More than a decade before he became a staple of Southern rock with “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” guitarist Elvin Bishop established his blues credentials as an original member of Chicago’s Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Originally a quartet, keyboardist Mark Naftalin and lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield were added to the ensemble for its debut album in 1965. Like fellow bluesmen Bloomfield, Charlie Musselwhite, Steve Miller, and Harvey Mandel, Bishop soon left the Windy City for the peace and love mecca, San Francisco.
Mention San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium and the first thing that comes to mind is psychedelic music, or acid rock. But the blues of these transplanted Midwesterners and their heroes was an integral component of the Fillmore scene, as were the funkified sounds of Bay Area bands like the Loading Zone, Sons Of Champlin, and Tower Of Power. Leading his newly formed group, Bishop became such a strong presence at the rock shrine (and every other venue with a dance floor in Northern California), he was the first act signed when Epic Records gave Fillmore its own imprint.
This double-CD compiles the Bishop band’s first three albums – The Elvin Bishop Group, and Feel It!, on Fillmore Records, and Rock My Soul, on Epic, after the Fillmore label had run its course. Rounding the set out are two live tracks from the Fillmore West’s closing and the single “Stealin’ Watermelons.”
After a great version of Guitar Slim’s “Things That I Used To Do,” Bishop’s 1969 debut kicks into high gear with the instrumental “Tulsa Shuffle” (later renamed “Raisin’ Hell”), coaxing whispers and screams from his Gibson ES-335. “Sweet Potato” is vintage Bishop – its novelty lyrics delivered from the good ol’ boy, “Pigboy Crabshaw” persona, interspersed with aggressive jabs from his guitar.
With the addition of lead singer Jo Baker (one of San Francisco’s premier R&B vocalists, Bishop’s girlfriend at the time, and later a member of Stoneground), Feel It! has a more soulful slant, while Rock My Soul reveals Elvin’s strong songwriting throughout – particularly on the gospel-flavored title track and the muscular “Rock Bottom,” the album’s only co-write (with Baker).
This is indeed party music, which remains Bishop’s stock-in-trade. But what elevates Bishop above any number of novelty acts is that he knows when it’s time to get down to business, and has the chops to deliver the goods. No joke.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.