Bob Corritore is one of the most active and highly regarded blues harmonica players on the scene today. His style passionately carries forward the old school of playing that Corritore learned as a young man directly from many of original pioneers of Chicago Blues. His sympathetic, yet fiery harmonica playing is featured on over 50 releases to date, on labels such as HighTone, HMG, Blue Witch, Blind Pig, Earwig, Ruf, Putumayo, Random Chance, and the VizzTone Label Group and the great Delta Groove label, which he is currently signed to. Many of Bob’s acclaimed releases have been nominated or winners for various Handy, Grammy, and Blues Music Awards and Blues Blast Music Awards. Bob is also widely recognized for his many roles in the blues, as band leader, club owner, record producer, radio show host, arts foundation founder, and occasional writer. His amazing website www.bobcorritore.com and his weekly e-newsletter reflect a life thoroughly invested in the blues.
Born on September 27, 1956 in Chicago, Bob first heard Muddy Waters on the radio at age 12, an event which changed his life forever. Within a year, he was playing harmonica and collecting blues albums. He would see blues shows in his early teens, including attending a Muddy Waters performance at his high school gymnasium. He would cut his teeth sitting in with John Henry Davis on Maxwell Street until he was old enough to sneak into blues clubs. He hung around great harp players such as Big Walter Horton, Little Mack Simmons, Louis Myers, Junior Wells, Big John Wrencher, and Carey Bell, and received harmonica tips and encouragement from many of them. He would regularly see the Aces, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Billy Boy Arnold, John Brim, Sunnyland Slim, Smokey Smothers, Eddie Taylor, and in many cases became personal friends with these blues veterans. Corritore worked with Tail Dragger, Big Moose Walker, Willie Buck, Louis and Dave Myers, and Eddie Taylor in the late 70s and early 80s. He also produced his first recordings during that time, taking unheralded harmonica greats such as Little Willie Anderson and Big Leon Brooks into the studio to produce their now classic debut albums.
In 1981, Bob ventured southwest to live in Phoenix, Arizona. Within months, his Chicagoland friend Louisiana Red joined Bob, and the two played together around Phoenix for about a year until Red went to live in Germany. For the remainder of the1980s, Bob worked in Phoenix and throughout the Southwest with Big Pete Pearson, Buddy Reed, Tommy Dukes, Chief Schabuttie Gilliame, and an emerging Janiva Magness in one of her earliest bands. In 1984, Bob supplemented his performances with a blues radio show called Those Lowdown Blues on KJZZ, which is still going strong. In 1986, former Howlin’ Wolf drummer Chico Chism moved to Phoenix at Bob’s invitation to start a 20 year partnership that lasted until Chico’s passing in 2007. In 1991, Bob opened the now famous Blues and Roots Concert Club, The Rhythm Room. Having a club created yet another catalyst for Bob’s musical projects. He would often invite great artists to come to Phoenix, and Bob’s band, the Rhythm Room All-Stars would back these visiting artists on shows and in recording sessions. Bob’s archives of these sessions are now famous, and include sessions with Bo Diddley, Little Milton, John Brim, Jimmy Rogers, Henry Gray, Pinetop Perkins, Henry Townsend, Honeyboy Edwards, Big Jack Johnson, Ike Turner, Smokey Wilson. Lil’ Ed, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Nappy Brown, R.L. Burnside, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Sam Lay, Barbara Lynn, John Primer, Eddy Clearwater, and numerous others.
In 1999, Bob released his first CD as a national recording artist, combining some of the highlights of his vaults. The CD was called All-Star Blues Sessions, and was released on the HighTone record label to great fanfare. This momentum created a long series of CDs on HighTone with Bob in the harmonica player/producer role. Bob started breaking into the national circuit in festival appearances with Henry Gray and Louisiana Red. Bob co-produced harmonica ace Kim Wilson’s 2001 release of Smokin’ Joint which got a Grammy nomination the following year. In 2005, Bob brought the Rhythm Room All-Stars featuring Big Pete Pearson to The Marco Fiume Blues Passions Festival in Italy, which opened a whole new world of European interest in Bob’s harmonica artistry. This led to return visits to Europe for various festivals and performances, as well as an ever-growing world-wide fan base. In 2007, the Mayor of Phoenix officially proclaimed September 29, 2007 to be “Bob Corritore Day” in honor of Bob’s musical contributions to his community. Also that year, Bob received a “Keeping The Blues Alive” award from the Blues Foundation. Bob’s 2007 collaboration with Dave Riley, Travelin’ The Dirt Road, was nominated for a Blues Music Award. Bob also contributed harmonica work on the 2008 Grammy®-nominated CD/DVD by Pinetop Perkins, On The 88s. Bob‘s prolific activity with the Blue Witch record label as label producer/harmonica player garnered him additional notoriety.
Bob signed with the great Delta Groove record label for a 2010 release that solidified Bob’s strong standing as a major player in today’s blues world. In 2011 he was nominated for a BMA (Blues Music Award) and a Living Blues Award for best harmonica player and his CD Bob Corritore & Friends / Harmonica Blues won a BMA for Best Historical Blues Release. Also In 2011 the State of Arizona awarded Bob a Certificate Of Recognition for his work in blues music. 2012 brings about the release of Tail Dragger & Bob Corritore / Longtime Friends In The Blues, as well as the Corritore produced Mud Morganfield / Son Of The Seventh Son (the national debut CD of the eldest son of Muddy Waters!) and a guest appearance by Mud and Bob on the Mannish Boys release Double Dynamite. Both The Mud and the Mannish Boys CDs would be showered with awards and nominations. Also that year, Bob’s photo was featured on the packaging of Hohner’s Blues Harp model harmonica. 2013 saw 2 more highly-celebrated collaboration CDs with John Primer and with Dave Riley, with the Primer awarded “Best Blues Album of 2013” by Germany’s Blues News Magazine! 2014 saw the release of Bob’s all instrumental CD “Taboo” with Jimmie Vaughan, Junior Watson, Fred Kaplan and Doug James among the albums guests. Bob performs regularly across the country and around the world with numerous projects including Dave Riley & Bob Corritore, Tail Dragger, Mud Morganfield Blues Band, The Rhythm Room All-Stars, Henry Gray, Sam Lay, Bob Margolin, Diunna Greenleaf, The Bob Riedy Blues Band, and others. In 2014, Corritore was also awarded a Blues411 Jimi Award for Best Harpist. In 2015, Delta Groove released Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest Vol 1, a collection of songs recorded over the last 19 years with Corritore and frequent collaborator Henry Gray. 2016 saw the release of Bob’s album with Big Jon Atkinson titled House Party at Big Jon’s. The album was released on the Delta Groove label and features guest appearances from Willie Buck, Alabama Mike, Dave Riley and Tomcat Courtney.
Bob has also become well known for organizing multi-artist showcase sets and events featuring traditional blues revues. Look for Bob to continue his active work in presenting traditional blues harmonica playing to the world stage.
John Primer has undisputedly helped build the sound and style of Chicago blues as we know it today. The echos of tradition bellowing from the birthplaces he played such as: Maxwell Street, Theresa’s, Checkerboard and Rosa’s Lounges, pulse from every chord in his fingers today. John Primer is a Chicago Blues Living Legend.
John’s father died tragically in Mississippi when he was young. When his mother found work in Chicago, John soon followed, bringing the sounds and spirit of Mississippi with him in 1963. He then fell for the music of both the city’s west and south sides. Fronting his first band, The Maintainers, he was asked to join and eventually lead the house band at the world famous Theresa’s Lounge in 1974. Over the next seven years, John would play with such blues originators as: Sammy Lawhorn, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Smokey Smothers, Lonnie Brooks and many others shaping the foundations of the Chicago blues to come.
In 1979, the great songwriter Willie Dixon persuaded him to join his band the Chicago Blues All Stars. John traveled the U.S., Mexico and Europe, trying on hats as a rhythm guitarist, lead slide player and powerful singer. Muddy Waters heard John play and six months later Muddy recruited him not only as his guitar player and bandleader, but also as an opening act. John stayed loyal to Muddy until his death in 1983.
After Muddy’s death, John signed on with the legendary Magic Slim. For the next 14 years, he toured with Magic Slim & the Teardrops as bandleader and guitarist, culminating with the Teardrops being voted repeatedly the number one blues band in the world. This unstoppable blues band invented the “Chicago lump” blues sound we know and love today.
In 1995, John ventured out on his own as a veteran bluesman and released his solo major label debut, The Real Deal. Since that time he’s released or been recorded on over a dozen albums and toured extensively all over the world. A master storyteller and songwriter, his catalog of songs is endless. Some of the awards attached to him include: 2 Grammy nominations and 2 Living Legend honors as well as a Blues Music Award for Best Traditional Blues Artist from the National Blues Foundation and many more.
Over his amazing career, John has recorded with, opened for or played with a who’s who of other great bands and artists including: The Rolling Stones, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr., Koko Taylor, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, James Brown and B.B. King.
The depth of history and tradition that runs in John’s blood from decades of master blues classes he took from all the Blues Godfathers builds his music catalog and unique style. John Primer is still at the top of his game. With his strong traditionalist blues phrasing, seasoned rhythm and blues vocals and lightning-fast slide guitar techniques, few artists can match him and none have his vast, real deal, blues history.
Henry Gray may well be Louisiana’s oldest active legendary master Blues pianist. At 86, with a career that spans over six decades, Henry continues to deliver his rollicking, two-fisted boogie-woogies and passionate blues to people throughout the world.
Perhaps best known as Howlin’ Wolf’s pianist, he was also a much-in-demand session player for the Chess and Vee-Jay labels, recording with artists such as Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Oits Rush, Billy Boy Arnold, and Bo Diddley. Not only is Henry hailed for his contribution to post WW II Chicago blues, he is also recognized as one of the key contributors to Louisiana’s unique ‘Swamp Blues’ sound.
As David Kunian wrote in Blues Access, “Henry Gray’s influence is immeasurable. If you’ve listened to blues music in the last half-century, you’ve heard pianist Henry Gray… he recorded and played with everybody… he helped create the blueprint for Chicago blues piano and all that it would be… Henry pioneered the sound of electric piano in Chicago blues. Whenever you hear someone play a familiar blues riff or turnaround on the piano, there is a good chance they learned it from Henry Gray – or someone who learned it off Henry Gray.”
Henry Gray was born in Kenner, Louisiana on January 19, 1925. As a youngster, it seemed that Henry’s future was already set – he would follow his relatives into a work cycle in the fields that stretched until noon every Saturday. But sneaking around the ‘jukes’ as young boy, Henry soon discovered that his talent on the piano could put him in the spotlight. So, around the age of 14, with his father in tow, Henry began his 70-year career as a blues musician in the joints adjoining the Louisiana cotton fields.
He played house parties and church services before being drafted into the army during World War II. He was regularly selected to entertain the troops with his South Louisiana blues and jitterbug music. After the war, Henry’s talent as an entertainer pointed the way to Chicago. He soon developed a reputation in the clubs on the South Side that brought him to Big Maceo Merriweather, the most eminent blues pianist in that era of the formation of the ‘Chicago Blues.’ Merriweather befriended Gray and became his mentor, having an important impact by influencing Gray’s “two-fisted playing” and introducing him to several notable bands and club owners.
From those early days in South Side blues clubs, Henry emerged as one of the original architects of the Chicago blues piano. Beginning in 1956, he spent twelve years playing piano with the legendary Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett). According to Lily Burnett, Wolf’s wife, Henry became the leader and vocalist for the band when ‘Wolf’ had to travel to make solo appearances. Henry wrote some of his best blues songs during this time.
After a dozen years of touring and recording with one of the hottest blues bands in the country, Henry returned home to Alson, Louisiana in 1968 to help his mother run the family’s fish store. He also spent fifteen years working as a roofer for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. But Henry had not given up his music, by any means. He played two or three times a week in the clubs around Baton Rouge, helping, with Tabby Thomas, to create and sustain the ‘Swamp Blues’ sound of that area. Henry’s activity kept him in the local public eye enough to catch the attention of the New Orleans and Jazz Heritage Festival. Since that time, Henry has played at virtually every New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Rolf Shubert, a German blues promoter, discovered Henry at one of these festivals in the mid 1970’s. Shubert began to bring Henry over to Europe to play festivals and venues as a solo blues artist. In 1978, Shubert released Henry’s first feature album which spotlighted Henry as a solo artist, singing and accompanying himself on the piano. Henry became popular with European blues enthusiasts. Henry’s importance in the Baton Rouge blues scene garnered him a spot as one of the featured artists in the original 1985 nationally televised public television’s Rainin’ In My Heart, a documentary on Baton Rouge blues artists.
Describing Henry’s performance at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1987, Larry Kart of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “When Henry Gray took the stage (with his voice like a slab of slate, his piano work tough & jumping) the blues were there for real.” As a result of Henry’s appearance at the Chicago Blues Fest, Blind Pig Records released Lucky Man in 1988, his first U.S. recording on which he was the featured artist. Audio magazine said, “On Lucky Man, Gray performs as if the heyday of Chicago blues never ended.” The album helped to begin a new career for Henry as a bandleader and as a touring solo artist in Europe and the U.S., and led to a featured spot at the prestigious Montreal Jazz Fest in the summer of 1988.
During the 1990’s, Henry played concerts each year in Europe, either as a solo artist, or with the backing of European blues bands. In the States, he continued to play selected nationally known festivals such as the San Francisco Blues Festival with his own band, Henry Gray and the Cats.
In 1999 he was nominated for a Grammy for his playing on the Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf album released by the Telarc label, and in 1998 he was handpicked by Mick Jagger himself to play Jagger’s 55th birthday soiree in Paris.
Since 1999, Henry Gray & the Cats have released three critically acclaimed CDs on the band’s label, Lucky Cat Productions. In 2001, Gray also recorded an album for Hightone Records entitled Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues.
In March 2003, while appearing for a week at the prestigious Lionel Hampton Jazz Club in Paris, Henry Gray & the Cats set nightly attendance records, resulting in the CD and DVD entitled Henry Gray & the Cats: Live in Paris. While in Paris, France’s Blues Society awarded Henry the country’s top honor as 2003 ‘Blues Pianist of the Year.’
Also in 2003, Gray was featured along with Ray Charles, Dr. John, Pinetop Perkins and Dave Brubeck in Clint Eastwood’s “Blues Piano,” which was part of Martin Scorcese’s seven part series, “The Blues.” Gray was awarded the 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the nation’s top honor for a folk artist. In the same year, Gray was featured along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Pinetop Perkins, Marcia Ball and Little Red in a concert at Morgan Freeman’s club Ground Zero in Clarksdale, MS which became the DVD Falsifyin’. Also in 2006, Gray starred in the independent film The Glass Chord as Saul Solomon, an aging musician suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Henry has lost none of the power that was seeded in the Louisiana jukes and flowered in Chicago’s South Side. He continues to tour as a soloist and with his band Henry Gray and the Cats.