“The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime,” Bishop confessed to a sold-out South Shore Room crowd Saturday, April 6, in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
It was an opening wisecrack from the man whose playful countenance is as authentic as his 1959 guitar. He played 16 songs in a 90-minute set before an audience which seemed to enjoy itself as much as did the evening’s avuncular master of ceremonies.
Bishop honed his craft in the 1960s learning blues during the genre’s heyday on the South Side of Chicago. Then he moved to California, donned overalls and let his Oklahoma country roots sprout along with bushy hair. His casual and carefree style resonated. The amiable Bishop was embraced by the country music family as he was by the Chicago bluesman. His homespun blues-country-gospel style was all his own, but for a while was categorized in the 1970s as southern rock, and that’s when he had a slew of commercially successful records.
Bishop played a little bit of everything on this night, sharing solos with his talented band. With his slide either on his pinky or in his mouth like a half-burned cigar, Bishop played smoking guitar harmonies with the speedy Bob Welsh. He jumped to zydeco stomps by accordionist Steve Willis, who otherwise spent most of the night on organ. Trombone player Ed Early was a one-man horn section and backing falsetto singer on the gospel tunes. Drummer Bobby Cochran sang with soul Percy Mayfield’s 1952 hit “The River’s Invitation” and the feel-good-again Bishop standard “Party Till The Cows Come Home,” which inspired Early to duckwalk with his trombone across the stage. The band’s newest member is double bassist Ruth Davis who with Cochran comfortably set the rhythm of the various styles.
Bishop revealed a new song and one that might be 100 years old. “Boll Weevil” is a country standard first recorded by Lead Belly. Bishop’s version had the cotton-eating beetle “sitting on a bale of hay.” Somewhere Charlie Daniels was smiling.
Bishop didn’t play his biggest hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” but he played many of his classics: “Fishin,’ “Rock My Soul,” Travelin’ Shoes,” “I’m Gone,” “Calling All Cows” and his most recent radio single, “What The Hell Is Going On.”
A mix of old and young, the crowd chair danced and gave standing ovations, including one that brought an encore, a song made popular by Little Walter, who Bishop knew from his Chicago days.
At the conclusion of “Blues With A Feeling,” Bishop cracked wise one last time.
“That’s when you know when you are really comfortable, when you can come out and try something you don’t really know and then come out and prove it.”