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Elvin Bishop Biography
Elvin Bishop was born in Glendale, CA, on October 21, 1942. He grew up on a farm in Iowa with no electricity and no running water. His family moved to Oklahoma when he was ten. Raised in an all-White community, he had no exposure to Blacks or their music except though the radio where he would listen to sounds from far away Mexico and blues stations in Shreveport, LA, in particular, the piercing sound of Jimmy Reed's harmonica got his attention. Bishop says it was like a crossword puzzle that he had to figure out. What is this music? Who makes it? Where and how do Black people live? What is this music all about? He put the pieces together.
But it was not until he won a National Merit Scholarship to the University of Chicago in 1959 that he found the real answers to his questions. Suddenly, there he was right in the heart of the Chicago blues scene. Live. It was a dream come true. The first thing I did when I got there was to make friends with the black guys working in the cafeteria. They took me to all the clubs. I sunk myself totally in the blues life as quick as I could, says Bishop.
After two years of college, he just dropped out and was into music full time. Howlin' Wolf guitarist Smokey Smothers befriended Bishop and taught him the basics of blues guitar. In the early '60s he met and teamed up with Paul Butterfield to become the core of the Butterfield Blues Band. Although only playing guitar for a few years, he practiced day and night on the blues music that he loved. He and Butterfield played together in just about every place possible -- campuses, houses, parks, and clubs. They began to become well known in 1963 when they took a job at Big John's on Chicago's North Side and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was born. Bishop helped to create and played on the first several Butterfield albums. (The Pigboy Crabshaw is Bishop's countrified persona referred to in the title of the third Butterfield album.)
When he left the Butterfield band after the In My Own Dream album (1968), Bishop relocated to and settled in the San Francisco area where he appeared often at the Filmore with artists like Eric Clapton, B. B. King, and Jimi Hendrix. He recorded for Epic (four albums) and later signed with Capricorn in 1974. His recording of Traveling Shoes (from the album Let It Flow) hit the charts, but he scored big with the lovely tune Fooled Around and Fell in Love (from his album Struttin' My Stuff) in 1976. He was (and is) famous for having fun on stage (putting on a great show) and letting the good times roll. Over the next few years the Elvin Bishop Group dissolved. He released his album Best Of in 1979, and was not heard from much until he signed with Alligator in 1988.
Bishop then released Big Fun (1988) and Don't Let the Bossman Get You Down (1991), which were well received. He also participated in Alligator's 1992 20th Anniversary cross-country tour. His latest release is Ace in the Hole (1995). Over the years, Bishop has graced the albums of many great bluesmen including Clifton Chenier and John Lee Hooker. He toured with B.B. King in 1995. Bishop is known for his sense of humor, his unique style of slide guitar, and fusion of blues, gospel, R&B, and country flavors. He lives with his wife and family in the San Francisco area, is a prodigious gardener, and continues to play dates in the U.S. and abroad, issuing The Skin I'm In in 1998. The following year saw the release of Hometown Boy Makes Good and That's My Partner in 2000. After a five year hiatus, Bishop released Gettin' My Groove Back in 2005 on Blind Pig Records. ~ Michael Erlewine, All Music Guide
Written by Michael Erlewine