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.
Jon Atkinson was born in 1988 into the digital cyber age. He grew up in a world full of children playing video games while adults were watching all manners of YouTube videos on their computers. The young man had no use for any of those things and pursued a singular passion, making blues music.
He was moved by a language that is rarely spoken in this day and age. He was inspired by a sound seldom heard. He worked to create this music using the great masters of the past as the mentors who would guide him to great heights in the blues world in a very short time.
It was in March of 2013 when I first heard Jon play. I was in Long Beach, California, and the show that I was attending was billed as Nathan James and the Rhythm Scratchers featuring James Harman. Jon sat in with the band on three numbers. I was simply stunned by what I heard. He blew harp on one tune, he sang on another and played guitar on yet another. Even though I had no idea what Jon Atkinson even looked like, the very second I heard him I knew exactly who it was.
I had heard musicians talk about this guy from Tennessee who recently moved to Southern California. “Dave you have to hear this guy. He is the real deal. You aren’t going to believe it.” This was coming from some world renowned blues veterans who don’t engage in hyperbole or pass out compliments wholesale.
Al Blake a founding member of The Hollywood Fats Band, and an accomplished singer, harmonica player guitarist, songwriter, producer and band leader in his own right, puts it this way, “Not since I first met Hollywood Fats in the early 70’s have I have heard someone who seems to be born with the DNA that it takes to be a truly great blues musician. Jon is not only an exceptional singer and guitarist; he is also a great harmonica player who plays bass and drums quite well. He has a total understanding of the entire ensemble approach to making blues music. In other words he has the ability to not only be a versatile side man, but an effective band leader as well.”
For almost forty years, Kim Wilson has been a principal torch bearer for the blues. He puts it this way, “Jon is one of the only guys doing it the right way. He knows the music. He knows the gist of it. He understands the soul of the music.”
Long time blues music impresario and founder of Bluebeat Music Charlie Lange said of Jon, “Jon is an intuitive player who knows the right thing for every song. His understanding of traditional blues is uncanny for a musician his age.”
In May of 2014 Atkinson released his debut album entitled, Boogie With You Baby on Bluebeat Music. Lange describes the release as, “…an amazing collection of talent and tunes.” Finally the rest of the world was able to hear what only his live audiences were lucky enough to experience, a trip back to that elusive place that remains off the beaten path, real blues… played the right way. In reviewing Boogie With You Baby last April prior to its official release, I gave the CD my highest recommendation.
In an interview I conducted with Jon in the summer of 2013, I asked the young musician what is it about this music that had made him travel down this road and dedicate his life to the blues.
He said, “It is just such incredible music. You fall in love with this music because of the emotion and the undeniable passion. You fall in love with the musicology of it. I mean if someone gets exposed to Muddy Waters’ music for instance, and does not fall in love with it, if they are not moved by what they hear, I think there must be something wrong with them. The cool part lies in the fact that if you are true blues, I don’t mean a blues-rocker, but a real blues musician, you are like part of a family. The big reward is the people you meet. The people whose paths we cross out there seem to be of a higher caliber. It takes a very special kind of person to understand this music. If they can hear the things we hear Dave, then there is an automatic bond and mutual respect.”
In my work I come in contact with blues musicians virtually every day of my life. The masters of the form always refer to this music as a language. Granted, it is an elusive language, but when it’s communicated properly it creates a lasting soulful connection between the artist and the audience. Big Jon Atkinson speaks the language fluently and with such a well articulated deep emotion that when you hear this young man play and sing the blues it is an experience you will never forget.
Maybe Kim Wilson put it best when he told me recently, and in no uncertain terms, “Big Jon is truly the future of the blues.”