There's something instantly recognizable about Chad Bishop's voice. Even if you've never heard the Long Beach soul singer's silky tone before stumbling into a club and catching his set on a random night out, the opportunity to connect with it is as easy as tuning the radio to your favorite oldies station. It's the kind of smooth, classic soul forged in the late '70s and early '80s that became the soundtrack to backyard barbecues and weekend cruises on PCH with the top down. Even the simplest, lovey-dovey choruses weave decades of wisdom into every note. For a vocalist like Bishop with the chops to pull it off, it's a sound that never goes out of style.
From his amount of confidence on stage, you'd think the 44 year-old Alabama native had been doing it for years. And though he's been singing all his life, the vocalist was formerly known in these parts as one half of Long Beach hip-hop duo the Union Name before before he began recording songs that explored his more soulful side. Several years ago, his partner in rhyme, emcee Barracuda, got married and moved to Hawaii to raise a family, leaving him to search for a new project. He says 2010-2011 was a crucial period in his time as an artist that was compounded by a number of personal trials that became fodder for his latest aptly-titled R&B/soul album, Transitions.
"I went through a divorce, my pops died then my grand dad died [both within a six month period] and my rapping partner 'Cuda was gone, so I just started writing songs about what was going on with me and the Transitions album came out of that," Bishop says.
The writing process for Bishop took several years while he worked with a number of local musicians and groups to bring the sound to life by the time Transitions was ready to see the light of day in 2015. He got hooked up with a local group of Long Beach musicians called The Master Plan that helped him hone his original tunes into a well-oiled soul machine spearheaded by his tender vocals. Songs like "Up in the Wind," a groovy somber track inspired the struggle to make a leap of faith by moving to a new city for the sake of a career, help solidify the concept behind Transitions.The song mentions that fateful airplane ride that plenty of SoCal transplants know all too well.
In the intervening years between switching from hip to soul, he'd moved to San Pedro and wound up singing in a steadily gigging oldies cover band called In Contempt. Though it wasn't his ideal plan for doing music at the time, it provided the perfect springboard for him to move back into the Long Beach scene as a soul artist. And of course there's no better training for becoming a smooth soul and R&B singer, than belting Marvin Gaye and Al Green week in and week out.
"It's cool now, at first I was like 'I dunno if I wanna be doing covers all the time, maybe this isn't for me,'" Bishop says. "But then I realized as I wrote more of my own stuff, maybe someday someone will want to cover my songs. So I can't have that attitude. It also inspired me to dig into the lives of the people I was covering—the life of Ray Charles, the life of Sam Cooke and so on...I got way into it."
Now that he's back on the Long Beach scene with a new live backing band, Bishop's sound has even been re-infused with some of the hip-hop grit he remembers from his days with the Union Name. He's been surprised at the good response his received for his gumbo of old-school soul vibes from a new crop of millennials who were invested in keeping live music alive in LBC.
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"People in Long Beach right now seem to be open to different styles of music," Bishop says. "There was a while there where it wasn't like that, it was mostly DJs. At some point I moved to San Pedro, but when I came back there was live music every night. People were starting to utilize alternative venues and places that weren't necessarily the club. People started stretching out and finding alternative ways to play live music."
More than anything, Bishop says he's happy that his personal transitions in life are aligning well with a sound that's always been part of his DNA even when he was in a rap group. Now he's finally showcasing it the way he was always meant to.
"I'm just having fun with it," Bishop says. "And it allows me to show that males are vulnerable too. Soul music allows you to put your heart out there. It's all about makeups and break ups. A lot of cats don't wanna put it out there. But that's why we love rappers like Tupac, he wasn't afraid to put himself out there like that either."
Chad Bishop performs solo tonight at an open mic at Rebel Bite, 649 E. Broadway, Long Beach. 7:45 p.m. Free.