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When guitarist/vocalist Elvin Bishop
took the stage at San Francisco's Biscuits & Blues, on January 9, 2000 (the first of three nights of sold-out shows), he knew that sparks would soon be flying. That's because his longtime friend and mentor, guitarist Little Smokey Smothers
, was joining him. After all, without Little Smokey Smothers, Elvin Bishop's career path would have been completely different. It was Smothers who befriended Bishop when Bishop first arrived in Chicago. Smothers taught Bishop about the blues, taught him how to play guitar, and, most importantly, he taught Bishop about life as a bluesman. In fact, Smothers secured harmonicist/vocalist Paul Butterfield's very first gig before Paul formed (and Elvin joined) the Butterfield Blues Band. Over the years Elvin and Little Smokey have remained close friends, and in 1995 they recorded together on Smothers' very first solo album, released only in Europe. But now, almost 40 years after meeting, the two friends and musicians join forces on Alligator Records' That's My Partner!
, a blazing hot live album recorded at these historic, raucous shows.
That's My Partner!
is a rip-roaring good time from start to finish. Elvin and Little Smokey are having the times of their lives, jamming through classics like “Roll Your Moneymaker,” “Little Red Rooster” and Elvin favorites like “Travelin' Shoes” and “Middle Aged Man.” The album also includes two powerhouse Smothers' originals, “Annie Mae” and “Pleading With You.” Backed by Elvin's road-tested touring band, the record features loads of hot guitar interplay, tons of fun and one happy, enthusiastic audience. "Whenever we get together," says Smothers, "we have a whole lot of fun, no matter where it's at." On That's My Partner!
, Bishop and Smothers are having more than just fun, they're making a whole lot of terrific music.
Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Elvin Bishop has been singing and recording his rollicking brand of electrified down-home blues for almost 40 years. Bishop's history-making tenure as a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s, his chart-topping hits in the 1970s, and his emergence on Alligator Records in the late 1980s and into the 1990s place him at the forefront of electric blues guitarists. Elvin's music is a mix of his blues roots with contemporary funk and rock flavors spiced with a touch of country and the laid-back feel of his Northern California home. Rolling Stone
referred to Bishop's music as "a good-time romp...raucous blues with high-energy soloing, mixtures of careening slide and razor-edged bursts, all delivered with unflagging enthusiasm and wit."
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1942, Elvin first got hooked on the blues listening to late night R&B radio as a teenager. He began listening to and collecting blues records, and quickly realized that many of his favorite records were recorded in Chicago. In 1959, he used a National Merit Scholarship as a way to get closer to his blues heroes by enrolling in the University of Chicago, with its campus tucked in the middle of the South Side ghetto. "The first thing I did when I got there," Elvin recalls, "was make friends with the guys working in the cafeteria. Within fifteen minutes I was into the blues scene." Leaving his physics studies behind, Bishop turned to blues music full time. He befriended Little Smokey Smothers, and would hang out with the established guitarist for hours on end. Smothers liked Bishop and took the willing student under his wing, teaching Elvin how to play real blues guitar. Very quickly, Elvin became an accomplished and innovative player.
After Elvin crossed paths a few times with fellow U of C student and harmonica player Paul Butterfield, the two began sitting in at black blues clubs, often jamming with Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. Paul and Elvin soon recruited Michael Bloomfield as second lead guitarist, and a groundbreaking, all-star band began to take shape. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, formed in 1963 (along with Mark Naftalin on keyboards, Jerome Arnold on bass and Sam Lay on drums), introduced electric Chicago blues to the rock audience for the first time. By 1967 the band's popularity hit an all-time high as their straight Chicago blues sounds drifted even further into rock and roll. Their highly influential albums set the stage for the dual lead guitar attack that the Allman Brothers and Derek and the Dominos (among others) adopted. Bishop recorded three albums with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band before deciding to move on.
Towards the end of the 1960s, Bishop headed to the San Francisco area. He became a regular at the famed Fillmore jam sessions, playing alongside Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and many others before embarking on a solo career. He recorded first for Fillmore Records, then Epic and then for Capricorn, where his career took off to new heights. He charted with “Travelin' Shoes” before scoring big with “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” (the song, with vocals supplied by pre-Jefferson Starship singer Mickey Thomas, reached number three on the pop charts).
After a seven-year recording hiatus, Elvin returned to his blues roots in 1988, signing with Alligator and releasing Big Fun
to critical and popular acclaim. He followed in 1991 with Don't Let The Bossman Get You Down
. Elvin can be heard on the Grammy-nominated Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour
and seen in the Robert Mugge documentary, Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records
. Elvin can also be heard on Alligator's Hound Dog Taylor--A Tribute
, playing a greasy version of the legendary bluesman's Let's Get Funky. 1995's Ace In The Hole
delivered a no-holds-barred set of rootsy blues fueled by Elvin's wicked guitar playing and tongue-in-cheek originals. Bishop has a one-two punch of finger-licking slide guitar and good humor, raved the Chicago Tribune
. With 1998's The Skin I'm In
, serious guitar playing and humorous looks at growing up and getting older made the album a true blues statement for the late 1990s. Entertainment Weekly
described the album as "sheer, unpretentious joy."
LITTLE SMOKEY SMOTHERS
Albert "Little Smokey" Smothers
was born on January 2, 1939 in Tchula, Mississippi. He began playing guitar at age 15 and soon headed for Chicago. Almost immediately upon arriving in Chicago, Little Smokey landed gigs with Arthur "Big Boy" Spires and pianist Lazy Bill Lucas. He played with Magic Sam, Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker and Paul Butterfield. He joined up with the great Howlin' Wolf in 1958 and stayed with him for three years. Little Smokey can be heard on such classics Wolf recordings as “I've Been Abused,” “Howlin' For My Darlin'” and “Mr. Airplane Man.” Smothers then formed his own band, Little Smokey Smothers and the Pipelayers, and gigged around Chicago at the Blue Flame, the Playhouse and Pepper's Lounge. The band covered, in Smothers' words, "nearly everything on the jukebox," and they would often play behind big stars like Ben E. King when they performed at the famed Regal Theatre.
It was right around this time that Smothers met Elvin Bishop. The two became close friends, with Elvin often hanging out at Smothers apartment, playing guitar together, many times performing impromptu shows for the neighbors, or anyone who would listen. "He was a young kid, trying to learn how to play," recalls Smothers about Elvin. "But he really wanted to learn. I thought he was something special because every time I would give him a note to play, he'd come back tomorrow, he'd be on it - that note. The next thing I know, he was really playing." Around this time, Smothers befriended Paul Butterfield and got the young harp player his first gig a short time before Paul and Elvin formed the Butterfield Blues Band.
After Bishop hooked up with the Butterfield Blues Band and the band's recordings began to take off, he was constantly on the road. And eventually, by the late 1960s, had left Chicago for California. After Bishop was gone, Smothers almost completely gave up music, taking construction jobs to make money. Once his kids grew up, he rejoined the music scene with The Legendary Blues Band in the 1980s and has been regularly gigging ever since. In 1993 he released his very first full length album, Bossman! on the Dutch Black Magic label, with help from his student and friend, Elvin Bishop. Open heart surgery sidelined Smothers for a spell in 1995, but in 1996 he came all the way back with Second Time Around on the German Crosscut label. Smothers was invited to perform at a private party in Paris for Mick Jagger's 55th birthday party. He was joined on stage by Keith Richards and Ron Wood for a highly publicized blues jam, with coverage appearing everywhere from Rolling Stone to Pollstar to Living Blues, Blues Access and Blues Revue. He once again hooked up with his friend Elvin Bishop in January 2000 for three sold-out live shows in San Francisco resulting in his first domestic release, That's My Partner!
on Alligator Records. With his star rising even higher, he played on the main stage at the 2000 Chicago Blues Festival in front of a crowd of 150,000 people. Little Smokey Smothers died November 20, 2010.