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2005-05-15

FOR OC WEEKLY: By Buddy Seigal

Good-time bluesman (yes, such an entity does exist) Elvin Bishop hasn't been in the headlines for five years. The last time the mainstream music media deemed our man newsworthy, it was because Bishop's daughter Selina, ex-wife, Jennifer Villarin and Villarin's boyfriend, James Gamble, were all brutally murdered and hacked to bits by Selina's boyfriend, whacko cult leader/serial killer Glenn Helzer. So much for the fuckin' bon ton roulet, eh?

It was only a matter of weeks after the murders that I found myself interviewing Bishop, then on tour in support of "That's My Partner," a belated duet album with his early mentor, Little Smokey Smothers, that was released only days after the killing spree. I wondered at the time how fun-lovin' Elvin could bullshit his way through the inconceivable pain and grief to not only perform but actually communicate sanely and civilly with media ghouls like me. I abandoned my reporterly duties that day and opted out of asking Bishop to discuss the tragedy, focusing instead on his 30-plus-year career, which included a brief stint as an actual rock star; this was the least I could do for a man whose music has graced my existence with more juke joint jumpin' joy than any white bluesman not surnamed Allman, Winter or Clapton.

Bishop first surfaced in the late '60s as a member of the pioneering Paul Butterfield Blues Band, where he labored in the massive shadow cast by the late Michael Bloomfield; certainly a superb guitarist in his own right, not to mention a figure already famed for his work as a Dylan sideman, but one I've always maintained was actually the inferior musician to the far-less-celebrated Bishop. Where Bloomfield was clearly the sum of his influences, as were/are most blues players of the Caucasian persuasion (Freddie and Albert King in Bloomfield's instance), Bishop emerged early on with a sound and style distinctly and undeniably his own. Sweet, fat, saxophonic tones, unusually melodic/musical phrasing/improvisation and a noteworthy deficit of recycled blues clich├ęs hallmarked Bishop's work. His "Pigboy Crabshaw" alter ego - sort of an inebriate, cackling farmboy character - also gave Bishop a distinctive and endearing stage persona.

When Bishop went solo in 1968, it became apparent that his vocal and songwriting prowess wasn't yet in pace with his guitar skill, although his reckless showmanship set Bishop apart from his peers. He finally fell into a groove with the 1974 release of "Let It Flow," where Bishop's myriad influences - blues, hillbilly, R&B, funk and gospel blended with his patented hayseed humor - flawlessly coalesced into something equally brilliant and idiosyncratic on tunes like the goofy, country-tinged "Fishin,'" the "Sanford And Son"-ized "Stealin' Watermelons" and the fiery, Allman-esque southern rocker, "Travelin' Shoes." The album remains perhaps Bishop's finest hour.

Still, Bishop's voice - a hoarse, raspy, sometimes off-pitch yowl - remained problematic in netting airplay and mass acceptance. Hellish '70s-music fixture Mickey Thomas, later of Starship, was added to Bishop's group as co-lead vocalist, and the Thomas-crooned "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" soared to Number 3 on the pop charts in 1975. The country/blues ballad, highlighted by a particularly sweet Bishop guitar solo that was criminally if predictably edited for the single release, remains the tune which Bishop will always be most remembered for.

This was the commercial (if not artistic) peak of Bishop's career, as he and most of his generation were buried by the incoming punk movement of the '70s. Pigboy fell off the map until resurfacing on blues purist label, Alligator Records, in 1988, where he's remained under the radar ever since, seemingly trying to negotiate a truce between the stick-up-the-ass pieties of the contemporary blues scene and the raucous, beer-marinated, anything-goes sensibility of his heyday.

There hasn't been a new Bishop album in the five years since his daughter's murder, but it's heartening to see him back at work; Crabshaw rises Sunday afternoon at the 8th Annual Doheny Blues Festival. Here I must add that the indignity of Elvin Bishop (not to mention Solomon Burke) being billed beneath Kenny Wayne Shepherd is enough to make me wanna consign the responsible parties to a month of having a

sun-ripened Jim Belushi sit on their collective face.

Other fave acts booked at Doheny this weekend include the aforementioned Solomon Burke, among the few soul music giants of the '60s still active today. Burke took many old-time fans by surprise with his 2002 comeback album, "Don't Give Up One Me," an unexpectedly laid-back, oddly country/folk-tinged album with an easy, front-porch sensibility. That CD received enough ink that Burke has re-graduated to the big leagues with a new Sony release, featuring (former?) bigshot Don Was handling production chores. As much as I enjoyed his prior effort, Burke's "Make Do With What You Got" leaves it choking in the dust. Here's the King Solomon we know and love: histrionic, theatrical, testifying like a demented street-corner evangelist, and in far better voice than a 71-year-old, oil-fed fat guy has any right to be. Burke interprets several familiar tunes and makes them his own in the process, from a take on the Stones' "I Got the Blues" that must have Mick cowering in humiliation somewhere, to a chicken-scratch funk reworking of Dylan's "What Good Am I," to a fire-breathing account of the Band's "It Makes No Difference" that finally realizes the tune's potential as a classic spiritual to sit alongside "The Weight," to, finally, the album-closing adaptation of Hank Williams' "Wealth Won't Save You" which forever fuses the common sensibility of black and white gospel music.

I was delighted when Alvin "Youngblood" Hart returned to his country blues roots (and true calling) with 2002's "Down In The Alley," an inspired collection of trad acoustic tunes and covers by giants like Son House, Skip James and Leadbelly, recorded in a scant three days. "Alley" was a particularly welcome return to form, coming as it did on the heels of Hart's previous, disappointing effort; a surprisingly mundane, rock-based affair misleadingly titled "Start With Your Soul." Hart is among the few young-ish black performers left keeping the old-time blues flame burning; we need him now more than ever in these Kenny Wayne-as-bluesfest-headliner times; and if this frequently-posed keeper-of-the-torch proclamation comes as a pressurized albatross to Alvin, well, better to have him keep it real under fire than to generate lesser experiments in the name of "artistic growth" (reetttch!). Speaking of which, hey 'Blood: it's been three years since your last album and five since we heard any new original tunes from ya - get back to work, ya bastid!

Jimmy Thackery is a guitarist who's frequently and unfairly lumped in with such blues-rockers as Walter Trout, Tinsley Ellis and Gary Moore; in fact, he's of a more rare and dignified breed. Early on, Thackery paid some valuable dues with the Nighthawks, a D.C.-based touring unit that backed the elite of the old-school back in the '70s. The fledgling picker learned his lessons well, accounting for the tense, down-home vibe that hallmarks Thackery's playing, even when he's shredding full tilt. He's an odd duck that somehow manages to work both sides of the aisle; flashing meltdown licks to please the meathead contingent while remaining tasteful enough for those who prefer their blues on the less gauche, Shepherd-ized side. Yessir, I like him!

The 8th Annual Doheny Blues Festival, May 21 - 22 at Doheny State Beach off Dana Point Harbor Drive in Dana Point; various ticket packages available ranging from $40 - $150 ($10 GA for children), doors 11 AM (earlier for VIP and Gold ticket-holders), info (949) 360-7800 or http://www.omegaevents.com/ dohenyblues/

>>>>>>>>>>>>>> FOR THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE:

BLUE NOTES By Buddy Blue

I generally have very little patience for gimmicky acts that feel the need to inject some sort of clown shtick into their gig to get the music over. So why do I dig the Red Elvises? Well, for starters, because I find them to be genuinely amusing, sort of like Boris Badenov on a rock-a-hula bender; and more to the point, because these oddball, garish, strutting Russian retro-niks can play their former-communist-hell- spawned buttock-skis off.

According to the group's bio, "musical influences include Elvis Presley and his wife Priscilla, Chuck Berry, Spice Girls and speeches by Comrade Fidel Castro." Allow me to add that I also hear strains of everything from Dick Dale and Duane Eddy, Bob Marley and Prince Buster, Bob Wills and Tito Puente, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins, to all kinds of ethnic Eastern European folk music from countries I can't spell or pronounce, much less actually identify, with maybe a dollop of Weird Al Yankovic tossed on top for good measure.

A five-piece, razor-honed music-and-comedy pleasure machine (there've been several personnel changes but Igor Yuzov and Oleg Bernov comprise the heart and soul of the band), the Elvi reliably flaunt wild chops on axes ranging from guitars to balalaikas to gigantic, cartoony upright basses, along with their patented flair for absurdist merriment. Among the mottos the Red Elvises have adopted over the years: "America's Number One Singing Sweethearts," "Arriving From Siberia Just Moments Ago," and my pet maxim, "Ve don't golf --VE ROCK!"

D.Y.I. before it was cool, these luna-chiks have self-released eleven CDs in the past seven years, perhaps justifying their claim to be "The Hardest-Working Band in Show Business" -- another of their many mottoes, this one appropriated from James Brown, of course. I'm pretty sure that most hardcore retro culturists would disapprove of the Red Elvises, as the group slaps the face of all the cherished pieties those types hold so dear; in fact, they make sport of just about everything while playing ferociously as Ivan Skavinsky Skivar doing battle with Abdul Abulbul Amir.

My recommendation this week: get brainwashed by the Commies, Saturday night at Tio Leo's Lounge in Bay Park.

And then there's clowns of a whole 'nother order; the annoying, smirking, precious, narcissistic breed; the ones who waltz through life with such baseless high regard for themselves that one can't help daydreaming about them running into a cadre of Hell's Angels in a dimly lit bar and saying something really stupid to the club's Sergeant-At-Arms.

Which brings us to David Lee Roth; he of the famous champagne foot-baths, distaste for green M&Ms, self-aggrandizing fairy tales about apprehending knife-wielding assailants and the precious, onstage flitting which calls to mind Richard Simmons with a beehive glued to his glutes.

While I take heart that this former primping pretty boy now sports a purplish homeless-guy skin-tone, a hideously stringy mop of straw crowning his thinning, vein-encrusted pate and a countenance so craggy it calls to mind Clint Eastwood suffering from dehydration, I still can't forget that this is, after all, the same Aqua Net-stinking cretin responsible for destroying perfectly good Louie Prima and Beach Boys tunes, not to mention personally embodying the Hairspray Metal Problem which afflicted this otherwise great nation back in the '80s.

And so it is with no small degree of shame that I admit to actually enjoying Roth's last CD, 2003's "Diamond Dave." With surprising elements of blues, jazz and R&B in the grooves, guest spots by Edgar Winter and Nile Rogers and a bevy of interestingly chosen and executed covers (including the Doors' "Soul Kitchen," Jimi Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9," the Hombres' "Let It All Hang Out" and the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- here inexplicably retitled "That Beatles Tune"), I never woulda thunk the boy had an album this cool in him. That said, I doubt he'll be singing any of those tunes when he performs Friday night at House Of Blues, opting instead to continue destroying perfectly good Louie Prima and Beach Boys tunes, while personifying the Hairspray Metal Problem.

Yo Dave, here's a tip from a local: there's a cozy, friendly little neighborhood bar in El Cajon called Dumont's. I bet if you showed up there all spandexed-out, boasting of your own greatness while offering to sign autographs with all the kindness in your heart, you'd make a whole bunch of wonderful new fans......

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> By Buddy Blue

The Plot The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders Of Zion By Will Eisner Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. $23.95 hardcover ISBN 0-393-06045-4 160 pages

The Eisner Awards - the comic world's equivalent of the Oscars -- were named after pioneering art and literary genius Will Eisner, who died earlier this year at age 88. Eisner near single-handedly took the medium of comics from being considered mere "funnybooks" to its current status as a Pulitzer-endowed entity with potential to rival film, novel, photography and fine arts a valid, significant mode of expression and communication.

The capsule bio: Eisner was responsible for comics being potentially regarded as "sequential art" as opposed to kiddie-fodder, apropos anthropomorphic animals and ludicrous superheroes in tights. In 1940 he created The Spirit, a crime-fighter whose film noir-influenced exploits were inserted as 16-page

comic books into contemporary Sunday newspapers. He coined the "graphic novel" term, concept and genre with 1978's brilliant, seminal "A Contract With God." Modern masters from Jules Feiffer and R. Crumb through Harvey Pekar and Art Spiegelman readily acknowledge Eisner's innovations and influence.

Upon his death, Eisner had recently completed "The Plot," a source of great personal pride; Eisner's final work traces the century-plus-old arc of notorious anti-Semitic hoax tract "The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion" from its origin as propaganda tool employed by Tsar Nicholas II thorough such pernicious 20th Century Jew-haters as Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler to modern-day Muslim extremist and Aryan supremacist organizations.

While Eisner's passion to (yet again) disprove the legitimacy of "The Protocols" is obvious and his research notably extensive, alas, the graphic novel proves to be less than the ideal medium for so weighty a subject. Although sequential art was Eisner's chosen, beloved form of expression, he'd have been better-served in writing a non-fiction book with a photo section on the subject rather than using his still-powerful drawings to substantiate his points. This is, at the end of the day, really less a novel or narrative than a dry if very ugly historical text. To that end, Eisner's method sometimes serves to distract from the gravity of matters at hand.

This is a review it probably would have pained Eisner to read as much as it does the author to write, but the essential humanity and compelling storylines of the great man's best work is absent from these pages. Still, if "The Plot" serves to enlighten even one solitary, misguided soul to the evil lies still being perpetrated by the endlessly-invalidated and just as endlessly-recycled "Protocols" (still being circulated on San Diego campuses, from one account in this book) Eisner's labor will not have been in vain.