The Player s Guide to Ultimate Tone. $15.00 US, September 2013/Vol.14 NO.11

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INSIDE Mountainview Publishing, LLC the The Elvin Bishop Interview How a green kid from Tulsa boarded a bus for Chicago with a small handful of chords and wound up in one of the greatest blues bands of
INSIDE Mountainview Publishing, LLC the The Elvin Bishop Interview How a green kid from Tulsa boarded a bus for Chicago with a small handful of chords and wound up in one of the greatest blues bands of all time Elvin on Chicago, the New York jams, Newport, Monterey, the Fillmore & more 10 Solving the great humbucking conundrum The Player s Guide to Ultimate Tone $15.00 US, September 2013/Vol.14 NO.11 Hangin with Elvin ReportTM I been in the blues all my life. I m still delivering cause I got a long memory. Muddy Waters Half a century has passed since the blues bands of Chicago rocked the smoky clubs and bars crowding the Southside and street players set up to play curbside on Maxwell Street on Sunday afternoons. The blues that migrated north from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago defined a generation in the cultural life of black Americans, and eventually, those very same blues musicians and their songs inspired a new generation of younger, paler players to play the blues, culminating in one of the most potent cultural and artistic awakenings in modern history. In Clarksdale, Mississippi they still call it the boogie disease. 14 Ron Ellis and Lee Roy Parnell on the development of the LRP humbuckers 15 The LRP Review 16 Unleashing Red Dawg We discover another $400 masterpiece The Epiphone Red Dawg ES335 Cherry Dot optimized with Slider s humbuckers 19 Kent Armstrong Vintage 57 humbuckers Much has been written about those days and the characters that created the blues in Chicago, and while we are all familiar with Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, James Cotton, Willie Dixon, Earl Hooker, Otis Rush, Magic Sam and John Lee Hooker, most of us have only experienced these legendary players through their recorded music, photographs and surviving film footage. By the time aspiring young white musicians discovered the true roots of the music they were chasing, many of the original Chicago bluesmen had passed away, or were approaching the end of their careers. While the blues would be fervently embraced by young white Americans, it was clearly not born from the life experiences of white America in the segregated 60s. To understand how the blues transcended color to create a musical revolution in pop culture, we must look back to Chicago, a Photo: Joshua Temkin cover story club called Big John s, and the Butterfield Blues Band. A skinny kid from Tulsa, Oklahoma named Elvin Bishop played guitar in the band that would fully integrate Chicago blues into American life in the mid 60s. The spark was ignited at Big John s, where Paul Butterfield first formed the band as a quartet with Sam Lay and Jerome Arnold lured away from Howlin Wolf, and Butterfield s friend Elvin on guitar. In 1964 Michael Bloomfield joined the band, which achieved notoriety at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 for their own brilliant set, and for backing Bob Dylan in his first electric perversion of Maggies Farm, leaving diehard folkies scalded and writhing in horror in front of the stage. After several attempts at recording a live album, Mark Naftalin joined the band on keyboards and the Butterfield Blues Band LP debuted on Elektra in Hailed as a landmark blues record, the album s lasting influence on musicians and the public s awareness of blues far surpassed its chart position at 102 among the Top 200. Simply put, the Butterfield album is a classic record that inspired musicians and bands around the world for decades in their pursuit of rock & blues. The Butterfield band released East-West in 1966, featuring blues standards and the 13-minute instrumental title track that explored Indian raga themes mixed with jazz-fusion and extended blues-rock solos by Bloomfield and Bishop. East- West deftly captured the full, freaky psychedelia of the Fillmore that inspired acid rock with bands like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service jamming deep into the night while stoned and tripping Fillmore patrons dreamily nodded their approval. Now, before we proceed, we urge you to log on to Youtube, type in Paul Butterfield Blues Band Driftin Blues Monterey 1967, and watch and listen to Paul Butterfield, Elvin and the band cast a spell on the crowd. On this song Bloomfield sat out with Elvin doing the honors on guitar. It s a beautifully shot film and excellent sound recording featuring great shots of the band and audience, and a wonderful performance. Alright, cue that video up now if you can, turn up the volume and watch it twice. We ll wait Uh, huh. Leaves you wanting more, doesn t it? We ll not see the likes of the Butterfield Blues Band again, ever. Times have changed, there is no concentrated blues scene left in America to rival the southside of Chicago, and if two young guys like Paul Butterfield and Elvin happened to cross paths on the street today, one or both of them would likely be jacking off with their cell phones instead of sitting on a stoop playing guitar and drinking a quart of beer. You see, many of us no longer live in the moment in America. There is no time to simply hang out for the perpetually over-scheduled. Texts and s have replaced conversation. Last week on Pawley s Island South Carolina we watched two upwardly mobile couples in their late 20s come to the beach, spread out their blankets and chairs, take a bored ten minute perfunctory walk and return to relax and surf the Net on their cell phones. No talking. No reflecting on the soothing sound of the ocean waves breaking on the beach in perfect rhythm as they have for millions of years. No quiet contemplation Never mind the earnest pelican squadrons dive bombing offshore, the scurrying sand crabs, curious sandpipers, the blue horizon, or the placid expanse of sea reaching to Africa Sadly, we have acquired the habit of not really being where we are, too often existing in a colder digital space void of the real world and all the sensory sensations it offers. Connected, yet entirely disconnected. We point out these facts of contemporary life to honor what earlier generations and musicians like Elvin Bishop have created in their lives, and to reinforce the idea that art and culture cannot be created on a smart phone, i-pad or a PC. Art and culture require social human beings to interact, and when we do, miraculous, beautifully human things can happen that are entirely unique to us. Like the blues. 2 cover story The 60s are often poorly portrayed today by people who didn t live them. Yes, there were problems Watts burned, there were riots in Chicago and marches on Washington to end the war, and many young lives were needlessly lost draftees who were too healthy or lacked the connections to obtain a deferment, two brothers who wished to make America and the world a better place, and another brother who simply wanted us to learn to love each other. But there was also a higher consciousness in play in our culture among the young, in part encouraged by the drug culture that inevitably turned on itself at Altamont, but also in terms of spiritual thought. The 1971 book on spirituality, yoga and meditation by Ram Dass titled Be Here Now has never seemed more poignant and instructive than it is today. Having studied with Timothy Leary at Harvard and experimented with psychedelic drugs, Ram Dass was left unfulfilled, embarking on a spiritual journey in which he was instructed to always remember to be here now. Such was the spirit of San Francisco for a moment, the site of love ins, be ins and happenings no less. It was far fuckin out, man, and Elvin Bishop was right there, all up in the middle of it. Elvin eventually put his own band together in San Francisco and launched a solo career that is still going strong today, but this is a story best told by the man himself. And so it is with great joy and reverent appreciation that we are honored to introduce you to Elvin Bishop from his home in the country, far, far from the streets of Tulsa, somewhere in Northern California. Enjoy Did you grow up playing in bands as a teenager in Oklahoma, Elvin? Naw, when I came out of Oklahoma I knew a handful of chords a small handful. The thing was, there was nobody in my family that was musical and I didn t know anybody that played music in Tulsa. I didn t have any money, my dad was kind of chronically unemployed, and I worked a lot in high school. I always got my guitars in pawn shops and I didn t know the ropes, so I wound up with these Harmony and Kays with the strings two inches off the fret board. I was always thinking, Damn, I don t seem to be making much progress This guitar playing sure is hard. Just mashing the strings down kept my fingers messed up and I d give up for awhile. Then I d go back to school and they would have a dance and I d see the girls all gathered around the guitar players and I d decide I needed to go back to work on the guitar. I finally stuck with it. Were you a good student? You received a National Merit scholarship to the University of Chicago, and I think you are probably the first guitar player we have ever interviewed that did that. I was and I wasn t it would kind of go in waves. I d get all U s one semester which was unsatisfactory, and the next semester I d get all E s for excellent. I was a good test-taker and the scholarship was based on standardized test scores. What led you to go to the University of Chicago? Don t tell me that you chose that school because you wanted to become immersed in the Blues That s what I m gettin ready to tell you. People said it was unusual that I would be interested in physics, but I had always been good at math and you had to have a major, so I just chose physics. Basically, college was my cover story for going where the blues was. It was frustrating in Tulsa because they made it real hard for you to associate with people of other races. This was the late 50s there was white and colored everything, and no black people in my school. I remember when I left for Chicago at the Greyhound bus station there were separate waiting rooms, restrooms and drinking fountains. And I would imagine they weren t playing Muddy Waters on the radio in Tulsa either. You could hear it. If you knew which stations to listen to you could get it. White people just didn t know anything about blues. The only way you could hear it was if you went to a folk festival, because blues was considered a small 3 cover story aspect of folk music. What was your first month in Chicago like? Man, it was like being thrown in the middle of heaven. It was the luckiest thing that ever happened in my life. Blues was like rap is now. It was the living music of the black people. There were maybe over 200 blues clubs in Chicago because there were over a million black people in the city at that time. I got there in 1960 and within the first week I made friends with the black guys that worked in the cafeteria at the University and they were taking me out to the blues clubs. The University of Chicago is located in a place called Hyde Park, which was an island in the middle of the southside ghetto. Hah, please don t throw me in the briar patch It was unbelievable. And there was a scene on Maxwell Street, too That was on the near northwest side, and it was a happening thing, too. It was the biggest flea market in the world and ever since the 1920s people had been playing music on the street there on Sundays. They would run a long cord and somebody would let them run a cord into their house for $2. If your bicycle got stolen during the week you could go to Maxwell Street and buy the parts to put it back together on Sunday. When you were being taken down to the blues clubs, had they been integrated at that time? Growing up in Indianapolis, we knew the neighborhoods where the juke joints were, but the idea of walking into one of them was unimaginable. Well, I was the only white guy in those clubs many times. There were a few white people that were interested in it some of the academic people from the university were interested from a sociological angle I suppose, but also guys like Butterfield and Bloomfield and Barry Goldberg Within a week of arriving in Chicago I saw my first blues band. The black guys that worked in the cafeteria were so nice to me Louis Johnson, A.D. Mosby, and a lot of guys I only knew by their first name X.L., Andrew, Clarence These guys took me down and we d go in a group. I never went by myself and not with a $100 bill hanging out of my pocket, as if I had one. The first blues band I ever saw was dig this personnel James Cotton, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Pat Hare and a bass player. Were you able to fully appreciate the fact that you were seeing history being made at that time, living in the epicenter of American blues? No. We were just trying to please ourselves. Our heroes were the blues guys, and just the idea of being able to play that music and get paid for it You know, when you re a young guy gettin high and chasing girls is number one on the agenda. It all fits in together and it was a beautiful thing. As far as the larger implications, I don t know how many guys have come up to me over the years and said that the Butterfield Blues Band got them started into music. And also exposed an entire generation to music they would have otherwise never grasped at the time. Yeah, the blues presented this huge body of beautiful music that a white audience of 200 million people had never heard. We were just lucky enough to be standing there with enough talent to deliver the goods. And incredibly, the music being played in Chicago was the same music that inspired many of the British musicians that launched the British Invasion as well as the explosion of a harder rockin style from players like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. It was all connected with roots in Chicago blues. Who did you meet first? Was it Butterfield? Yeah, I met him the first day I was in Chicago. It was just a huge coincidence. I was walking around looking at the 4 cover story neighborhood straight from Tulsa, square as a pool table and twice as green, and I see this guy sittin on some steps playing a guitar and drinking a quart of beer. That s how we met. How did your initial exploration into the Chicago music scene unfold? I just did what musicians do when they are starting out, and I soaked it up from all directions 24 hours a day. Anybody that looked like they knew anything I didn t know I d learn from. My horizons kind of exploded when I actually found guys that I could look at their hands and see how things I d heard on records Little Walter were played. I d hang out with the black guys, and you know, you didn t have to go to class if you could pass the tests. I would go out into the ghetto and get lost for weeks at a time hanging out with guys. I learned what the words they were singing meant and how they fit with their lives and culture. I started playing in bands in Chicago as soon as I could. I had a hard time at first because I had never played in bands in Tulsa and I would try to play along with records by Lightnin Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, who I became friends with later, but I wasn t aware that there was a certain sequence you had to play the chords in. It just looked like they changed when they got ready, whenever the feelin told em, so I had to learn how to change with them. That was a little difficult, but I just plugged away and got through it. I had to change from using a thumb pick to a flat pick, and now I ve gone back again. Freddie King was the only guy I knew that used middle fingerpicks. You know that high sparkling sound he gets sometimes? That s from middle fingerpicks. I played with a bunch of little bands before I got with Butterfield. We used to play acoustically me, Butter and Nick Gravenitas at parties. Butterfield was an amazing character. When I met him he didn t play harmonica just guitar. He decided he d learn how to play harmonica and within 6 months has was as good as he was gonna get. He was a natural genius on the instrument. Who did you play with prior to the Butterfield Blues Band? I played with a bunch of different bands that never made any records the Southside Olympic Blues Team, Salt & Pepper Shakers, Larry and the Crowd Chasers and I played with some known blues guys like Hound Dog Taylor, Junior Wells hired me for a couple of weeks, and I played with this old honkin sax guy from the 40s named J.T. Brown It was a matter of gettin gigs to play. Butterfield got a gig at this place called Big John s on the northside of Chicago, and that s where blues really crossed over to the white people. It was the right time and the right place, so he put the band together for that and it really took off. How did you meet Bloomfield, and did he already have his chops together on the guitar? It was in his uncle s pawn shop. He came from a very wealthy family. I don t know about now, but back then if you d go to a restaurant or a diner and you looked at the sugar dispensers that you used to pour sugar into your coffee or the salt and pepper shakers, there was a B on the bottom. His father owned that business. Bloomfield was working behind the counter at his uncle s pawn shop, and oh, yeah, he was already fully formed. He had been playing since his pre-teen years and had taken lessons from jazz musicians and he knew how to play old-fashioned pop music. He was a real musician. He was also a true music historian. I remember seeing him in the mid 70 s when he was touring solo and it was kind of disappointing. We wanted to hear him play the Les Paul of course, and he was playing acoustic rags from the 20s for the most part, and a little blues, but all acoustic. He seemed to be a little hyperactive. Oh, yeah, he loved all that music from the 20s, and that might be an accurate description the most negative way of looking at his personality. It was rough on him because his mind worked so fast all the time that he had trouble sleeping. Clapton had a great description of him as playing music on two legs. He introduced me to a lot of R&B with horns, and we actually fashioned a lot of our playing after horn parts. When we were playing at the Fillmore a lot he actually had a fire eating act that he did in the middle of East-West. He used to get one of those mallets for a kettle drum, dip it in lighter fluid, lean back and slowly eat the fire. You talk about hippies with some blown minds I asked him how he did it and he said as long as you didn t inhale you were OK. I was just listening to Got a Mind to Give Up Living and it is very clear that the sound of that 5 cover story recording doesn t sound like anything being recorded today. There is a haunting mystery to that music that has largely been lost. How did you record back then? Were you hanging mikes in a room to get the sound of an ensemble? I don t know about hanging mikes in a room, maybe a little bit, but there just weren t as many tracks. I was so ignorant of recording techniques back then that I couldn t even tell you how many tracks we had. Very few things happened in one take, but the only form of cheating we had was splicing tape. I think East-West may have been recorded on both coasts and spliced together. The things is, when you do it that way, playing everything all the way through from start to finish as a performance, you put the musical sound in the hands of the musicians and take it out of the hands of the engineers. This fix it in the mix shit where you record everything separately and mix it together always struck me as like throwing a Ming vase on the floor and saying Don t worry, we ll put it back together better than it ever was. How has your gear evolved over the years? I never got past the three knob stage. I fooled around with pedals and wah-wahs in the past and I ve always found it wasn t something Owsley & Garcia that worked for me. I started out with a little black Princeton and that worked fine because we were playing small places, you know? Then I got this guy, Owsley, the guy who made the L
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