Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950, Paul Rishell was named after his grandfather, a Methodist Minister who was pastor of the South Congregational Church. He moved around with his family to New Jersey, England, and finally Connecticut. His early musical experience was as a drummer playing rock 'n' roll and surf music. At the age of 13, captivated by a recording of Son House singing “County Farm Blues,” Rishell began a lifelong study of country blues and its progenitors. He moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early 1970’s and began to perform with and learn from blues greats such as Son House, Johnny Shines, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. He soon became a well-known blues artist in his own right headlining Boston-area clubs and opening for his musical heroes.
His first albums, Blues on a Holiday (1990) and Swear to Tell the Truth (1993) received critical acclaim and launched Rishell’s career as a recording artist. “My first record was a dream come true - I began to dream about making records as soon as I started listening to them."
While working on his second Tone-Cool CD, Swear to Tell the Truth, Paul Rishell met Annie Raines. Her work on the project heralded the beginning of a productive musical partnership: Paul and Annie have become a steadfast touring and recording team, working as an acoustic and electric duo, as well as with a full band. Since 1992 they have gained an ever greater following in the U.S. and overseas, performing and teaching at festivals, workshops, clubs and concert halls, and doing session work as well.
Rishell recorded “Dirt Road Blues,”an instructional video of country blues songs (Truefire, 2008) and is currently serving as a Visiting Artist at Berklee College of Music. “Among other reasons, I made ‘Talking Guitar’ for a generation of kids who may not ever have had a chance to hear country blues.” In his 45 years as a performer, teacher, historian, and torchbearer of the country blues tradition, he has drawn students and professionals (including Susan Tedeschi and Michael Tarbox) who want to learn the techniques required to do justice to the originals and hear his first-hand accounts of meeting iconic prewar blues legends. Sometimes they just come to hear to him talk, about singing, about music, about history.
Rishell likes to point out that the music industry and blues music were rocked in the same cradle, as musicians, businessmen and electrical engineers were drawn together by opportunities to make a living off of an emerging technology. In his live shows, his historical narration is built on his fascination with the people on both sides of the microphone. These are entertaining glimpses into the past, but Rishell has an uncanny ability to summon this lost world into the present when he touches the strings. Boston Phoenix writer Ted Drozdowski wrote, “Paul has reached a place as deep and resonant as Robert Johnson’s crossroads, where authenticity, soul and a sense of purpose ring out in every note he sings and plays.”