7 questions for blues Hall of Famer Elvin Bishop
For a guy whose latest album was titled "Can't Even Do Wrong Right," a lot has gone pretty right for legendary blues rocker Elvin Bishop over the past 365 days.
His aforementioned new record came out last August, winning half of his six 2015 Blues Music Award nominations – including best song, album and band. That was far from the only Bishop-related release to hit the public last summer, as the blues singer-songwriter was reintroduced to audiences new and old thanks to a sentient tree, a gun-toting talking raccoon, a green assassin and Chris Pratt.
Yes, Bishop got the Marvel seal of approval when his 1975 jam "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" appeared in the monster comic book blockbuster "Guardians of the Galaxy," earning a well-deserved spot on Star-Lord's "Awesome Mix Vol. 1." And in case that wasn't enough recognition, Bishop was also recently elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his time with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
He'll be riding this strong wave of love into his upcoming Summerfest gig, headlining the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30. Before the 72-year-old blues icon hits the stage, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Bishop about his time with the before-its-time Paul Butterfield Blues Band, being a Hall of Famer and his musical role in one of the biggest movies of this half-decade.
OnMilwaukee.com: You were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How was that experience for you?
Elvin Bishop: Oh, it was kind of amazing! I didn't realize it was such a big thing. I always sort of had this image of the Rock Hall being for, like, the mega-platinum deluxe rock stars. And when they put Butterfield in, it was a little amazing to me. He himself didn't make records the way compared to most of those guys in there, and it was just sheerly, I guess, out of the influence that he had on other musicians. In that respect, it was a good thing.
OMC: What do you think it was about that music that really influenced and spoke to so many people, all the way up to today?
EB: This was happening right around the time Civil Rights was a big thing. I remember a lot of places we would go, we'd have to hang out in the hotel and the black guys would get us sandwiches and stuff because it was during the '60s when they had those riots and stuff, like in Cleveland and Detroit and different places.
But the blues was overdue to crossover to the white public. At that time, the only time a white person was going to hear any blues was at a folk festival. It's hard to imagine now. Now blues is just one of the many choices. It's really easy; you can download it off a computer. You'd have to go WAY out of your way to hear any blues in those days – especially where I came from: Tulsa, Okla. Because segregation was strictly enforced.
The thing I'm proud of with the Butterfield band was that we sorta set a good example for people of different races working together. Which was needed at that time. It's kind of hard to imagine that now. Also, you know, we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I don't think we were as good as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and those guys, but we were good enough to get the message across and get people interested in that kind of music. And wherever we went, we said, "Hey man, you have to hear B.B. King. You gotta hear John Lee Hooker. You gotta hear Muddy Waters."
OMC: As a mixed race group, looking back, how was that working together and working with the industry?
EB: Well, it was great. Jerome (Arnold, bassist) and Sammy (Lay, drums) were nice guys, and we got along great, no problem. The structure of the music business wasn't set up for a group like that. They didn't know what the hell to do with us. We ended up playing in some kind of weird places. But it all just kind of paved the way though.
OMC: How do you feel about the state of blues and blues rock music today?
EB: I don't know. I think blues is pretty much over with as a living form. When I was in Chicago in the early '60s, blues was the living music of choice of the black people. You'd get in a cab, and the cab driver would be talking about Muddy Waters. It was like how hip-hop is today. It ain't like that no more.
The first thing that happened was in the middle '60s, Motown and Stax came in because people were struggling to get some respect and to get segregation out of there. And to them, I think blues represented the old way of things. So they didn't want to do it. When I first started going to the blues, you'd be lucky if there was one out of 5,000 people who were white in a crowd. Now, you'd be lucky if you found one black person.
The music is still happening, because the music was so powerful and beautiful, you know. It's kind of like jazz. It's a classic American form now, not a living form.
OMC: You had a new album last year, "Can't Even Do Wrong Right." How was the process behind that album for you?
EB: I just wanted to give people something of my own, something original, something they haven't heard before. So that's what I tried to do, the best I can do about something I know about.
The title song was from a bass player who used to know named Ruth Davies. She's a real cool person and a nice musician. She was telling me about some sax player that she used to play with who had this saying, "I can't even do wrong right." I thought, "That's a catchy little phrase." Then I started thinking about on the news every one in a while, you'd see these dumbass criminals, you know, who dropped his wallet at the scene of the crime or they catch him in the air conditioning vent, stuck in a 7-Eleven. So I said I'll write a song about that guy.
OMC: One of the tracks that stood out to me was "Old School," in which you talk about Facebook and Twitter and today's technology. How do you feel about those?
EB: The only way I can deal with that is by being lucky enough to have a young daughter who is my tech support. Anytime I have a problem, I just call her up.
OMC: You had a song in the film "Guardians of the Galaxy," which became a major hit year last summer – a lot because of songs like yours on the soundtrack. Did you get a chance to see it by any chance?
EB: I think I've seen one or two parts of it. My wife watched it – I'm not too much of a movie guy – and she said it was good.
I think it's kinda cool because, speaking to my daughter – she's in her 20s now – her and her partners, they're in there with all the happening young musical acts now, but also, for some reason, they feel the need to get Van Morrison and Hendrix and The Beatles and stuff like that. It seems like maybe there's a craving for that kind of music, and that's why that movie worked so well I think. Some smart guy said, you know, these people need to hear some of these '70s tunes.
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