That's My Partner!
Joyful reunion of Elvin & Smokey, the man who taught him the blues, recorded live. Raw, rambunctious and loads of fun. "Back together, Bishop and Smothers give life to lusty, low down and funky chicken-fried blues"-BLUES REVUE
Elvin Bishop, Lead Guitar and Vocals (*)
Albert "Little Smokey" Smothers, Lead Guitar and Vocals (+)
Ian Lamson, Guitar
S.E. Willis, Piano, Organ and Accordion
Terry Hanck, Tenor Sax
Ed Earley, Trombone and Percussion
Evan Palmerston, Bass
Bobby Cochran, Drums
Steve Gurr, Harmonica
Produced by Elvin Bishop and Bruce Iglauer
Recorded and mixed by Bob Skye for Skyelabs, Inc., Penngrove, CA
Recorded live at Biscuits & Blues, San Francisco, CA, January 7-9, 2000
Mastered by Jeff Hillman and Bruce Iglauer at MonsterDisc, Chicago, IL
Photos by Stuart Brinin
Packaging design by Matt Minde
Live Sound byLisa Faye Baty
Chris Hansen, Guitar Tech
Very special thanks: to Frank Klein and the entire staff at Biscuits & Blues for cooperation and hospitality above and beyond all expectations. We say: "Patronize this club!"
On the songs where both Elvin and Smokey appear, Elvin's guitar is left center and Smokey's guitar is right center.
Elvin Bishop is booked by Piedmont Talent
Phone: (704) 399-2210; Fax: (704) 399-2261; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Little Smokey Smothers is booked by American Legends Music Agency
Phone (415) 771-5891; Fax (415) 931-6656; E-mail: ALMA@americanlegends.org
Other Recordings by Elvin Bishop on Alligator Records:
Big Fun (AL 4767)
Don't Let The Bossman Get You Down! (AL 4791)
Ace In The Hole (AL 4833)
The Skin I'm In (AL 4859)
Other recordings by Little Smokey Smothers:
Bossman! (Black Magic (BM9022)
Second Time Around (Crosscut 11051)
Little Smokey Smothers : I came to Chicago from Tchula, Mississippi in 1956. I was about 17, born in 1939. My brother, Big Smokey, was here and all my people was here and I decided I’d get out of the country. I started playing guitar right away when I came to Chicago. My brother was playing guitar and then I came here and I bumped into Magic Sam and Otis Rush and Syl Johnson, all those guys, and I just grabbed me a guitar and started playing.
Oooh, man, it was a long time before I started playing for money. When I first started playing I was playing with these jazz players. We was really doing swing, we were playing modern blues, I’d call it. Then the Howlin’ Wolf heard me and I started playing with him about ’58. Stayed with Wolf about going on three years, until ‘60 or something.
When I left the Wolf, then I started playing with my own band. It was Little Smokey and the Pipelayers. I was playing at the Blue Flame at 39th and Drexel, and at the Playhouse and Pepper’s Lounge. Had baritone, tenor and trumpet. And the guys was sounding good. We were playing everything on the jukebox. I had to go to music school ‘cause the rest of my band could read music, because we would play behind the stars coming from out of town, like Ben E. King, and all them guys at the Regal Theatre. That was ‘62 and ’63, like that.
Elvin: I first met Smokey, when he had just gotten his own band together, he had just left Howlin’ Wolf. This was around ‘60 or ‘61, just after I first came to Chicago. I was still a student at the time. And he had some horns, he had a killer band. Oh man, he was just such a sharp player, he had that going-for-it, forward-leaning shuffle feel that just jumped out at you, it grabbed me, and I kind of overcame my shyness and went up and talked to him. He turned out to be a real friendly guy, invited me over to his apartment, and I ended up hanging out there a lot. And he sort of took me under his wing and kind of became my teacher as well as my friend and kind of gave me some tips about life in general. He was a wonderful guy to get a chance to hang out with.
LSS: Elvin came to the Blue Flame and he couldn’t come in, he was too young to come in. I used to meet him outside, and then I gave him my address and he came to the house. We used to sit around and play together at the house. And then we played for the neighbors. They’d hear us playing, and say, “Boy, you guys are getting good!”
EB: He was a lot more experienced, at least in the blues world; I knew about blues on records and I knew a little bit about the black life style as far as guys I had worked with in Oklahoma, working in restaurants and stuff, but they didn’t really allow interracial socializing, so I didn’t know that much about the actual life style apart from the music. Hanging with Smokey is where I got a chance to learn that, and that was as much or more fascinating than the music to me.
LSS:Elvin? Well he was playing something like trying to play a Johnny Cash thing, “Hear the train-a-coming, movin’ around the bend...” But I got him away from that. I don’t think he could even play that now. I got him away from that, I say “you gotta leave Johnny Cash alone, we gotta play the blues.”
He was a young kid, trying to learn how to play, 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. Yeah, he was serious. I was teaching him mostly bass patterns and stuff like that. The next thing I know, he was really playing.
EB: Smokey would sit me down and teach me parts to tunes. First he would teach me the rhythm part, and then if it looked like it was going to be simple enough, something I had a chance of getting, he would teach me the lead part.
And Smokey would cook soul food…man I went for that like a big dog. He would always be baking a big buffalo fish in the oven or cooking a pot of pinto beans and ham hocks or neckbones or oxtail, something like that. I remember one time, we were working on a tune we were going to show people and it was taking longer than Smokey wanted it to. I guess he thought I needed some extra motivation and he took me over to the stove and he lifted up the lid and he said “smell that.” And I did, and it smelled great. He said, “When you learn this tune, you can have some!”
And then once Smokey thought I had a tune fairly decent in mind, he would call in the neighbors and we’d put on a little show for them, just the two of us.
LSS: We played mostly around the house. We’d go out in a club and get on talent shows, we’d go where nobody’d know me. We’d get on talent shows, and they’d say, “There’s two young kids up there,” and we would win the show all the time. We really weren’t singing, just playing. Instrumentals, that’s all we were working on. Elvin was still trying to learn how to play then.
EB: We got into playing clubs as soon as I was able to get good enough to do that. We’d do any kind of pickup situation that we could. Anybody that could scrape up a gig, we’d go with them. A lot of times we weren’t able to get a bass player, so we’d take turns doing that thing of tuning the strings all the way down to bass level and if a guy had a tune that he played the lead real good on, then the other guy would be the bass player. It was basically whoever scraped up the gig, then he got whoever he could find to round out the band.
LSS: Really, either one of us wasn’t no singer. That was later on down the line. See, my cousin used to sing for me, Lee Shot Williams, he used to sing for my band. Then I met B.B. Odom in St. Louis when I went down there with Earl Hooker. That’s the guy that started me singing, because I was trying to find a singer and couldn’t find no singer. B.B. told me, he said, “Smokey, if you can open your mouth and talk, you can sing.” I said, “I don’t remember no songs.” He said, “Just open your mouth and sing anything, make it rhyme.”
EB: I just like the way Smokey opens his mouth and just lets it out when he’s singing. It’s just like Smokey is like the concentrated essence of Mississippi to me. His choice of notes and the way he just lets it out, it’s just kind of the modern Delta to me.
LSS: That guy, Elvin, he got to be a wizard with a doggone slide. He’s a wizard, really. Because I can’t use no slide, never did. Never could use a slide. My fingers are too stupid. Elvin, he’s always at it on stage, at all times. He’s a hard worker. He’s got ambition.
EB: I saw Smokey as long as I was in Chicago, which was up till about ’65. . .after about ‘65 I started to be on the road with Paul Butterfield most of the time. And after that I moved to California.
LSS: I quit playing then, after Elvin left Chicago. I got me a job then. I was doing construction work and worked longshoreman and everything I could do, you know. I was really disgusted with music and making $7 and $8 a night and $10. The music paid nothin’ then. I was making $12 playing with Howlin’ Wolf. There wasn’t no money.
After I left the construction job, and my kids got grown, I got serious about music again and began playing for the people. Just before I recorded my first CD.
Elvin and I, we’d always stayed in touch. I would call him, he would call me. When he come to Chicago we’d hook up together.
EB: I was always thinking about him, missing the guy. I’d call him up and we’d get together over the years, whenever our paths crossed, whenever we happened to be on the road in the same place.
LSS: Whenever we get together we have a whole lot of fun, no matter where it’s at. Whenever we get together it’s just nothing but fun. I really love that guy. When we get together it’s a real thrill just to be with this guy, and to hear some of my notes comin’ out of him. He makes me play a whole lot better, too. He gives me a reason to play. We just sound good together.