Elvin Bishop - vocals, guitar; Jo Baker - vocals, percussion; Ricky Kellogg - vocals, harmonica; Stephen Miller - piano, organ, vocals; Kip Maercklein - bass; John Chambers - drums
Following his tenure with Chicago's legendary Butterfield Blues Band, Elvin Bishop would relocate to San Francisco. He formed his own band, signed to Bill Graham's fledgling record label, and became a popular Bay Area musical mainstay. To Bishop's credit, he did not dominate all the band's material and they developed a repertoire that included a wide range of musical styles that often showcased the other members of the band, namely female vocalist Jo Baker, who becomes the focal point on much of the band's earlier material. Also of particular note is keyboard player Stephen Miller (NOT to be confused with Steve Miller), an incredibly talented musician who was a ubiquitous presence on the San Francisco jam scene.
In 1973, before recording the fourth album under his own name Elvin Bishop relocated from California to Georgia. Signing up with Phil Walden's Capricorn Records label, then the epicenter of Southern Rock, Bishop would assemble a new band and deliver an album that would reflect a new sound. The album, Let It Flow heralded a more commercial and soulful sound, but still contained blues, country-flavored rock and R&B stylings that made Bishop so popular on the ballroom and nightclub circuit. Bishop's live performances took a decidedly Southern Rock turn during this time, highlighted by the trademark twin guitar leads of Bishop and Johnny Vernazza, and the album would feature guest appearances from label mates Charlie Daniels, Dickey Betts and Toy Caldwell.
Before this second big transition in his career, the original Elvin Bishop Group would participate in a remarkable triple bill at Winterland Ballroom when Bill Graham presented Paul Butterfield's Better Days, Michael Bloomfield and Friends and The Elvin Bishop Group. Over the course of two nights on February 23 and 24, 1973, audiences were treated to the latest offerings from the three guiding lights of The Butterfield Blues Band, with the promise of jam sessions between these musicians fueling the demand for tickets. With many musician friends in attendance and former band mates all sharing this triple bill, things were certainly in place for a memorable night.
Presented here for the first time ever is The Elvin Bishop Group set from the opening night of that run. Bishop, who had just turned 30 the previous October, announces that they are recording the proceedings for a live album. Despite the live album not happening, the group is clearly charged up and give a memorable performance. Appropriately enough, Bishop and his band open and close the set with the blues, kick starting things off with "How Much More" from their 1969 debut album. Fueled by the piano stylings of Stephen Miller and the blues harp of Ricky Kellogg, who also sings lead vocal, this opening number sets the bar high for a performance that only gets better as it progresses. Following some tune-ups, the group continue with an early arrangement of "Sure Feels Good," which was unreleased at the time, but would eventually surface two years later on Bishop's 1975 album, Juke Joint Jump.
The strident blues rocker "Rock Bottom," featuring a standout performance from Jo Baker on lead vocal, comes next. This is the kind of high energy blues that Baker excelled at and she would continue performing this song in Stoneground, the group she would soon join following the demise of this band. Baker is equally compelling on "Wings Of A Bird," as the group ventures into slow blues territory.
One of the most infectious songs of this performance is next as Bishop leads the group through the title track of their latest album at the time "Rock My Soul." Despite Bishop's limitations as a lead vocalist, this is the group at their best, full of energy and creative interplay. A celebration of music itself, this is one of Bishop's finest compositions of his pre-Capricorn era and the group performs it with passion. With a lyric that conveys an unending love for playing music and a superb extended organ solo from Miller, this receives a rousing response from the audience. Bishop follows this with a humorous, but questionable monologue about the battle between the sexes that goes on a bit too long, but he redeems himself on a cover of Guitar Slim's "The Things That I Used To Do," another standout track from their 1969 debut album. Although this meanders somewhat, during the last few minutes, Bishop finally cuts loose and displays one of his most impressive solos of the set.
A tape stock change occurred at this point, unfortunately missing the beginning of the next number. When the recording resumes, Miller is in the midst of another impressive organ solo as the group is jamming on the gospel fueled "Higher And Higher." This leads up to the set closing blowout of "Party Till The Cows Come Home." This high energy boogie number is always a crowd pleaser and this is no exception as the group whips the audience into a frenzy over the course of eight solid minutes. Following this Jo Baker delivers the soulful rocker "Satisfy My Soul" before the group launches into a hot improvisational jam that culminates in a reprise of "Party Till The Cows Come Home" to close the set.
The Winterland audience demands an encore and the group obliges by returning to the stage for the humorous "Sloppy Drunk Blues." With Bishop taking lead vocal and featuring plenty of great blues harp from Kellogg, this concludes the set much like it began, venturing into pure blues as Bishop conveys his love for a litany of alcoholic beverages and continually begs for "one more half a pint." As the audience howls at the conclusion of this encore, Bishop encourages them to stick around by exclaiming "Butter and the boys will be right on!" thus ending one of the last ever performances by The Elvin Bishop Group. (Bershaw)