It was in 1960 that Elvin Bishop, then a newcomer to Chicago, met and was mentored by Smokey Smothers (oft referred as Little Smokey to distinguish him from his older brother Big Smokey). Smokey at the time was at the Blue Flame and also working with Howlin’ Wolf at the time. Later Smokey would also encourage Paul Butterfield and helped inspire that band. Elvin and Smokey have remained close friends through the years, even while Elvin’s career took off with Butterfield and later as a blues-rooted rock act with several smash hits. With his career in rebound at the time, Elvin instigated and participated in the 1993 award-winning album, Bossman! and later recorded at live album with his old friend for Alligator. Later at the 2006 Chicago Blues Festival they reprised their collaborations.
More recently, Smokey’s health has been in decline and as Dick Shurman has noted, Elvin seized the moment to compile a new CD, Little Smokey Smothers & Elvin Bishop “Chicago Blues Buddies” (Brown Derby), with the proceeds going to Smokey. The CD is a nice retrospective that opens with a couple tracks from “Bossman!“ including ”Remembering,“ where the two trade licks and recall their younger days. Next up are five performances from the 1993 Chicago Blues Festival which are the musical core of this disc and strong performances including ”Smokey’s Shuffle,“ ”Crack Head Woman,“ and ”Mother-in-Law Blues,“ marked with strong vocals from Smokey and playing from both. It is followed by an interview of the two by Chris Heim and Steve Cushing. The next two selections are from the live Alligator recording from San Francisco’s Biscuits & Blues, ”Thats My Partner,“ and then the last two selections are from a 2006 Ground Zero appearance shortly after their Chicago Blues Festival appearance.
This serves as a solid retrospective of a wonderful partnership with the release of the first-rate 1993 Chicago Blues Festival performances particularly welcome as are the tracks that Alligator and Black Magic graciously lent to this project which can be obtained from BlueBeat Music (www.bluebeatmusic.com) from whom I purchased this. I am not sure if this set is available from other sources, but it is well worth seeking out not simply for the music but for the good cause that it was compiled for.
Updated November 21, 2010. Word was received today that Little Smokey passed away. RIP. Bluebeat Music shows this still in stock as of today.