Historic night of blues with Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio

Pat Johnson / Alligator Record

Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, Willy Jordan, left, Bob Welsh and Bishop, make a rare live appearance on Saturday in the MontBleu Theatre at Lake Tahoe.
Pat Johnson / Alligator Records

 “They tell me that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And it is true, we’ve been around since the Dead Sea was sick. … We’re about due to start getting good pretty soon, too.”
– Verse from 100 Years of Blues from the album Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio.

The front-porch party that is Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio is coming to the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa.

A Marin County resident, the 74-year-old Bishop doesn’t perform as rigorously as he once did, but he still plays every year at Lake Tahoe. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member is trying something new this time, performing in a trio with his band’s keyboard and guitar player Bob Welsh and percussionist Wily Jordan, who has appeared on a few of Bishop’s studio albums.

Bishop explains:

In a trio, there’s no place to hide. You need to be totally into it all the time and you got to have the right guys. The combination of the three of us clicked big time.”

“Me and a couple of fellas got to jamming in my studio one day and we lucked up on The Big Fun Trio. I knew Willy Jordan from when he played percussion on some of my albums, and I liked his singing and rhythm feel. This time he brought a cajon, a South American percussion instrument. Bob Welsh is a member of my regular band, an amazing talent. He plays great guitar or piano and can get a tremendous bass sound on his guitar.

“In a trio, there’s no place to hide. You need to be totally into it all the time and you got to have the right guys. The combination of the three of us clicked big time. We went out an played a couple of gigs, and it was really cool to see how the people reacted to the goin’-for-it feel of the music.

The last time Bishop released an album he received three Blues Music Awards: 2014 Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Band of the Year as well as the Living Blues Award for Album of the Year.

A mix of covers and informally arranged originals, the “Big Fun Trio” album, is a happy and authentic blues celebration featuring Bishop’s recognizable slide guitar and homespun vocals.

Three of the tunes feature legendary harmonica players. The song “100 Years of Blues” is a duet with Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite, who like Bishop, sharpened his blues chops in Chicago in the 1960s before relocating in the North Bay Area. Sacramento’s Rick Estrin plays harp on an instrumental blues stomp, “Delta Lowdown.” And Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds appears on “It’s You, Baby.”

The Fabulous Thunderbirds co-headline the MontBleu show on Saturday, a thrilling doubleheader for serious fun-seeking blues lovers.

As a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bishop was part of the Chicago blues scene when it had hundreds of clubs and featured artists such as Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Otis Rush and Lonnie Brooks.

A few years later, California native Kim Wilson, influenced by George “Harmonica” Smith, Pee Wee Crayton and Lazy Lester, moved to Austin, Texas, where he played with the house band that featured artists such as Waters, Angela Strehli and brothers Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan.

Jimmie Vaughan was a member of Wilson’s Fabulous Thunderbirds when the blues band became a mainstream sensation with the hit singles “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up.”

Bishop also had mainstream success with his song “Fooled Around and Fell In Love.” For a while, his music was considered Southern rock, but ever since 1988, he’s been a straight-ahead blues player.

  • Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio
    Co-headliner: Fabulous Thunderbirds
    When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14
    Where: MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa
    Tickets: $25, $35 and $45

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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