Elvin Bishop - Red Dog Speaks

Famous guitarists frequently name their favorite guitars. Eric Clapton had "Blackie," his black Fender Stratocaster.  B.B. King had his "Lucille's" to remind him to never again run into a burning building. Dick Dale had "The Beast," a gold Fender Strat specially designed to take the abuse he applied to the guitar. Billy Gibbons created "Muddywood," from a porch board taken from Muddy Waters' birthplace. Elvin Bishop has "Red Dog," a cherry red 1959 Gibson stereo ES-345.  It is Red Dog that is the subject of his new album Red Dog Speaks.

Bishop's songwriting is, for many, an acquired taste.  His songs are mostly talking country blues in the style of country blues pioneer Jerry Reed.  The lyrics are usually corny.  Combined with Bishop's stunning resemblance to Harpo Marx you get the feeling Bishop will "go for the joke" and let you in on it when he can. The first track, "Red Dog Speaks," is a talking, walking blues about Bishop's ES-345. On "Fat & Sassy" Bishop recalls a great Thanksgiving Dinner and bemoans what his doctors now allow him to eat.  "Blues Cruise," is another talkin' blues, likely written for an actual Blues Cruise, that calls on Bishop's friends Ronnie Baker Brooks, Tommy Castro, Buckwheat Zydeco, John Nemeth and Roy Gaines to join in and play. "Clean Livin'" is a solo talkin' blues retrospective in which Bishop reflects on what has happened in his lifetime and about having grown old with an eye for the ladies.

There are also a few odd song choices on the album. Bishop performs an instrumental "Doo-Wop Medley" that covers the old standards "In The Still Of The Night" and "Maybe." He also does a cover of the traditional melody "His Eye Is On The Sparrow." In both cases the songs are rather old and dated but saved by Bishop's amazing guitar virtuosity. He also offers his own instrumental, "Barbeque Boogie," a guitar, piano, bass and drums blues jam that I suspect was actually recorded at an Elvin Bishop hosted backyard barbeque.

The best vocal tracks on the album are covers. Bishop does an amazing job on Crazy Cajun Huey P. Meaux's "Neighbor Neighbor;" he wails on Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross;"  belts out Otis Spann's "Get Your Hand Out Of My Pocket;" and slow burns his rendition of blues legend Leroy Carr's "Midnight Hour Blues."

On an album named after what Bishop's guitar can do the vocals hardly matter.  This effort is all about Red Dog.  Bishop can blow the listener away with his guitar playing and this album proves it.  It doesn't matter if you like or don't like Bishop's lyrics or his jokes.  It doesn't make one bit of difference whether the lyrics are talkin' blues or the music is improvised. The lyrics are of secondary importance. This is the blues. Just listen to Bishop make Red Dog howl, cry, scream and talk.

Elvin Bishop is a legend not because of "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" and "Travelin' Shoes" (although those hits probably put a large chunk of change in his pocket.)  He is a legend because, ever since 1963 when he first played with Paul Butterfield, he has been one of the finest guitarists - especially slide guitarists - alive.  Bishop makes Red Dog speak. Good boy Red Dog.

- Old School

Buy here:  Red Dog Speaks


Anonymous said…
Uh, read the credits.... Most of the songs you mention as being Elvin's strongest vocally, are sung by John Nemeth.
It should be evident from listening to the voice. Elvin does sing 'Midnight Hour Blues'
Ah, Old School is too old to read liner notes. Er . . . he couldn't find his glasses and his arthritis was acting up . . . uh . . . and stuff.

Thanks for pointing that out!