Elvin Bishop and Friends Really Brought the Blues to Uptown Butte

Pat Hill  |   Wednesday Dec. 31st, 2014

Butte’s Winter Blues Festival was a Blast. Ten days before it was announced that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Mother Lode Theatre in uptown Butte featured a founding member of that group, Elvin Bishop, for the city’s inaugural Winter Blues Festival.

It was a good Saturday night for some rockin’ blues in the Mining City on Dec. 6, as Elvin Bishop and friends hit the stage at the Mother Lode. Montana Deluxe got the ball rolling for a nearly packed house at 7:30. Montana Deluxe includes Bill Dwyer on guitar, Bryant McGregory on bass, Mike Babineaux on drums, and special guest Bob Britten joined in on keyboards, and the band lit the fuse on Butte’s first-ever Winter Blues Festival with a bang.

After Montana Deluxe rolled through a few numbers, they were joined onstage by a rock and blues legend living locally these days, Dave Walker. Walker, who calls Virginia City home these days, was born in Britain, and got his start across the pond when rock and roll was still quite young. He’s come a long way since singing his first song in public, “Away in a Manger,” at a Methodist church when he was still very young. When he he hit his teens, Walker and his brother Mick formed a “backyard skiffle” band which performed at weddings and parties. Dave and Mick began performing with their first “real” band, The Redcaps, in the early 1960s (the Redcaps opened for The Beatles four times). Walker had found his place as a lead vocalist by this time, and went on to success with Savoy Brown, Fleetwood Mac, and Black Sabbath, among others. Walker moved to Montana in the 1990s, where he continues to record and perform. The Dave Walker Band, which featured Walker and several stellar Montana musicians, released “Crazy All the Time” in 2010. Walker proved that he could still belt out the blues at the Winter Blues Festival, getting the audience properly primed for the action to come.

Lionel Young, an up-and-coming performer whose blues won’t bring you down, was next up on the Mother Lode stage. Both Lionel and his band (The Lionel Young Band) won top honors in the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, making Young the first double champion in the Challenge’s history. The sounds of violin, trumpet, sax, bass and drums combine to provide this band with a unique approach to the world of blues. The music Young can make a violin emit will astound you, and the man can sing. The young bluesman was born in Rochester, New York, where he began studying violin at age six at the prestigious Eastman School of Music. He began turning heads with the Pittsburgh Opera-Ballet Orchestra and the National Reportory Orchestra, which commissioned Young to play bluegrass and blues at the 1988 Summer Olympic Music Festival. Lionel Young’s legend has continued to grow as his career blossoms, and by the time he and his band were done with their set, the Mother Lode crowd was beginning to have a hard time sitting still.

Nashville singer-songwriter Phil Lee hit the stage next. The old roadhouse rocker proved he had a trick or two left up his sleeve as he entertained the crowd with both story and song. Born in North Carolina in 1951, Lee’s relationship with the world of stage and song has had its ins and outs, and up and downs. He got his start entertaining professionally as a drummer, and eventually found himself in New York City by the early ‘70s, where Lee did a short stint with a band calling itself Amazing Grace. He moved to LA as the punk movement began to emerge, and his years there provide the backdrop for one of Lee’s better songs, “Babylon,” which describes the hopeful yet hopeless search for a musical career that thousands pursued in Southern California in the 1970s. Although he stayed in touch with the music scene for the next few decades, Lee finally chose a “career” as a truck driver, hauling meat for the Tennessee Dressed Meat Company. He began getting back into music in the mid-1990s, hauling sides of beef to finance his musical pursuits. Lee’s first album, “The Mighty King of Love,” was finally released in 1999. He tells of his life’s fortunes and misfortunes with song and story onstage, and seems to be having a ball doing it. Lee had the audience laughing and singing, and setting just the right mood for Elvin Bishop and his band.

After a short break in the ornate 1920s-era Mother Lode Theatre, which offered a full bar to patrons that night, the lights flashed off and on in the lobby to let the crowd know that Elvin and his band were about to rock. Bishop’s band includes Ed Earley on trombone and vocals, Steve Willis on the keyboards accordion and vocals, Ruth Davies on bass, Bob Welsh on guitar, and Bobby Cochrane on drums and vocals. Bishop seemed right at home as he settled in onstage at the Mother Lode and began to show the crowd why this 72-year-old warrants recognition by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bishop was born in California, grew up in Iowa and Oklahoma, and moved to Chicago in 1960 after winning a full scholarship to the University of Chicago as a National Merit Scholar. Bishop met Paul Butterfield in the Windy City in 1963, and played with the Butterfield Blues Band until going solo in 1968. He formed the Elvin Bishop Band, and Bishop’s most successful single, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” was released in 1975. Bishop and his current band performed old favorites as well as material off his new album, “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” (2014, Alligator Records), and the blues legend demonstrated without a doubt that he still can still sing with the best of them, and also make his guitar do magic. Lionel Young joined Elvin and his band onstage for a few numbers as well, and by the end of the night, everyone present at the Mother Lode Theatre knew that Elvin Bishop can still make the juke joint jump.  
At the end of the evening, event organizers were pleased with both the event and the turnout, and expressed hope that the Mining City’s inaugural Winter Blues Festival will become a mainstay of the Christmas season in uptown Butte.  

About the Author(s)

Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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