It’s unfortunate that Elvin Bishop scored a top 10 hit.
“Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” the playful 1976 ballad about his love affair with Jenny Villarin, did indeed make it all the way to No. 3 on the U.S. charts.
The unfortunate part is that the song became too popular: The average music fan figures it was all Bishop ever did in music. Well, maybe they’re just not paying attention.
In truth, the California-born guitarist is one of the premier blues musicians of his generation, launching his career with the legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band and sharing the stage with giants like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and the Allman Brothers Band.
“I’m probably the only guy in the world who’s played with Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Hendrix, Duane Allman, B.B. King,” he once joked with an interviewer.
In short, Bishop is no fool.
Born in Glendale, Bishop moved east and grew up on a farm in Iowa. Whether or not the rural environs influenced his music, Bishop developed a country blues style of playing reminiscent of noteworthy performers like Lightnin’ Hopkins.
“One of my favorite old guys is Lightnin’ Hopkins, and he would write a song about anything,” Bishop told JamBase.com. “His girlfriend gets a job in a candy factory and he writes a song called ‘Candy Kitchen.’ There’s a dog howling in his backyard, so he writes a song about that. His thing was Chicago blues guys can’t write a song until a woman does something wrong.”
But it was his stint with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band that propelled Bishop into the spotlight. A master at the slide, he furthered his standing as an established blues guitarist during a subsequent solo career, and he even opened the show at the famed Allman Brothers’ concert at the Fillmore East in 1971 — part of which was captured on one of rock’s classic live albums.
He has released over two dozen albums since, despite taking a lengthy break from recording after the tragic death of his daughter in 2000. Selina Bishop, his 22-year-old daughter with Villarin, was among five people killed as part of a botched extortion scheme.
Bishop released several compilations and live albums after the incident, but didn’t return to the studio until putting together 2005’s Getting My Groove Back. The album was Bishop’s attempt at begin healing through his music — a process that continues to this day.
He’s as active as ever: Last year he released The Blues Roll On, which includes appearances by the Allman Brothers’ Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, and bluesmen George Thorogood and James Cotton.
So, know this: There’s a lot more to Elvin Bishop than a pop song.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)