[GENRELESS GUITARIST] Any list of the best guitarists of the last three decades will probably not include Sir Richard Bishop. Long-haired teens do not headbang in front of a poster depicting his likeness in tights. He's never shredded the national anthem at sunrise to thousands of screaming fans. Hell, he's never done much of anything in front of thousands. But that's not going to stop him from putting out a guitar-instruction book this year.
"The book will be full of what many mainstream guitar players might think of as 'extremely bad advice,'" Bishop writes via email. "I expect to sell about six copies."
It's an appropriately absurd idea from an artist whose career is full of them. In 1979, Bishop and his brother, Alan, along with friend Charles Gocher, founded the ethnically spiced, intentionally audacious and often goofily obnoxious Sun City Girls, an experiment equal parts post-hardcore and spoken word. Born into the Arizona punk scene of the 1980s, they were misfits among misfits, often getting jeered while opening for acts like Black Flag. Still, their résumé would make plenty blush: Nirvana opened for them, and the band played Portland's now-legendary Satyricon three times. Not at all a touring spectacle, Sun City Girls recorded 27 cassettes, 50 albums and a dozen 7-inches before Gocher's death in 2007. Add to that Bishop's 15 solo albums, and that's one monumental discography. It's impressive no matter the quality of the music. And the quality of some SCG tracks is admittedly poor.
"With SCG, we never set out to please anybody except ourselves," writes Bishop, who has lived in Portland for a decade. "I have a similar approach to my solo work.â
Bishop's solo work, though, is far more refined without sacrificing musical variety. Elektronika Demonika is a guitarless death march through a digital, tropical hell. While My Guitar Violently Bleeds is full of psych-folk flourishes, while Fingering the Devil, Bishop's acclaimed 2006 album, captures all the hypnotism and magic of his live show.
Last year was a busy one for Bishop. First, he released Intermezzo, a record blending the genre-blurring improvisational styles of his previous albums, showcasing everything from folksy epics, convoluted flamenco and concrète soundtracks to Asian temple music, sun-fried ragas and flaming oud riffs. A vinyl-only album mostly of re-releases, The Unrock Tapes, followed. In August, Bishop released Beyond All Defects, a collaboration with Arizona experimentalist and longtime friend W. David Oliphant steeped in Eastern philosophy.
"We didn't set out to make a Tibetan record or one about Buddhism," Bishop writes. "It just turned out that way."
But hopping across musical styles like a wacky knight on a chessboard doesn't "just" happen. Initially, travel was a big influence on Bishop. Of late, however, he has been turning inside for inspiration. "Nowadays I try not to allow myself to be influenced by anything external," he writes. "I want to focus on coming up with new musical works based solely on what the demonic voices inside my head are constantly screaming about."
SEE IT: Sir Richard Bishop plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Audios Amigos and Ben Von Wildenhaus, on Friday, Jan. 11. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.