Elvin Bishop - guitar, vocals; Perry Welsh - vocals, harp; Stephen Miller - piano, organ, vocals; Kip Maercklein - bass; John Chambers - drums
This four-night run at San Francisco's intimate Keystone Korner was recorded with intentions of assembling a live album for the Elvin Bishop Group. Unfortunately, due to health issues within the band, this never came to be. Immediately after touring through New England, where the cold March weather wreaked health havoc on lead vocalist, Jo Baker, as well as all three of The Pointer Sisters, they flew back to San Francisco for this run. Baker and The Pointer Sisters all give it their best shot on opening night, but by the second night all four were bedridden with the flu and unable to perform for the rest of the run.
The plan was to perform three sets each night. The first two sets were to be the group playing all their best material, followed by a third freeform set, where San Francisco musician friends could drop by and jam. That is exactly how it went down on opening night. However, on the consecutive three nights, the shows continued and the core group of Bishop, Stephen Miller (NOT to be confused with Steve Miller), Kip Maercklein and John Chambers carried on, with Perry Welsh joining in here and there. However, now all three sets were geared toward spontaneity. Bishop pulled out vintage blues songs he hadn't tackled in years. Miller contributed rare solo album material. They jammed on old Butterfield Blues Band-era material and basically played whatever tickled their fancy. In retrospect, these shows are like a holy grail for Bishop and Miller fans, not only because these performances contain so much rare material, but because this spontaneous approach and smaller unit inspires the musicians to play outside their usual context. The powerhouse vocals were a primary focus for this band from the beginning so it falls on Bishop and Miller to fill the void, instrumentally. In all fairness, harp blower Perry Welsh delivers respectable vocals and Elvin sings several, but it's obvious they just feel like playing. It's almost as if they traveled back to a more youthful energy level, more comparable to 1968 than 1971.
The third night of this run begins with a monologue from Elvin Bishop, welcoming the audience and explaining that the frontline of singers remain bedridden with the flu. He mentions that several friends, including Mike Bloomfield, are planning to drop by and jam later in the evening. The core band then proceeds with their first set, beginning with a warm-up instrumental on "Never Trust A Woman. With two successful nights behind them, the stripped-down band is now comfortable enough to play some of their usual material during this set, despite the missing vocalists. Fan favorites like "Smokin Reefers," "How Come It Is," and the always energized set closer, "Party Til The Cows Come Home," have less of the usual emphasis on vocals, but are still bubbling with a raw energy that is intriguing in its own right.
This set also includes "Pipeliner," a standout track from Miller's solo album, as well as two prime examples of Bishop and Miller cutting loose on the blues. In addition to "The Sky Is Crying," which was normally the only straight blues number in their usual opening set, they tackle B.B. King's classic, "Why I Sing The Blues," and at nearly nine minutes, it is one of the highlights of the entire show.
Following a break, they take the stage for their second set. Again, just the core band here, but with a more spontaneous approach. Other than the up-tempo set opener, they stick to blues explorations on this set, including a smoldering version of "Goin' Down Slow." Bishop follows this with a humorous, but questionable monologue about the battle between the sexes that goes on far too long, but redeems himself during "The Things That I Used To Do," a standout track from their album. Although this meanders about, during the last few minutes, Bishop really cuts loose and displays his most impressive solo of the set. They close the second set with a smokin' take on Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Workin'," which recalls Bishop's days with the Butterfield Blues Band.
Unfortunately, the reels of the third set from this night have not yet been located. If the plan for Mike Bloomfield to drop by came to pass, they more than likely tore the roof off Keystone Korner before the night was through.