march 2011

Elvin Bishop: Playing up a storm, singing with his usual personable touch and hosting the festivities with the grace, humor and insight of the seasoned frontman he is. (Photo: Tim Holek)

Elvin Bishop: Resurgent, and Raisin’ It

By David McGee

Elvin Bishop
Delta Groove Music

Let’s make something clear from the outset: it is never a good idea to second-guess Elvin Bishop, so when he titles an album Raisin’ Hell Revue, rest assured he and his mates do exactly as they claim. Recorded live on the 2010 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, the set captured on CD is quintessential Elvin: some country touches, some gospel-tinged moments, a couple of blues ballads for a change of pace, and a raft of raw, joyous electric blues with Elvin playing up a storm, singing with his usual personable touch and hosting the festivities with the grace, humor and insight of the seasoned frontman he is.

Elvin Bishop at the Blues On the Fox festival, downtown Aurora, IL, June 13, 2008, with his keyboard player Steve Willis taking a star turn before giving way to Elvin’s guitar solo. Willis is a standout on the new Raisin’ Hell Revue disc, recorded aboard the 2010 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise.

He’s got some pretty formidable help on board, too. Start with an unflagging rhythm section of drummer Bobby Cochran and bassist Ruthie Davies (Ed Earley, in addition to trombone and vocals, helps out on percussion as well). Complementing the guitar lineup with Elvin are Bob Welsh and Chris “Kid” Anderson; Steve Willis is on piano, accordion and vocals; and Terry Hanck, on tenor sax and vocals. For this reviewer’s money, the vocalists’ spectacular performances elevate the inspired music to a transcendent plane.

Apart from Elvin himself, Texas bluesman Finis Tasby scorches all four songs he tackles, starting with his ferocious emotional attack on Freddie King’s “Whole Lotta Lovin’,” in an arrangement taken at a more moderate pace than King’s stomping juggernaut, with the Kid launching things with a familiar screaming riff ahead of his and Elvin’s lyrical, flowing single string solos, as Steve Willis sneaks into the background with some roadhouse piano pounding. As convincing a shouter as he is, Tasby is even more effective with a bittersweet rendering of Jimmy Reed’s “Down In Virginia,” remarkable across the board--for the singer’s plaintive, B.B. King-like testifying ahead of a breakup; for John Nèmeth’s shimmering harmonica cries that sound like tears falling down; and for Elvin’s thick-textured slide guitar solo that adds an extra level of heartache to the foreboding Reed shuffle. Later, in another low-key interregnum, the fellows lean gracefully into Percy Mayfield’s chilling “River’s Invitation,” a deceptively temperate, low-flame contemplation of murder and suicide by drowning, with its funky horn riffing and cool, concise guitar and harmonica soloing taking the edge off the horror the lyrics contemplate—Percy Mayfield never wrote a half-assed story, and this is no exception. If Elvin and company had done no more than honor King, Reed and Mayfield as powerfully as they do here, the Raisin’ Hell Revue would have done its job. But there’s more.

Elvin Bishop performs his sly, topical ‘What the Hell is Goin’ On,’ one of the fiery performances on his new Raisin’ Hell Revue CD. This video was shot at the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella, CA, November 1, 2008. The song first appeared on Elvin’s 2005 CD, Gettin’ My Groove Back.

Nèmeth sparkles on harmonica throughout the set, but he turns things up a notch when he gets a shot at a lead vocal. To him falls the task of selling Elvin’s timeless heart song, “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” and with his aching tenor ascending into that irresistible singsong chorus, then settling into a bluesy cry in the verses (with added emotional oomph coming from a mixed-gender background chorus in which the soulful, feminine call of Lisa Leu Anderson is an affecting contrast to Nèmeth’s contrite confession of having opened up his heart to another), he sells the song as well as it’s ever been sold—and that includes by the singer who otherwise owns it, Mickey Thomas. (Interesting, too, how much Nèmeth sounds like bluegrass gadfly John Cowan.) He has another star turn towards the end of the album when he romps through Hank Ballard’s jump blues, “Tore Up Over You,” with an assist from Bob Welsh’s sizzling guitar solo, Steve Willis’s rollicking piano and Lisa Leu Anderson’s gospel-ized responsive retorts. The outstanding tenor sax work supporting some of these performances is courtesy Terry Hanck, who does both the sax and vocal duties on his own ‘50s-style R&B heartbreaking ballad, “Cryin’ Fool,” singing in a husky, Joe Turner-like (both in timbre and phrasing) growl, with Willis rolling steadily across the 88s behind him, Hanck’s own tenor sax sending up an aggrieved cry as things wind down, and Elvin stepping in with a concise, mournful slide solo.

But let us not forget the man of the hour, Mr. Bishop, whose guitar exploits are in part detailed above. However, he also gets into the vocal act, right from the start, in fact, in his jubilant, comical rendering of his double-entendre classic, “Callin’ All Cows,” a country-cajun hybrid of juking rhythm, bouncy accordion from Willis, flowing, lyrical twin slide soloing by Elvin and Bob Welsh along with Kid Anderson’s pointed, brittle guitar adding a whole other spice to a tasty musical gumbo. Even better is Elvin’s humorous introduction of Albert Collins’s “Dyin’ Flu,” in which he recounts a memorable, and decidedly liquid, night on the town in Tulsa with the Iceman, which serves as a setup for a slow, wrenching take on the Collins tune. Anticipating his demise from influenza, his negative prognosis sounds more like an excuse to get away from an overbearing woman. Going out on a high note, the band signs off with a midtempo R&B strut on “Bye Bye Baby,” with Nèmeth offering a swinging, buoyant vocal and leading the audience in a singalong section, as Elvin and the Kid add extra spark with their aggressive soloing. The song itself seems a blend of Little Hat Jones’s 1930 original acoustic blues recorded for OKeh (one of only 10 songs the Texas bluesman recorded in his brief solo career) and a variation on Little Hat’s tune as realized in 1966 by a gathering of true blues masters who were billed as the Blues Masters—Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Brownie McGhee, Pee Wee Madison, Sonny Terry, Mable Hillery, Sunnyland Slim, Otis Spann, and Willie Dixon. Deep roots here, as there are throughout this Raisin’ Hell Revue, and the musicians’ sense of history and of the moment makes for one heck of a live album, a real keeper. Behold Elvin in full vigor.

Blues Masters, ‘Bye, Bye Bye Baby, Goodbye’ (1966)

FYI: Elvin’s booked for the October 23-30 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise to Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and Loreto, and he’ll have Mickey Thomas along with him. Bobby Blue Bland will be there too. Check out the particulars and the great lineup at the cruise website—

Elvin Bishop’s Raisin’ Hell Revue is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024