The Paul Butterfield Blues Band might have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday, but guitarist Elvin Bishop remained gloriously unaffected by the pomp. After joining Tom Morello, Zac Brown and surviving bandmates Mark Naftalin and Sam Lay in a fiery musical tribute, the infectiously chill 72-year-old suggested that he’s just “a little bit immune to awards.” He went on to tell Rolling Stone about the challenges of playing in a mixed-race group during an era of racial unrest and how the Butterfield Band helped the blues reach a new audience.
How did it feel being up onstage with the guys?
It was great. I was a little bit nervous. I was talking to Jann Wenner last night – I’ve known him for about 120 years – so it’s a hell of a thing. I didn’t realize the Rock Hall was such a big thing. I was there yesterday and it just goes on and on. It’s amazing.
What does this honor mean to you at this point of your career?
You know, I don’t know. The main thing about my life is that I’ve come from a long line of farmers and nothing was ever expected of me. I don’t have anything to live up to, and I’ve avoided day work for 50 years. So I consider myself a huge success.
You were well known for being a mixed-race band in an era when that wasn’t as common. Did you realize at the time that this was something unique?
Well, it was brought to our attention. Actually, in Cleveland we weren’t allowed to stay in white hotel because [we were] an integrated group. So we were staying in black hotels and it became kind of inconvenient when they had the riots here in the Sixties. The black guys had to go out and get us sandwiches and stuff. I think the Butterfield Band probably sold fewer records than anybody in the damn Hall, you know? But I don’t know how many of the musicians that are in the Hall have come up to me and told me, “That first Butterfield record got me into blues.”
What do you think people were connecting to? Why do you think the music has endured?
I think it was a lucky thing. We were in the right place at the right time. There was this huge, beautiful body of music – the blues – and a huge white audience it had never at any extent met. We weren’t as good as Muddy [Waters] or [Howlin’] Wolf or any of those guys, but we were good enough to help it cross over, I think. That’s about what happened.
You got in town Thursday. What have you been up to these last couple of days?
Ah, I didn’t know what the hell was happening. I was just trying to get in where I fit in. I’ve been married for a long time, so I’m pretty good at taking instruction.