Elvin Bishop shines in the spotlight

Elvin Bishop

Elvin Bishop has received more honors in 2015 than he has in a career that spans to his days with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tim Parsons

Affable, humorous and skilled, Elvin Bishop has many engaging characteristics. Magnanimousness is another endearing quality, however, Bishop justifiably was a little less so at a Lake Tahoe performance on June. 6.

Solos were not utilized as much as usual from “old Bishop’s band,” honored at last month’s Blues Music Awards as the best in the business. Ed Earley and Bobby Cochran sang lead vocals on just two respective songs. Accomplished guitarist Bob Welsh played mostly rhythm or dual with Bishop’s Gibson, “Red Dog.” And most notably, the energized 72 year old, who in recent years performs seated a good portion of his show, stayed on his feet most of the night.

Bishop has received more accolades in 2015 than he ever has in a career that began in the early 1960s at Chicago blues clubs. Reflective and retrospective, his current album, also his most acclaimed, was written as if it might be his last. And that is how he performed on a rainy night in Tahoe. Cognizant, no doubt, of his achievements, adulation and mortality, Bishop kept the spotlight. And he shined.

“We might as well try to squeeze some fun out of our miserable old lives,” the homespun Bishop remarked about halfway through a 15-song, hour-and-a-half set. The venue, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room, is ideal for a Bishop-hosted gathering, intimate with almost 500 in attendance.

Bishop was inducted this spring into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the United States group most credited for introducing blues music to white America. A living patriarch of the blues, Bishop sat in his chair for the first time of the night when he dedicated his song to B.B. King. He let his slide guitar take care of the vocals for “Honest I Do,” one of the five or six he played from the new record.

Since he left Chicago and Butterfield and moved to Northern California, Bishop has recorded 25 albums, including “Can’t Even Do Right,” which at the BMAs was named Best Album and Best Song.

Bishop revealed how he came up with the idea behind the song. Bassist Ruth Davies, who three years ago became the newest member of Bishop’s band, said she played with an “old sax” player who often used the expression, “He can’t even do wrong right.”

Humor has always played a big part of the songs Bishop writes.

Bishop played tunes from different decades of his career, including a slow-tempo “Travelin’ Shoes” from 1974 and the 9-11 inspired “What The Hell Is Going On?” He also played a song he only recently began performing again, “Juke Joint Jump,” a tune about a bar-room brawl which included longtime bandmate Johnny “V” Vernazza. Keeping Johnny V in the lyrics was another nod to a seminal part of Bishop’s career. Bishop and Vernazza’s harmonized guitars created a signature sound that was embraced by fans of a new genre of music: Southern rock. When Bishop and Welsh played together on this night, it sounded like a frenetic fiddle.

Toward the end of the night, the band played a gospel song that Bishop penned in 1972.

“When you’re feeling down, turn the music on, and let it soothe you./ When you’re feeling good, turn the music up and let it move you.”

The band had played the song hundreds of times and I’ve probably heard it live on about 15 occasions. This time it sent a chill up my spine.

After the show, Bishop autographed CDs and hats and stood to pose for photographs with fans. He stayed until every last person in line had a chance to spend a personal moment with him.

Savoring each minute of life must be what’s energizing Bishop, who poignantly philosophized with a typical punch line: “One of these days it will be all over and I’ll have to go but I try not to let me down because everybody’s in the same boat.”

Elvin Bishop

Ed Earley and Elvin Bishop at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on June 6.

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

“Criminals always return to the scene of the crime,” Elvin Bishop points to a familiar face in the crowd.
Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

Bishop and “Red Dog” takes a stroll through the South Shore Room.

Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

Elvin Bishop and Ruth Davies.

Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

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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