Hey, that was fun!
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings and Marcia Ball had everyone smiling, singing and dancing Saturday night in Lake Tahoe’s largest indoor music venue. The onstage setup was informal, with Bishop and his pals seated and improvising songs.
It might seem hard to fathom, but when Ball and Rogers played with Bishop’s trio, the tunes were unrehearsed. Then again, they are some of the best musicians in the land.
Percussionist and singer Willy Jordan and guitarist/keyboard player Bob Welsh are Bishop’s partners in the Big Fun Trio. Welsh and Bishop’s synchronized electric guitar harmonies were magnificent. Jordan, who Bishop calls a “soulful dude,” often sang high falsettos as he sat atop his cajon drum box.
“You’ve got to scheme a little bit to make it work with the trio,” Bishop said before the show. “You’ve got to be going for it at all times. There is no place to hide in a trio. People are inevitably going to compare it to a full band, so you’ve got to keep it full, but tasty, at the same time. Give everybody some space to shine it. The main thing is to get guys who are real — real talent — and Willy and Bob fit that description.”
Ball came onstage after the trio had played five tunes and remarked how big their big sound was, later marveling at the improv, “… and there’s not a capo in sight!” The “long, tall” pianist from Texas made the sound even bigger as she led with her classic boogie-woogie, “Red Beans.”
Next week, Ball will be inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. She was on the premiere episode of the longest-running music program on television and was a pioneer in making Austin “The Live Music Capital of the World.” She traveled West for just one show, the so-called “first-annual” MontBlues Ball in the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa.
Her preparation: A phone call with Bishop and the sound check. With no set list, it was a treat to hear Ball perform tunes she typically doesn’t play with her band. She did, however, deliver her raucous classic, “That’s Enough of That Stuff.” And after Bishop played “My Dog,” she answered with “Let Me Play With Your Poodle.” It was a doggone good time.
Roy Rogers is a virtuoso on slide guitar. His work with Norton Buffalo, John Lee Hooker and Ray Manzarek is legendary. Yet, as is the bent of bluesmen, he’s humble and obliged the audience with his customary story that he is not the Roy Rogers who had a horse named Trigger. Before he went into show business, the other Roy Rogers, he said, was in fact named Leonard Slye. “You can’t wear a white hat with a name like that!”
Rogers, whose voice is strong as it ever has been, played his beat-up Martin parlor acoustic guitar with silk and steel strings and a double-necked electric in open G and open D tuning, before grabbing his 12-string Dobro and playing classics by Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon.
It’s with irony that he sang “I was built for comfort, not for speed,” because Rogers possesses amazingly fast fingers. Keeping up were veterans who comprise The Delta Rhythm Kings, drummer Kevin Hayes and electric bassist Steve Ehrmann, who wore a pork-pie hat and introduced the bandleader as “the real Roy Rogers.”
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio played songs from its two albums, as well as Bishop’s 1970s “Calling All Cows” and a sped-up version of his big radio hit “Fooled Around And Fell In Love.”
Bishop, 75, who cut his blues chops in Chicago in the early 1960s before joining the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, speaks in homespun country vernacular. His Ben Davis overalls appeared a bit large, as one of the straps drooped off his left shoulder. He let Jordan and Ball do much of the singing. But he had the like-minded crowd most engaged when he took the lead on “Old School” – “I don’t do texts, twitters or tweets — pick up the phone if you want to talk to me.”
After the encore songs, Bishop praised the promoter “Brother Brent” Harding, who was in the audience, for bringing the blues to Tahoe.
Booking a show – particularly a blues show — during the non-tourist time of the year is always a gamble for a promoter, but the MontBleu Theatre was a near sellout. And there’s more to come. One day earlier, a Dec. 22 concert was announced and it will feature blues stars Tommy Castro, Tinsley Ellis, Curtis Salgado and Eden Brent.
So, the blues rolls on.
— Tim Parsons