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

"The blues means everything to me. I have grown up loving this music and making friends with some of the greatest of blues musicians. Most of life’s lessons have been learned in the context of this music. The greatest life lesson I have learned is to follow your heart and to believe in yourself."

Bob Corritore: Nothin' But The Blues

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 Corritore / Photo © by Dave Blake)

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 classic debut albums. In 1991, Bob opened the famous Blues and Roots Club, The Rhythm Room. Having a club created yet another catalyst for Bob’s musical projects. Bob’s archives of these sessions are 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, Smokey Wilson, Lil’ Ed, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Nappy Brown, R.L. Burnside, Louisiana Red, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Sam Lay, Barbara Lynn, Eddy Clearwater, and numerous others. Bob released with blues master Bob Margolin, an acoustic duo album titled "So Far" (2022), for the first time. Crawlin’ Kingsnake (2024 / VizzTone) is the fourth collaboration album for John Primer and Bob Corritore, two artists who have always had the Chicago spark. It was evident on their first release together of 2013 and on each release since.

      

Interview by Michael Limnios                    Bob Corritore, 2020 Interview @ blues.gr

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

The blues means everything to me. I have grown up loving this music and making friends with some of the greatest of blues musicians. Most of life’s lessons have been learned in the context of this music. The greatest life lesson I have learned is to follow your heart and to believe in yourself.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I feel like I am a lifelong student and I learn and explore music everyday. And I also consistently play with all of my heart and soul. Each live performance, rehearsal, or recording seems to show me something different about myself. What has changed is that with every passing year I feel that I’m a little better I getting my artistic expression across. I have been blessed with some great opportunities and I always try to live up to these cherished moments.

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues? What is the role of Blues music in today’s society?

I cannot overstate how important it is for people to understand the roots of blues music. Blues comes from American black culture and the music has paid some hard earned dues. To me if you’re going to play Blues properly, you have to hold sacred the great legends that came before us. These legends are the foundation of the music. It’s important to fully learn the blues language and it’s meaning, but then it’s also important to have your own conversation in that language. That keeps the music fresh and personal. I cannot really speak for how Blues fits into society, probably because I don’t know if I fully fit into society. I choose to play Blues in honor of its traditional sound.

"Blues playing requires a level of skill, but more importantly it’s about the feel. Playing Chicago blues is very conversational, and you have to wear your heart on your sleeve to play it. At least that’s my opinion and my approach. There is a certain unexplainable thing that goes along with Chicago blues." (Bob Corritore & John Primer / Photo © by Dave Blake)

You’ve one more release with VizzTone and John Primer. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any stories about the making of Crawlin’ Kingsnake?

I used to go see Junior Wells and James Cotton in the 1970s at Theresa’s Lounge on the South Side of Chicago. This is where and when I first became aware of John Primer who, along with guitarist Sammy Lawhorn was in the club’s great house band. From there, I watched his career grow as he joined the Muddy Waters band and then Magic Slim & The Teardrops before launching his successful and prolific solo career. It was at the Chicago Blues Festival, probably in the late 1980s when I first realized the power of John Primer. There was a Muddy Waters tribute set on the main stage where John Primer sang the majority of the vocals. I was completely knocked out! It took us until 2012 before we actually played together! John’s booking agent Jay Riel called me to book John and have my band back him. I suggested that we also do a recording session and John was agreeable to this. Because John and I are both steeped in the Chicago Blues tradition, it was immediately obvious to both of us that this was a great fit. We went into the recording studio and right away we nailed it! We put another couple sessions together to finish out an album which was released in 2013. It went to number one on the Living Blues Radio Charts. So, John asked me if I wanted to do another album with him. So, skip ahead to numerous tours, festivals, recording sessions, club dates, and here we are with our fourth collaboration together. It’s been a relationship of mutual respect and shared friendship and work ethic. John Primer is pure Chicago Blues, and he brings out a side in my playing that shows my deep roots in that style. The album Crawlin’ Kingsnake was our post pandemic album, and we were anxious to get back to business. I think that album showcases the comfort that we share playing straight Chicago blues together!

What's the balance in music between technique (skills) and soul/emotions? What is the driving force behind your continuous support for your music?

Blues playing requires a level of skill, but more importantly it’s about the feel. Playing Chicago blues is very conversational, and you have to wear your heart on your sleeve to play it. At least that’s my opinion and my approach. There is a certain unexplainable thing that goes along with Chicago blues. I think you have to have grown up around it to really understand the nuances of how it’s supposed to feel. I see lots of other amazing harmonica players from other parts of the country. They play really great, but they are missing some of the feel inherent in Chicago blues. That intangible Chicago element is impossible to explain, but you know it as soon as you hear it!

"It’s very gratifying to have many young friends seriously striving to keep this Blues music moving forward! Wherever I travel, I am shocked by people connected to me by their love of blues music. Although it’s not mainstream, blues is a bridge that allows all people to come together." (Bob Corritore & Henry Gray / Photo © by Marilyn Stringer)

From the musical and feeling point of view is there any difference between the old cats and great bluesmen and the young generation of blues musicians?

Nothing could ever beat the historical blues artists who defined the music that we love so much! That is the bedrock of this sacred music. But blues has always adapted to reflect the current day surroundings and there some great and upcoming artists in today’s scene. So there is a difference in the newer blues because it has an updated context. Many of the older blues had a different texture that was intricate in the most subtle of ways. Some of that is getting lost in the newer blues playing. Will anyone in the future play piano like Sunnyland Slim or Henry Gray? And if they did then that style might be incomparable with most modern day musical surroundings. There are a handful of young traditionalists that really delve into the old school sound! Thinking of Jontavious Willis, Ben Levin or Young Rell as examples of contemporary traditionalists. The blues will live on but it will, by necessity shift and change with the times.

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Yes! Wherever you go, there are always blues fans wanting to embrace and support the music. I’ve been blessed to play all around the world, and I’ve made many friends along the way. Many of my fans often shock me with how they collect all of my albums and follow my career moves! And in the last few years, I’ve really noticed lots of younger people really serious about traditional blues. It’s very gratifying to have many young friends seriously striving to keep this Blues music moving forward! Wherever I travel, I am shocked by people connected to me by their love of blues music. Although it’s not mainstream, blues is a bridge that allows all people to come together.

Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music?

I went to school to study business. But I could never hold down a straight business job. It just didn’t really interest me. But when you look at music as business then it can help you navigate. I say that almost sarcastically because music is not a very profitable venture. We occasionally have some nice paying gigs, but I doubt that I will ever be rich. But I guess the point is to make enough to live decently while staying in the headspace of music. I think my business studies have helped me navigate through life. I also love visual art and I work with great artists and graphic designers to put out the most attractive music packaging! A big shout out to Vince Ray and Jimi Giannatti. To be honest my life pretty much revolves around music everyday!

"The music industry is a very competitive industry and though I have received lots of encouragement along my path there certainly have been lots of obstacles. My first obstacle was with myself." (Three Aces of the Blues : Bob Corritore, Bob Margolin & Bob Stroger / Photo © by Marilyn Stringer)

Do you have any interesting stories with Bob Margolin and "So Far" album (2020)?

I first became aware of Bob Margolin in 1974 when the Muddy Waters Band played a concert at my high school gymnasium! Muddy and his band were simply incredible, and I looked on at them in awe. Little did I know that Bob Margolin and I would become great friends and eventually tour, record, and travel the world together. Over many years, I used to go see that band whenever I could and I mostly hung out with Jerry Portnoy (Muddy’s harmonica man), and I really did not get to know Bob well until much later. It wasn’t until the late 80s in Phoenix that we started working together. The Phoenix Blues Society put on a show dedicated to the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Bob Margolin was the featured out of town guest and I was playing in Chico Chism’s band and Chico was Howlin’ Wolf’s last drummer. That show was our first time playing together! Bob Margolin was quick to respond to my traditional Chicago Blues playing and I was delighted to play with this great musician who I admire. Every time that Bob Margolin came to town after that he always invited me to his stage. In 1996 Margolin and I did our first of many recording sessions together backing Henry Gray. The session was spectacular! In 2007 Bob Margolin was a special guest of my band project with Big Pete Pearson for a small tour of Europe that included the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland. Margolin and me eventually started a band project called the Bobs Of The Blues with Bob Stroger and various drummers. We just played the Northwoods Blues Festival in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin with Kenny Smith on drums. We love working with Kenny when the scheduling works out. Bob Margolin and me have done numerous shows together all around the world and have made lots of recordings over many years. So, our recording project was appropriately titled So Far! I have to say so far so good!

Why do you think that the Acoustic Blues continues to generate such a devoted following?

Since So Far is my first all acoustic album project I really can’t speak from experience. Bob Margolin and I hope that we can do some acoustic shows in this format. I have to say that I really enjoyed exploring the acoustic approach to playing. Since Bob Margolin and I have been playing together for years we have a natural fit. So when he approached me with this project, I was happy and honored to sign on! For a harmonica player, acoustic playing has lots of hand effects and microphone dynamics. It’s much different than playing amplified harmonica.

"I feel like I am a lifelong student and I learn and explore music everyday. And I also consistently play with all of my heart and soul. Each live performance, rehearsal, or recording seems to show me something different about myself. What has changed is that with every passing year I feel that I’m a little better I getting my artistic expression across. I have been blessed with some great opportunities and I always try to live up to these cherished moments."  (Bob Corritore / Photo © by Dusty Scott)

What moment changed your life and career the most? What do you think is key to a blues life well lived?

The first time I heard Muddy Waters on the radio was a complete life changer. I found complete satisfaction in his music. From that moment forward my life was going in that direction.

As far as your question how to lead a well lived blues life. I think it’s important that if you are involved in blues music, you must realize that you’re dealing with a genre that is not in the mainstream. I think that if you adjust your expectations to that reality, you can enjoy its many offerings with satisfaction. Nobody is getting rich off of blues music that I know. But we all get to live very rich lives filled with music, friendship, growth and travel. Over the years I have developed a strong and dedicated fan base that celebrates my achievements and encourages me. I’d like to think that I create music that touches people and gives them joy. As I get older, I miss the many great veterans that have left us, but I cherish their memories and the lessons learned. And it’s encouraging when the younger artists tell me that I have inspired them. It’s very gratifying when you can make music that’s important to you and then becomes important to others.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

The music industry is a very competitive industry and though I have received lots of encouragement along my path there certainly have been lots of obstacles. My first obstacle was with myself. I had to achieve a level of skill that I thought was worthy of the sacred music that I was playing. The second obstacle was to convince the world around me that I was serious and that I had a place in this music. The third obstacle was to create a strategy to achieve the upward momentum of being an internationally accepted recording and touring artist. I am 65 years old now and I look back at the yearning and the struggle I went through and all of it made me stronger, better and more confident.                             (Bob Corritore / Photo © by Ivan Marcio)

"As far as your question how to lead a well lived blues life. I think it’s important that if you are involved in blues music, you must realize that you’re dealing with a genre that is not in the mainstream. I think that if you adjust your expectations to that reality, you can enjoy its many offerings with satisfaction."

What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

That’s a really tough question. It seems like each phase of my life has its own highlights.

So here is a small summary which is far from listing everyone and everything. In 1973 I sat in a set with John Henry Davis on the legendary Maxwell Street. In 1974 at age 18 I was able to get into the Chicago blues clubs and harmonica master Little Mack Simmons invited me on stage to join him for two harmonica instrumentals. This was my first time playing a Chicago Blues Club. Not long after that I got to sit in with The Aces (Little Walter’s legendary band) at the regular blue Monday jam session they hosted at Louise’s Lounge on Chicago’s south side. In 1980 I was hired as the harmonica player in Willie Buck’s band with also included Louis Myers, Dave Myers, and Big Moose Walker! That was some top shelf stuff and a real coming of age for me. I moved to Phoenix in 1981 and in early 1982 Louisiana Red came to Phoenix and stayed with me for most of a year. Playing with Red was so incredibly heavy. In 1984 I started my weekly blues radio show which is still going on! In 1986 Chico Chism (Howlin’ Wolf’s last drummer) moved to Phoenix and we worked together for the last 20 years of his life. In 1991 I started my music nightclub called the Rhythm Room. In 1992 and 1993 I got to do some short tours with the legendary Jimmy Rogers! That was a dream come true! In 1996 I began working with legendary piano player Henry Gray. We had an almost 25 years run of working together before he passed away in 2020. In 2005 I performed in Europe for the first time at the Marco Fiume Blues Passions Festival in Rossano Italy. Playing in Europe opened up a whole new market for me. I have been back to perform in Europe many many times! Over the years I have been blessed to perform numerous Muddy Waters tributes at various festivals. Always a highlight to be included in honoring the wellspring of my inspiration. I also feel blessed to work closely with other great artists such as Dave Riley, John Primer, Jimi Primetime Smith and of course Bob Margolin! And this latest album with Bob Margolin is my 20th release! All this so far and I’m not done yet!

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(Bob Corritore / Photo © by Marjani Viola Hawkins)

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