Not foolin’ around
After half a century of playing music, Elvin Bishop is still tearin’ it up
Elvin Bishop has been playing music professionally for more than 50 years. The 72-year-old blues/rock guitarist/songwriter got his start in 1963 playing with famed harmonica player/bandleader Paul Butterfield; he scored a top-10 hit (“Fooled Around and Fell in Love”) in 1976 and he’s continued to record and tour regularly ever since. This past spring, Bishop was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Butterfield’s band, and his latest album, 2014’s Can’t Even Do Wrong Right—a gritty collection of workingman’s roadhouse blues mixed with lively R&B—won best album at the 2015 Blues Music Awards. (Bishop also took home Best Song for the title track, and—with his group—Best Band.)
The CN&R caught up with the busy musician to discuss his life of music as he prepared to visit Oroville with his band for tonight’s show at Feather Falls Casino Brewing Co.
Are you working on a follow-up for Can’t Even Do Wrong Right?
I’m sort of in the process of writing tunes for the next one. Basically, when the songs come, I start writing. I don’t really have a process for it. Most of my songs are written in the studio. I try not to limit myself unnecessarily but in the end it’s sort of my goal to do things this way.
How many shows are you and the band playing these days?
We fly out and play just about every weekend, and this schedule is really working for us. We’re doing Edmonton’s Blues Festival and another in Canada [the Summertime Blues Fest] in addition to playing around the Bay Area. We’re even playing a festival in Poland [Rawa Blues] in October. If the money’s right, we do it. These days I take the gigs that can take care of the band.
Do you think you could you make a living simply by licensing “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”?
Pretty much. The one smart thing I did was hold on to my own publishing at an early age. You know, record labels traditionally would collect your publishing money, then give a portion to the publishing house, and then it would finally go to you. It always just seemed like just one more way to get screwed, and I wasn’t having none of that. I’ve been writing songs for over 50 years and my mailbox is usually pretty full because of it.
Any advice for the newer artists who are just starting to release records and tour?
Truthfully, I feel sorry for the young guys coming up. These record labels want a piece of everything you make, from merchandise to publishing to whatever else they can get. There aren’t nearly the amount of clubs around as when I started playing out. I’d say just keep playing wherever and whenever you can.
There’s often a negative stereotype attached to bands that play casino gigs, but those venues usually pay better and draw a bigger crowd. How do you feel about that stigma?
I don’t give a fuck. I’ll play any damn where we can get our foot in the door as long as the checks clear. I know what I’m supposed to be doing and know how to do it. Of course, it’s a little more fun playing for people in a small club since they’re right in front of you, but really the venue I play doesn’t matter so much. I’ve got a great band behind me, including Ed Earley [trombone/percussion], who’s been with me for over 25 years, and it’s one of the best feelings in life to play out live.
With such a huge catalog of music, how do you go about choosing a set list?
I really follow the crowd these days and react to the situation. You want people to hear enough of the new ones, but then they get upset they haven’t heard enough of the old ones. Then you get the folks who hear the old ones and tell their friends that “Elvin played the same ol’ shit again.” Sometimes you can’t win. You really just want to get up on stage and nail that shit and leave ’em wanting more. I think we do a good job of that.