Q&A with Bob Corritore, one of the most active and highly regarded blues harmonica players on the scene today.

"Though this music right now is embraced and performed in a multi-racial, multi-national way, we should always be painfully aware and respectful of the hard-earned black origins of this music."

Bob Corritore: Keeping The Blues Alive

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 100 releases to date, on various labels. Many of Bob’s acclaimed releases have been nominated or winners for various 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. 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 on Maxwell Street with John Henry Davis and others until old enough to attend 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.                          (Bob Corritone / Photo by Marjani Viola Hawkins)

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 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. 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, Ike Turner, Jimmie Vaughan, Henry Townsend, Honeyboy Edwards, Big Jack Johnson, Ike Turner, Smokey Wilson. Lil’ Ed, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Nappy Brown, R.L. Burnside, Louisiana Red, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Sam Lay, Barbara Lynn, John Primer, Eddy Clearwater, and numerous others.

Interview by Michael Limnios                      Special Thanks: Bob Corritone

How has the Blues (and people of) influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Blues and blues people have shown me so much about life. My first impressions about blues musicians were that they were older, “regular” people but that blues gave them superpowers. Blues people were not rock stars but blues music was superior to rock in that it was a more direct and expressive platform of communicating your humanity. When I was old enough to go to blues bars, I quickly recognized the social gathering power of this music and how it brought people together. As a young, aspiring harmonica player I found great encouragement and acceptance from the older players. This was not something that I expected but I was overjoyed at this welcoming. As I grew on my instrument, I found a lot of joy in connecting with the musicians as a band member and with the audiences as an entertainer. In my very early 20s I began producing records and I found that producing music took my relationship to fellow musicians to a much deeper level. when I moved from Chicago to Phoenix I became aware that wherever I was at, there would be a community of like-minded Blues people. Fast forwarding to my first European performance in 2005, I was able to see how worldwide the Blues connection is. I found myself getting all sorts of attention in Europe. This brought more U.S. appreciation and opportunity! I will always be indebted to the wonderful European promoters that got behind my music! Getting to go to numerous countries all around the world has given me a much broader perspective. Seems like wherever I travel, there is always a connection point between Blues people! And that connection for me is the most wonderful of blessings!                                         (Bob Corritone / Photo by Jeff Fasano)

"I would love to visit Chicago in the early 1950s and see Chicago Blues in its formative heyday. I would love to meet Little Walter, and hear him perform live with a young Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers!"

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? what touched (emotionally) you from the harmonica?

I always loved the sound of a harmonica, but when I bought my first Muddy Waters record and heard Little Walter I was forever changed. In high school I spent many nights at home in my room trying to figure out how to make the harmonica sound like the one on the record. As I got older and got to meet and befriend many of the elder harmonica players around Chicago (Louis Myers, Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell, Junior Wells, Lester Davenport, Good Rockin’ Charles) I realize what defined the Chicago blues Harmonica sound. That Chicago sound is the cornerstone of my playing. When I moved to Phoenix, Arizona I had to adapt to the new musical surroundings. I could still play Chicago blues but I found it necessary to find harmonica parts in soul music, ballads, jazz-blues, country and more West Coast sounds. Which gets me to the point where I can describe philosophy. There is a particular Blues feel that I learned in Chicago that can be adopted and altered to fit into every possible type of music. Being a non-singing harmonica player, I have to be able to adapt into many styles of playing to be successful. It’s always great to be able to connect with some pure Chicago blues with people like John Primer, the late Henry Gray, Bob Margolin, Dave Riley and Jimi Primetime Smith. And Chicago blues has a very special place for the Harmonica to shine! But I must also be able to adapt into a more West Coast thing when I play with folks like Junior Watson, Fred Kaplan, Kid Ramos, the Forty Fours and that crew. And I’ve enjoyed occasional work with country music legend Jessi Colter. And Louisiana legend King Karl spent his retirement years in Phoenix so I learned a lot about playing in the Louisiana style from him. My philosophy is to try to play as musically, tone-fully, and emotionally as possible. My Chicago grit is my core but I try to find the right harmonica part for every occasion.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Though this music right now is embraced and performed in a multi-racial, multi-national way, we should always be painfully aware and respectful of the hard-earned black origins of this music.                     (Bob Corritone & Henry Gray / Photo by Marilyn Stringer)

"My philosophy is to try to play as musically, tone-fully, and emotionally as possible. My Chicago grit is my core but I try to find the right harmonica part for every occasion."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I’m always amazed at how you can look back at the first time you met somebody and how that moment would indelibly change your life without you even knowing it. I think of meeting great artists like Robert Lockwood, Louisiana Red, Bob Margolin, Bob Stroger, Tail Dragger, Chico Chism, John Primer, Henry Gray, Willie Buck and the impact they would all have later in my life. I have to believe that God has a plan for us all. So just to choose one of these meetings let me tell the story of Robert Lockwood. I was attending school at the University of Tulsa and there’s a new music venue in town around ‘77. It was called the Paradise Club and Robert Lockwood had a week of shows there. I went to meet Robert as a respectful, inquisitive fan and he immediately adopted a father-figure role with me. I sat with him at all the breaks while he was in town and we would create a friendship that would last for the rest of his life. In 1979 Robert was in Chicago for Lee Jackson’s funeral and on that same weekend I just happened to be producing my first recording project with Little Willie Anderson. I was happy to reconnect with Robert by phone. He was staying at Sunnyland Slim‘s house. Robert agreed to participate in the recording session, which made it a very special record! Robert and I would keep in touch and when I moved out to Phoenix I invited him out to do a show. What was very cool about this is that his brother Sylvester lived in Phoenix and I was able to reconnect those two! They hadn’t seen each other in years. And so I kind of became a friend of the whole family. At one point in the 1990s Robert asked me how I ended up doing with the Willie Anderson album. I told him that I finally made a little bit of money on it after I sold the masters to Earwig Records. Robert scolded me saying “You did what? You sold the Masters? You know you’re never supposed to do that!” From that point forward every time I was in negotiation with a record label with masters that I had produced, if they say, “We would need to own the Masters,” I hear Robert’s voice echoing in my head! “You sold the Masters? You know you’re never supposed to do that!” So we would either do a lease deal or no deal. Lesson learned!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Top Three Lessons: A) Find your own voice in your instrument. Always learn the tradition of the musical language but make sure and have your own conversation with that language. B) Put out recordings that will stand the test of time. Live by high standards and always try to grow and exceed your prior recorded work. C) Always respect the sacred history of the music that you are performing. It is both an honor and responsibility to perform blues music. Learn all you can from the elders of this music, and carry forth the traditions and values that they taught.

"There’s something about the older players that had a particular grit that appears to be more rare these days. There will never be another Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Pinetop Perkins, or Henry Gray. I really miss being able to play with some of the older veterans who were around when this music was first being defined." (Bob Corritone, Charlie Musselwhite, James Cotton & Rod Piazza / Photo by Marilyn Stringer)

Are there any memories from the famous Maxwell Street and The Rhythm Room which you’d like to share with us?

Maxwell Street was a delightfully crazy place! It was truly a melting pot of Chicago subcultures. I would go there to hear the blues! This definitely was street level music. It was as raw and down home as is humanly possible. Bands would run extension cord from the second-floor apartments and set up a PA system in a makeshift bandstand right on the street. Musicians would play for tips. The smell of Polish sausage was in the air! Vendors were all around trying to sell their wares. Everyone had their hustle! I especially enjoyed seeing Big Walter Horton and Big Jon Wrencher perform! The first time I ever played with a legitimate blues band was on Maxwell Street with John Henry Davis’ Band. John let me get up and play most of a set! But perhaps my favorite Maxwell Street memory was running into Floyd Jones on the street. He was there with a harmonica player named Gino. That was the only time I ever saw Gino, but he was a really good player. So, we’re all hanging out leaning on a parked car and Floyd is on one side of me singing Standing Around Crying and Gino’s on the other side of me playing harmonica. They were both just playing right to me and it was a moment of pure Blues Heaven.

Fast forward to your question about the Rhythm Room. That would be a tougher one to answer because since 1991 that club has been a major part of my life. I could go on for weeks with RR stories! But here’s one story that comes to mind first. When I first moved to Phoenix in 1981, I was joined within a few months by Louisiana Red who I had played with and befriended at the Delta Fish Market in Chicago. So, with Red in town I started trying to book us some gigs. The first gig that I booked for us was at a venue called the Purple Turtle. Years later this club would later become the Rhythm Room. Louisiana Red would go on a Euro-tour and meet his wife Dora in Germany! Red didn’t come back to the United States for many years but eventually would come back and do one month tours each year. Red would always spend one week of that month with me in Phoenix. On Red’s first trip back to Arizona he was like a proud big brother that I had purchased the Rhythm Room and was now the owner of this establishment! That was a very gratifying moment for me.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of the blues?               (Bob Corritone / Photo by Dave Blake)

There’s something about the older players that had a particular grit that appears to be more rare these days. There will never be another Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Pinetop Perkins, or Henry Gray. I really miss being able to play with some of the older veterans who were around when this music was first being defined. I feel very blessed to have performed, recorded with and befriended many of my heroes. I feel very blessed to be able to play currently with two Alumni of the Muddy Waters Band, John Primer and Bob Margolin. They help me connect to my Chicago roots. There are many amazing players right now out there. But you just cannot replace the originals.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Muddy Waters would still be alive and performing!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would love to visit Chicago in the early 1950s and see Chicago Blues in its formative heyday. I would love to meet Little Walter, and hear him perform live with a young Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers!

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