Elvin Bishop, interviewed by Dan Hack
Thursday, June 6th, 2013.
DH: Thanks for seeing me.
DH: The [Magic Slim] tribute last night, who all was there and who was playing?
EB: I don’t know, I just went because, uh, just out of respect for Slim, and love for him.
DH: He was a good man.
EB: Yeah, he was great. I didn’t know some of the people that played, but Deitra Farr was great, John MacDonald, as always.
DH: Buddy Guy come out for a little while?
EB: The last time I ran into him was in Japan.
DH: Oh really? Of all places, in Japan.
EB: There’s this huge festival called Fujimora.
DH: Sounds like fun.
EB: It was fun.
DH: Can you tell me about what it was like to be in Chicago in the 60’s? I was born in Chicago in ’59, I still live in Beverly. What was it like hanging in the old joints?
EB: I tell you what man, when you were one years old, I got here. From Oklahoma, yeah. It was when Chicago blues was, uh, being created and all the kingpins were young and strong, like Muddy and Wolf and Magic Sam, Otis Rush.
EB: And you could go see any of ‘em for two bucks.
DH: On the west side?
EB: I was mostly on the south side. See, blues in those days was the living music of the black people, it was like hip hop is now. And there were like, over a million black people in Chicago, so you can imagine it supported a hundred to two hundred blues clubs, no exaggerating. And you could go see any of those guys, plus Junior Wells, or Buddy Guy, or Hound Dog Taylor, or, uh, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, any of those guys for two bucks.
[pullquote]And you could go see any of those guys, plus Junior Wells, or Buddy Guy, or Hound Dog Taylor, or, uh, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, any of those guys for two bucks.[/pullquote]
DH: Well I would think for two dollars that would be a damn good deal. Right now we’re down to maybe a dozen clubs. But those joints in the sixties were probably a helluva lot of fun. Uh, you migrated out to San Francisco after a while?
DH: Tell us a little bit about the music scene out in Frisco back then.
EB: Bill Graham,
[Harvey Mandel joins the conversation]
HM: You remember the first place I ever showed up to see you, on the north side of Chicago? I was about sixteen and a half, was just playing about six months. You were playing with some band-
EB: It was like, on Rush street-
HM: No no no, on the north side. The Peppermint Lounge.
EB: Where was it?
HM: I can’t remember, but that’s where I first saw you, before we even…I remember, we would sneak in.
DH: So in ’68 you got to San Fran, did you play around with your own gig then?
EB: I first went there with Butterfield. Bill Graham opened it up for blues musicians. Before like ’65 or ’66, white people didn’t know anything about blues. And the only way you’re going to see any blues, is maybe they’d have one blues artist on the folk festival, that was it. Bill Graham he established himself and looked at the audience and they were all fucked up on LSD, he said, “They’ll accept anything I give em, so I’m going to give em something good.” So he crossed over blues, Buddy and Junior, B.B. King, Albert King, he put together Albert King, Ravi Shankar, and Charles White, and made it work. So half the blues musicians in Chicago moved to San Francisco in 1968. Well when you got out there you didn’t have the hawk. You know what the hawk is right? It’s the cold wind in the wintertime, you didn’t have that. The girls were friendly. Within two weeks everyone was in a tie dyed t-shirt.
DH: Now you were influenced by Smokey Smothers, tell me a little about Smokey.
EB: He wasn’t never famous because he didn’t have the chance to play any really great records. He was one of the best guitar players in Chicago. Beautiful guy from Beulah, Mississippi. He opened his mouth and the Delta came out. Ask Buddy he knows all about it.
DH: The Chicago influence goes deep and wide in the film we are here to celebrate this evening, can you get a feel and bring it back of what it was like playing with these dudes, these cats that are in the house tonight?
EB: I didn’t really spend that much time playing with any of them. Somebody asked me, Sam Lay was the only one I played with a lot, cause he was a drummer in the Butterfield Blues Band. Before I got with Butterfield I actually played with Junior Wells, Hound Dog Taylor, a guy named J.T. Brown that you’ve never heard of. [to Harvey Mandel:] We got a gig at that place you’re talking about. We got fired, because we were raggedy. You guys all had suits, and big pompadours and all that shit, but you looked like you worked at Continental Can. So he fired our asses. The band was Larry and the Crowd Chasers.
DH: What a great band name. So tell me a little bit about your 59’ Gibson. It’s obviously your favorite axe, how long have you been playing with that?
EB: I don’t know, it used to be every 5 years, either the thieves or the airlines would get them. I got it from Louis Myers, a Chicago blues guy. I had a telecaster that I kept breaking strings on it, he came into my gig one time in 1962 and I said, “Louis, there’s something wrong with this guitar, I keep breaking strings.” And he said, “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with the guitar. You’re just square as a pool table and twice as green.” He said, “You’re hitting it too hard.” I said, “Man, let me see your guitar.” He had a 59’ Gibson 345. I said, “I bet if I had that guitar I wouldn’t break a single string.” So we traded guitars, he comes back the next week and says, “Man, I want to trade back, every time I touch that son of a bitch it breaks a string.” I said, “I told ya, and I ain’t gonna trade back!” Because I fell in love with that Gibson. I should have been decent about it and traded him back, but I loved that guitar too much.
DH: Is there something going on currently or anything happening with you these days?
EB: I just did a thing with Tab Benoit, he called me up and said, “Why don’t you and Mickey Thomas come down to my studio in Houma and we’ll cut a CD?” so we went in there and did one, it was really quick. It’s damn good.
DH: When’s that coming out?
EB: I don’t know, it’s up to his manager.
DH: Any other ideas on your favorite parts of Chicago musical history?
EB: My favorite place to hang out in the old days was Pepper’s Lounge and Theresa’s. Pepper’s is down on 43rd and it got torn down in the urban redevelopment or what ever it was. It was a cool place. I used to go see Muddy, I was in Chicago one week before I saw him. I made friends with these black dudes in the cafeteria at the school at the University of Chicago and they’d take me down [to Pepper’s]. First blues band I saw was Muddy, Otis Span, James Cotton, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Pat Hare and a bass player. I said, “Goddamn, these blues bands are good.”
[pullquote]First blues band I saw was Muddy, Otis Span, James Cotton, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Pat Hare and a bass player.[/pullquote]
DH: Any other causes or things in the world you want to share with the fans?
EB: I want to say one more thing about Pepper’s Lounge. They had a stand out in front where they sold pork chop sandwiches and pig ear sandwiches. It doesn’t sound like it would taste very good, but it tasted damn good at 3am.
DH: Thanks for being so generous with your time, we really appreciate it.
EB: Nice to meet you.