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Interview: Elvin Bishop Tops Metro Fountain Blues Lineup

In Music

Echoing that first experience he had with the music, Bishop has brought his own power to the blues—especially in concert, where he’s defined his career with the relentless energy of his performances. He sometimes goes several years between albums, but recently he’s been at the top of his game, with 2008’s Grammy-nominated The Blues Rolls On, 2009’s Chicago Blues Buddies (his last collaboration with late Chicago blues great and fellow Butterfield alum Little Smokey Smothers) and 2010’s acclaimed Red Dog Speaks.

In all this time, the Chicago sound has lost none of its power. “It’s so strongly emotional,” says Bishop.

Canned Heat, who will also perform Saturday at the festival, are best known as the rock band who gave Woodstock its theme song in “Going Up The Country,” one of their #1 hits. But all of their most famous work is blues-derived, and the band started out covering Chicago bluesmen like Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf. By the time of their late-60s “classic lineup”—which included current members Larry Taylor and Adolfo de la Parra—they were mixing Chicago blues with psychedelia, including Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” in their 19-minute “Parthenogenesis” medley. Harvey Mandel, who joined the band in 1969, got his start on Chicago’s South Side with bluesman Charlie Musselwhite.

Still, the best Chicago blues primer at the festival might come from, well, John Primer, who performs with Lurrie Bell as part of a set dubbed “The Chicago Blues Guitar Shootout.” Primer was taught slide guitar by Muddy Waters sideman Sammy Lawhorn, and then played for both Waters and Willie Dixon. He brings a classic Chicago power to his solo work, and in May won a 2012 Blues Music Award for Best Traditional Blues Artist. Bell, who grew up on Chicago blues as the son of legendary harpist Carey Bell, was named Most Outstanding Guitar Player in 2007 by Living Blues Magazine.

The Metro Fountain Blues Festival will be held Saturday, July 14, at St. James Park in San Jose from noon to 8pm; $10/$12.

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