Eyes wide open, feigning seriousness, Elvin Bishop emphatically pointed a finger in a scolding manner and sang out, “Just talkin’ ‘bout a little milk and cream.”
The sold-out, grinning South Shore Room audience sure felt good feeling good again.
When he tossed his slide over his shoulder after the first song, it was obvious that Bishop, who wore his trademark overalls and flannel shirt, was in a playful mood.
At the age of 71, Bishop appears to be enjoying himself onstage as much as ever. He doesn’t perform often, but he plays each year at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. At the end of the second encore song (“My Dog”) of a18-song, 1 hour, 42 minute set May 24, he told the crowd he “played as long as he possible could without getting in trouble.” Then I saw the venue’s director of entertainment guffaw.
We heard the signature syncopated “Hallelujah” from drummer Bobby Cochran on “Rock My Soul,” the dual slide guitar from Bishop and Bob Welsh, a sound that once put Elvin in the commercially successful southern rock genre, and we saw Ed Early duck walk across the stage with his trombone, egging the chair-dancing audience to get on its feet.
Keyboardist Steve Willis played accordion on a zydeco number, just one of the myriad influences of Bishop’s, an authentic Chicago bluesman in the ’60s, who has always been rooted in gospel music and down-home Oklahoma charm. He even boasted about being atop his bale of hay. As he played his standard, “Fishin,’ ” Bishop pulled from his wallet a $46 fishing license: “Get ‘em boys, before the water’s all gone.”
Bishop played as he walked through the aisles, stopping once to sit on a woman’s lap, then again to shag to the stage Shari Chilbert, a visitor from Gaithersburg, MD.
He, of course, played his greatest hit of the millennium, “What The Hell Is Goin’ On,” which he penned after 9-11. And he performed a soulfully deep and nasty blues, “Little Brown Bird.”
Never one to distain humility, Bishop shook his head, walked over to Welsh and apologized for playing in the wrong key on the introduction to a song sung by Early, appropriately, “You Only Have Yourself to Blame.”
When a stagehand brought out a chair, Bishop sat and said “I don’t believe anybody here’s old enough to remember this one.” But I will never forget hearing Bishop play “Callin’ All Cows” in the East Gym at Humboldt State University. I was a junior at Arcata High School and Elvin Bishop was the greatest rock star I had ever seen.
For good measure, “old Bishop’s band” followed shortly thereafter with “Juke Joint Jump,” the title song of a 1975 record I played continually for about a year.
Bishop said he has a new record coming out it July. The blues rolls on. Hallelujah.
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.