawaii in Maui," Bishop said. "He had me come speak to his class."
During the sessions, the students ask Bishop questions about music and his career.
"I remember one time, one of the kids asked me some questions and one of them was ‘What is the difference between rock and blues?’" Bishop said. "For some reason, I just blurted out, ‘Rock is weed and blues is hash.’"
Looking back on his career, he said speaking engagements and world tours were the last things on his mind.
"I was happy just to get up to the south side of Chicago," he said.
Blues guitarist Elvin Bishop, a Grammy Award nominee, will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., from Friday, Feb. 22, through Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $40 to $70 and are available at http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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