Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite
100 Years of Blues
As this writer has said before of other artists, the eventual pairing was inevitable. Not only are Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame guitarist Elvin Bishop and Grammy-winning harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite fellow blues travelers and Blues Hall Of Famers with over 100 years of professional musicianship between them, but they have both travelled similar paths and both have resided in The Bay Area for years. So, although they’ve known each other since the early 1960s, this is the first time that they ever teamed up to make an album together. The aptly named 100 Years Of Blues was scheduled to be released earlier this year, delayed like many due to the pandemic, but available now as the music was, according to Alligator President Bruce Iglauer, “… just too good, and too much fun, to wait any longer.”
The genesis for the album occurred in 2017 when the two laid down the original version of the song “100 Years Of Blues” for Bishop’s Big Fun Trio album. Not surprisingly, they found that they had a special musical chemistry. In 2019, Bishop and Musselwhite joined forces and played a series of stripped-down shows—along with their mutual friend, master pianist/guitarist Bob Welsh—swapping songs and telling stories. The audience response was beyond enthusiastic. Elvin and Charlie had so much fun they knew they had to capture the magic in the studio. According to Musselwhite, “This is us sitting down to play the music that we love and resonating together effortlessly because we’re ‘coming from the same place’…on many levels.”
The album was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios (where else as we are in the Bay Area after all?) and Bishop’s Hog Heaven Studios in northern California. Andersen, who used to play in Musselwhite’s touring band as guitarist, plays upright bass on four tunes. It was produced by Andersen and co-produced by Bishop, Musselwhite and Welsh. The freshly recorded title track tells Elvin’s and Charlie’s tales with sly good humor, recalling specific times and locations in their amazingly colorful lives. Many of the others you’ve heard on albums from each such as Bishop’s “What the Hell?”, Old School,” and “South Side Slide.” Musselwhite weighs in with “Good Times” (where he plays the slide, not Bishop), “If I Should Have Bad Luck,” Blues Why Do You Worry Me?” and “Blues for Yesterday.” These are mixed with some classics from Roosevelt Sykes, Leroy Carr, and Willie Dixon. Throughout the album, the interplay of guitar, vocals, harmonica, and piano is virtually telepathic, honed from those trio stripped-down shows and a natural affinity for the music that courses through their veins.
One of the more memorable quotes from radio interviews I’ve done is Charlie Musselwhite’s response to my query of why he left for the West Coast – “Hey, 1967 was the Summer of Love….and I’ve loved California ever since.” That gives a tiny insight into his wry sense of humor, apparently shared by Bishop. The two share common backgrounds and stories which we need not belabor as readers of these pages are likely familiar with most of it. Nonetheless, Iglauer’s liners are worthy of mention, certainly this closing paragraph, “Charlie is the real deal,” says Elvin. “He didn’t learn his licks off of records; he lived them. He’s always himself. And Bob is so versatile on guitar and piano. When you play with people who are real good, it ups your game too. I just did the best job I could.” And Charlie says, “Elvin is always a joy to talk or play music with. I feel we see things pretty much the same and enjoy and appreciate each other’s perspective. Musically it’s like ‘fallin’ off a log’…it’s so easy and it just makes sense.”
The blues is best when played without gimmicks. These two icons make it sound all too easy and will likely get consideration for top awards – no sweat but likely glory contrary to that well-worn adage.
- Jim Hynes