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East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

Photo of Elvin Bishop – The Blues Rolls On CDElvin Bishop – The Blues Rolls On
Delta Groove Music, Inc., 2008

Elvin Bishop has been one of the most underappreciated bluesmen of his era. His foray into southern rock in the 1970s probably didn’t help that, and considering his self-deprecating attitude and love of home life, he just might have preferred it that way - Bishop is semi-famous for his gardening abilities.

Elvin, now in his mid 60s, grew up in rural Oklahoma. He went to Chicago in the early ‘60s to attend college, but a funny thing happened along the way – he ended up gaining a degree in the Blues. Elvin became hooked on the blues (I sure can understand how that can happen!), becoming real, personal friends with such performers as Hound Dog Taylor, Junior Wells, Little Smokey Smothers and many others. Bishop learned his lessons from these men very well, eventually joining the seminal band The Paul Butterfield Blue Band as a charter member. Their album Pigboy Crabshaw was titled after a nickname attached to Elvin.

As the ‘60s ran their course, Elvin found himself relocating to the San Francisco Bay area. He had a solid run as a bluesy southern rocker in the 1970s, recording for Capricorn Records. He found his way back to the blues with Alligator Records, releasing several fine albums for the label from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. Since then he’s released a couple discs on Blind Pig, and now has The Blues Rolls On on Delta Groove. This CD is chock-full of guest starts, including (but not limited to) B.B. King, James Cotton, Kim Wilson, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and John Nemeth. Many members of Bishop’s own band, past and present, come out to play as well.

The Songs: (songwriters in parentheses)

1. The Blues Rolls On: (Elvin Bishop) - Guest stars = Warren Haynes & Kim Wilson.
This is a groovy rumbling track, with a very cool bass line courtesy of Ruth Davies. Kim Wilson weaves acoustic harp among the other players, and Haynes and Bishop trade off lead guitar lines. Elvin treats us to a blues travelogue of bluesmen and blueswomen who had/have “the groove”.

2. Night Time Is The Right Time: (Lou Herman)
This song was made famous by Ray Charles. Guest stars John Nemeth and Angela Strehli take the lead vocals here, and knock this thing out of the park! If you don’t know Nemeth, he’s one of the hottest young vocalists/harpists out there, and is one cool cat. Strehli is famous from her Antone’s days and can sing her backside off. Elvin is here, too, laying down great slide licks and lead guitar lines. Geez, this song is incredible!

3. Yonder’s Wall: (James Clark)
The guests here are Ronnie Baker Brooks and Tommy Castro, with Baker Brooks taking the lead vocal. The song was recorded live on the ship during the 2007 Pacific Coast Legendary Blues Cruise. Elvin plays roiling slide, Castro and Baker Brooks play hot lead electric guitar. This is a rockin’ blues, and you can hear each of the 3 guitars players throughout the song. Great live sound!

4. Struttin’ My Stuff: (Elvin Bishop; Phil Aaberg)
Guest stars here are Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. Not bad! In addition Johnny “V” Vernazza and Mike Schermer also play guitar on the track (Elvin, too.) Elvin revisits one of his big hits from his ‘70s southern rock days. He lays down one of his patented rappin’ party-style vocals here. Guitar heads should dig this track, because by the end of it you can hear most everyone throwing lead lines out there. This tune is a lot of fun.

5. Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket: (Olive Perry)
B.B. King is the star of the moment here. The song is a swinging tune done up solidly in B.B.’s style, with Elvin singing (rather than rapping) the vocals. It’s a very nice song, but I could do without the conversation pieces between Bishop and King that bookend the song. B.B. plays some NICE guitar on the song, as does Elvin. B.B. doesn’t sing on the track. Did I mention that this song swings like crazy? Yes? I thought I did.

6. Who’s The Fool: (Berry Gordy; Smokey Robinson)
John Nemeth takes the vocals on this old Motown track, and Kid Andersen (currently the lead guitarist with Rick Estrin & The Night Cats, vice Charlie Musselwhite and others) guests on guitar. This is a laid-back mid-tempo blues, with Nemeth stealing the song with his vocals. He’s an amazing singer.

7. Black Gal: (Clifton Chenier)
This is one of Clifton Chenier’s best known blues songs. Clifton played deep blues; don’t let the accordion fool you. Guest accordionist Andre Thierry plays with passion and R.C. Carrier (who played in Chenier’s bands) provides vocals and rub-board.

8. Oklahoma: (Elvin Bishop)
This song features only Mr. Elvin Bishop – on low-down Hound Dog Taylor-style guitar and feet. It’s raw and ragged, with Bishop telling his “story” of how he came to the blues. Listen to the words here for a blues history lesson.

9. Come On In This House: (Amos Blakemore aka Junior Wells)
This tune features the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, whose members are about the youngest DEEP blues band you’ll probably ever find. At the time of this recording the band members were 14, 11 and 9! Kyle Perry, HJBB’s singer and guitarist, takes the vocals and plays guitar alongside Elvin. The song is one of Jr. Wells’ later-day classics; this version would make Jr. proud.

10. I Found Out: (Daniels; Wells; Moore)
James Cotton and John Nemeth help Elvin out with this mid-‘60s Jr. Well tune. Cotton blows unamplified harp and Nemeth nails some of Wells’ idiosyncratic vocal mannerisms. They don’t come across as condescending, but as a tribute to Jr., who was a great vocal stylist.

11. Send You Back To Georgia: (J. Hammonds; J. Matthews)
Elvin sat in with George Thorogood and his band in K.C. and this song was the result. It’s an old Hound Dog Taylor rave-up. Unfortunately, it the only tune of this CD which seems flat, which seems odd as George and his Delaware Destroyers are know for their energetic show and their love of slide driven blues guitar. George takes the vocal here, and just didn’t seem to have the necessary fire this time around.

12. Honest I Do: (E.G. Abner, Jr.; Jimmy Reed)
One last guest shot for Mr. John Nemeth on this instrumental take on the Jimmy Reed classic. Elvin almost always throws one unusual instrumental on his albums, and this is it for “The Blues Rolls On”. Bishop’s slide and Nemeth’s harp take the place of Jimmy Reed’s vocals. This tune lopes along wonderfully, capturing the feel of the tune. Dig the ride cymbal! This was a cool way to end the CD.

The Verdict:

This CD, which celebrates the musical career of Elvin Bishop and the music that influenced and moved him over the years, is his 1st album to be released by Delta Groove. Elvin has enlisted the help of many longtime musical cohorts, to include Ed Earley, Mike Schermer, Terry Hanck, Michael “Fly” Brooks and Bobby Cochran. This list is not meant to be inclusive. In addition to these musicians, Delta Groove headman Randy Chortkoff brought in many guests for the sessions for The Blues Rolls On. This initially left me feeling leery about this CD – would it still sound like an Elvin Bishop recording with all the extra help? The answer is a resounding YES!

In fact, this CD ranks among the best of Bishop’s career, and also ranks as one of the strongest releases yet by Delta Groove. Elvin still sings a few tunes here, John Nemeth steals the show on his tracks (anyone remember the days of Mickey Thomas from Bishop’s Fooled Around and Fell in Love days?), Elvin’s slide guitar work is evident everywhere, and most all the guests provide fine embellishment to the tunes they worked on. I can do nothing but wholeheartedly recommend this CD. STLBluesometer rating = 4.5. This is an extremely strong release, and it will likely thrust Elvin Bishop fully into the spotlight of musical fame again (of course I don’t think he ever really left it, but that’s just my humble opinion.)

Lee Howland, aka "East Side Slim"
The STLBluesometer

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