A quintessential hit of the mid-1970s kind of happened by accident. Elvin Bishop, a gutsy and eloquent guitarist formerly with ‘60s standouts Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was at Miami’s Criteria Studios recording his next solo album. Bishop and his band were working with producer Bill Szymczyk, known for smashes like Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” and Eagles albums like “On the Border.”
“We got almost enough tunes in the can for the project,” Bishop recalls during our recent phone interview. “But then the producer said, ‘Man, we need one more piece of material. You got any old thing laying around we can do?’”
It just so happened Bishop did have a tune in his back pocket, a blues-pop number he’d written called “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” At Criteria, Bishop and his band first cut the song’s basic tracks, the musical part of the recording.
“It came out pretty nice,” says Bishop, who speaks in a gravely, cowboy-like tone. “But I tried to sing it and my voice it’s good for some things but not for that.” Bishop asked his background singer Mickey Thomas if he wanted to give it a go at lead vocals on the song. “He got in there and just killed it,” Bishop says of Thomas, whose big voice would later become a huge part of the bands Jefferson Starship and Starship.
Upon its 1975 release, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” off Bishop’s “Struttin’ My Stuff” album, became a top five smash. In later decades, the song continues to reverberate as a ringer for soundtracks of hit movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Boogie Nights.”
Born in California and raised in Oklahoma, Bishop’s career zoomed after he moved to blues-hub Chicago, and joined Paul Butterfield Blues Band, known for their faithful and virtuosic blues playing. They also did tasteful expansions on the blues, as heard on the raga-flecked jam “East-West.” The band’s members included both white and Black musicians, no small detail in the turbulent 1960s.
Bishop’s most recent release is 2020′s “100 Years of Blues,” a refreshingly raw album with harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite. In addition to his own distinguished career, Musselwhite has guested on recordings by the likes of INXS, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Waits. This summer, Bishop and Musselwhite are out on the road as the support act for Boz Scaggs, known for another very mid-‘70s hit, “Lowdown.”
On a recent afternoon, Bishop, now 80, checked in for this interview from his Northern California home. Edited excerpts below
Elvin, your guitar solo on “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” is so tasty. What do you remember about recording it?
Elvin Bishop: I’ve always used a Fender amp and a Gibson [ES] 345 guitar, so I know that much about it. But it seems like it fell together pretty easy. Everybody was in the mood that day to do the right thing, you know?
For you, what was the magic of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band?
We had real good musicians, and I think it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time. This big, beautiful blues music had never really been introduced to the white public to a very large extent. And it was delivered in a package they could accept a little easier than they could older Black guys, I’m afraid. So that’s what happened there.
What was it like being in band with both Black and white musicians during the ‘60s, with Butterfield Blues Band?
Well, they were great musicians and it worked musically. It was a little rough finding hotels that would accept us all, you know, at the time. I mean, even in Chicago, in the North. It was a little rough in that respect, but it was a real cool experience.
You and Michael Bloomfield made for a potent guitar-duo in that same band. What was cool about playing music with Michael? [Bloomfield also played on classic Bob Dylan album “Highway 61 Revisited” and well as the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Dylan famous first electric-guitar gig]
He was an amazing player. He’d been playing in bands since he was like 12 or something and I was, as they say in Chicago, square as a pool table and twice as green. I learned a lot from him. He was an out of the box thinker and wasn’t scared of anything. He’d try to play [Indian music] ragas and stuff, and we’d listen to records and work on playing the horn harmonies on guitars.
You jammed on guitar with two of the biggest jam-bands ever in their prime, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers. How did playing music live onstage with the Dead compare with playing with the Allmans?
Well, the Allman Brothers, their music was pretty much blues based, you know, so it was really my kind of deal. I felt very comfortable playing with them. They’re very friendly guys. The Grateful Dead, their type of music was what I normally play … And you had to watch out what you drank backstage at their gigs.
I’ve read the Dead would often “dose” drinks backstage with LSD.
There you go, yeah.
What did it mean to you being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 with Paul Butterfield Blues Band?
I surprised the hell out of me. I bet you Butterfield sold less records that anybody in that sucker.
Why do you think you all got inducted into the Rock Hall? Respect for the band’s musicianship and influence, maybe?
I have a lot of musicians tell me that they got into music because of Butterfield. At the time, he was way more popular with musicians than he was with the public — he was just influential like that. And I think a lot of those guys ended up being on whatever committee it is that votes on who gets in.
As a solo artist, what did you enjoy most about your time on the Southern rock label Capricorn Records? My understanding is there was a great camaraderie between the different musicians on Capricorn.
Yeah! I made really good friends with Duane [Allman] and Dickey [Betts] from the Allman Brothers, and Toy Caldwell from Marshall Tucker [Band]. And with Charlie Daniels – he wasn’t on Capricorn, but he was kind of in that circle, that Southern rock circle. And Jimmy Hall [frontman with Mobile-founded band Wet Willie] was a cool guy. Just a lot of guys that were all down my alley, you know?
Do you remember what your reaction was the first time you heard the shoutout Charlie Daniels gives you in his hit “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”? [That song’s lyrics include, “Elvin Bishop sittin’ on a bale of hay. He ain’t good lookin’, but he sure can play.”]
[Laughs] My first thought was, “Well, he’s too big to make any objections to.”
You toured with B.B. King in the ‘90s. What’s something you learned from being around one of the greatest blues guitarists to ever do it?
I was already well hooked on B.B. way before that. I first played with him at the Fillmore [Auditorium] in San Francisco in the late ‘60s, maybe. We did a gig together, and he invited me to come up to his hotel the next day and I did. He had sheet music spread all over his bed, and he was working like a dog on scales and stuff. I was with the Butterfield Blues Band, and we’d gotten kind of famous by then. And I looked at B.B. and this guy has been the greatest blues guitar player for years, and here he is still trying to improve himself. I thought, this is a little tip for me.
On June 3, Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite will perform at Sand Mountain Amphitheater in Albertville, Alabama. Boz Scaggs is the headliner. Showtime is listed as 7 p.m. Ticket prices start at $34 plus fees, via etix.com.
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