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While Sir Richard Bishop's guitar violently bleeds, the rest of the world catches up

Fingering the Devil

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One of my favorite gambits to threaten editors with — especially when writing about artists like Sir Richard Bishop, whose discographies are deep and brilliant — is that I'll turn in an article simply listing all of an artist's albums, topped with the headline, "Duh, You Want to See This Person." I've never delivered on this promise. It would be a boring read — even for those of us who spent our teen years memorizing the wonderfully tedious Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records — but I think about it all the time. Especially with an artist like Bishop who has too many great records to name in one article.

I even got as far as putting together the list until I realized I would have to take over the entire music section just to list Bishop's recordings with Sun City Girls, his legendary experimental rock outfit of nearly three decades. Then I would have to hijack the film section and probably a swath of the arts section to list the man's solo output. But that wouldn't even scratch the surface of why Sir Richard Bishop is one of the most important figures in American avant-garde music.

Long story short: Bishop, his brother Alan and drummer Charles Goucher were the bridge between the far-out free music of the '60s and '70s and the DIY underground scene of the '80s and '90s. They were foundational artists in contemporary freak culture, boldly creating sounds unbound by genre or form. Sun City Girls transcended the psychedelic, one-upped the punks and brought a far-flung internationalist influence to the American underground when it was at its most ethnocentric.

Bishop's solo work is no different. Prodigious and pioneering, Bishop is one of the forefathers of today's solo-guitar renaissance, carving out a path for others to follow and discovering territory years ago that is only now being colonized. From Salvador Kali, his 1998 debut solo effort for John Fahey's Revenant Records, to his latest for Vin Du Select Qualitite, Bishop has meshed his mastery of foreign-folk traditions with a noisemaker's knack for mischievous deconstructions and the chops of a jazz genius to create music that exhibits just how beautiful, weird and wonderful the guitar can be. Bishop is constantly progressing at a rate beyond your average rocker, which makes this rare Nashville appearance as part of Emma Bistro's FMRL series even more special.

"I have some new ideas that I haven't really played much of, out and about, even though I just toured Europe," Bishop tells the Scene. "I'm just kind of forcing myself to play different material, because I usually find myself going back to safe, older material, which I still may go back to if necessary. But there will be a lot of improvisation and experimentation, which keeps it interesting for me."

In the midst of the Great Solo Guitar Renaissance, when it seems like every third email I get is about some new Fahey-channeling finger picker, it is the improvisation and experimentation that elevates Bishop above the fray, puts him beyond the scope of current trends. While this tour may seem perfectly timed to tap into the zeitgeist — Bishop jokes that "he needed some quick money" — it's only because the zeitgeist has tapped into Bishop. After three-and-a-half decades of leading the pack, contemporary music is just now catching up to him.

"For some reason there is more interest than in the recent past," Bishop says. "I don't know why that is. There's even times when I get tired of solo guitar music. But as long as people are interested, I'll keep doing it."

Email Music@nashvillescene.com.

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