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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bob Corritore Blues News

June 17, 2009

  • Elmore James, Jr. on YouTube! Please enjoy this video of Elmore James, Jr. performing a cool shuffle at the University Of Chicago Folk Festival on February 8, 2009. The band includes Billy Flynn on guitar, Jim Murphy on bass, and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums. Elmore Jr., who is a fine guitarist, just sings on this one. To watch, click here.
  • Chicago Recap: This year's Chicago Blues Festival recap will be quite different, as a busy gig schedule allowed for minimal time to enjoy the festival itself. There are so many amazing satellite events that happen around the actual festival that you might even call it the "Chicago Blues Festival Underground". To get an idea of the scope of these satellite events, check out the Chicago Blues Guide's article called "Beyond The Blues Festival" (click here to see). Among the things happening outside the blues festival was the late Koko Taylor's visitation and funeral services, which received much deserved attention. That being said, what I did see at the festival was just great, and my experience playing at the fest this year was very satisfying.

Kim and I arrived in Chicago late on Wednesday, and just had time to check into our room at the Congress Plaza Hotel. On Thursday, we eased into the day with lunch at Caffé Baci on Michigan Avenue before heading to Koko Taylor's visitation. It would be our only opportunity to pay our respects to the “Queen of the Blues”. We went a little ahead of the scheduled opening, since I had a performance shortly afterwards. The visitation and services were scheduled at Jesse Jackson’s RainbowPUSH Coalition National Headquarters, which had a huge chapel. Though we arrived early, the room was already filling up, and we waited our turn in line. There were rows of floral decorations to honor the Queen of the Blues. As we passed by one of the flower arrangements, we noticed it was from Mayor Richard Daley and his wife. Koko was in the glass covered casket, looking just beautiful with a sequined gold lamé dress and shoes, and she was wearing a tiara. (To read the Chicago Tribune article about Koko's funeral, click here.) Though we were just stopping by for the few minutes, we ran into Eddie Taylor, Jr. and Clarence Stevens of Blues You Can Use of WGVE 88.7 of Gary, Indiana. So sad to say goodbye to a woman who symbolized the place for all women in the blues. A Queen indeed. Then, on to a gig at Fat Tone Guitars in Northbrook, where Chris James, Patrick Rynn, and myself conducted a workshop called "How To Create A Blues Trio". Fat Tone Guitars is simply a beautiful guitar shop, with many gorgeous retro guitars neatly hanging in a series against the wall with panels of various color pastels behind them. We played through some wonderful amps, and Chris tried numerous guitars, each with their own unique tone. This workshop was put together by Lynn Orman, who was involved in numerous Earwig celebration events. After the workshop, we stopped by S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston to check out their guitar showcase with James Wheeler, Jody Williams, Billy Flynn, and Lurrie Bell (whose set we regrettably missed), with a special appearance by venue partner and guitarist Dave Specter. It was great to visit with Dave, Billy, and his wife Mary, and to reconnect with Wheeler, who was mutual good friends with the late Little Willie Anderson.

On Friday we began our day at the fest, consigning CDs at the Best Buy tent, and saying hello to numerous friends, including Michael Freeman of Coach House Productions, who spoke of his plans for the next Pinetop Perkins CD (Michael produced the last Grammy®-nominated Pinetop Perkins CD). We also saw Steve Cushing, Fritz and Sissy, Matt Socey, Kurt Swanson, and many others. We stopped by Bob Riedy's booth where he was showing a film collage from the Bob Riedy Blues Band Reunion show featuring Eddy Clearwater from earlier this year at the Rhythm Room. We did not stay long at the festival, as we had to make it to a sound check for Blues On The North Shore at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston. This event was very special as it was to honor the 30th anniversary of the infamous Earwig Music label and its chief Michael Frank. Earwig's contribution to advancing the cause of the blues cannot be overstated. I feel a special connection with Michael and his label as we were buddies in Chicago and started producing records at around the same time. Three of the titles I produced found a home on Earwig Music (Little Willie Anderson/Swinging The Blues, Big Leon Brooks/Let's Go To Town, and Louisiana Red/Sittin' Here Wonderin'), and most recently, I played harmonica on Chris James and Patrick Rynn's Earwig CD Stop And Think About It. Michael Frank and Earwig Music are family and that made this celebration especially meaningful. Bill Wax flew in from Maryland to emcee the show, which was being filmed and recorded for a later broadcast on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. The night began with Chris James and Patrick Rynn with Allen Batts on piano, surprise guest Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums (how cool!), and yours truly on harmonica. This was followed by a brilliant Honeyboy Edwards set with Aron Burton on bass, John Primer on second guitar, and Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith on drums. It is so inspirational to hear this blues master perform some classic blues, sung and played as only Honeyboy could. At the end of the set, Honeyboy was presented with a birthday cake to honor his forthcoming 94th birthday (Honeyboy was born June 28th, 1915). Then came great sets by John Primer with Rob Stone, Johnny Drummer, and Big Jack Johnson (Big Jack was part of Earwig Music's first release The Jelly Roll Kings/Rockin' The Juke Joint Down). Dennis Binder, who was scheduled to be on the show, was unable to make it due to recent open-heart surgery. This memorable night was produced by Lynn Orman, Michael Frank, and Denise Ardizzone.

Saturday started with a noon set at the Front Porch stage. As a part of the Earwig Music 30th anniversary there was a set honoring the late Chicago blues piano patriarch Sunnyland Slim that included pianists Allen Batts and Aaron Moore (the recovering Dennis Binder was also supposed to be on this show but obviously could not make it). Unfortunately, at this time of day, the rainfall was severe, and this affected the attendance. Still, the diehard blues fans weathered the storm, and provided hearty rounds of applause after each song or solo feature. The Allen Batts set kicked off with Chris and Patrick along with Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith, saxophonist Rodney Brown, and myself on harmonica. Rob Stone was called up to sing two numbers at the end of Allen's set, and then backed up Aaron Moore on most of his set while I stepped down. I was called back to the stage to close out the set for Aaron's encore. It was a really wonderful set! From there, Chris and Patrick played an informal set at the Zone Perfect tent with Rob Stone and I alternating on harmonica. The sun began to peep out around this time, and the festival was filling up with people. People came to the stage alternately to hear some blues and get their free Zone Perfect energy bar sample. We left shortly after that, as I had an appearance scheduled at Reggie's for a show honoring Chicago's great Delmark Records, where I was to make a guest appearance backing my longtime friend and former employer, Tail Dragger. The night was packed from start to finish with blues lovers from all around the country and the world. Guitarist Cadillac Zack of American Blues Legends Management kicked off the night with a sweet set that included a guest appearance by the harmonica ace Scott Dirks. From then on were non-stop killer sets with Jesse Fortune, Johnny B. Moore, Rockin' Johnny (back in action), Eddie C. Campbell, a surprise set by Big Jack Johnson, and finally, Tail Dragger. What a fun and rowdy night, and kudos to Cadillac Zack for pulling off another great showcase (Zack also produced a great show last year in conjunction with blues fest).

Sunday was a relaxed day with all of the gigs completed. We were drawn to the Woodlawn Tap Room in Hyde Park where my longtime friend and harmonica mentor Dave Waldman organizes a weekly traditional blues gathering that features the amazing Ardella Williams, the daughter of Jazz Gillum. Ardella possesses a naturally wonderful voice and a penchant for singing the old school blues of Memphis Minnie, Big Maceo, Little Walter, and her father. I had been hearing great things about her for a while, but this was my opportunity to see her. Her understated band included Scott Dirks on drums (yes, drums!) Justin O’Brien on bass, Willie Greeson on guitar, and Dave Waldman alternating between guitar and harmonica (simply the best harmonica I heard on the trip!). Ardella's brother, Donald Williams, was also on hand to sing some Muddy Waters songs. I was called up to play a few with Ardella, and then again to back Willie Buck, whom I used to work with in the late 70s and early 80s. It was great to connect again with Willie as we swapped stories of the old days playing with Louis and Dave Myers, Big Moose Walker, and Odie Payne, Jr., who Willie would hire regularly as his backing band. Kim and I only intended on staying for an hour, but we were having so much fun that we could not break away. We rushed back to the festival only to catch the last few numbers of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and hang out with Andrzej Matysik of Poland's Twój Blues, and his lovely daughter. It was a wonderful trip to Chicago!

A few people that we recall seeing at or around the Chicago Blues Festival (please forgive me if I forget anyone) are photographer Daniel Swadener, photographer Dusty Scott of Dusty Blues, Tom Marker of WXRT, photographer Amy Brat, Dick Shurman, Robert Jr. Whitall and Shirley Mae Owens of Big City Blues Magazine, Kevin Johnson of Delmark and his lovely wife Briana, Jocelyn Richez, Claude Dannic of BCR, André Cochepin-Mingarro, Bernard Delvoie, Dave Waldman, Timm Martin (my high school buddy and owner of the Out Of The Box record label), Bonnie "Queen Bee" Stebbins of the Capital Area Blues Society in Michigan, Rafi Abrichamtchi of Radio Sound Milano, harmonica player Jim Phipps, Jan Tore Lauritsen, Michael Salberg, Seth Dobbins, Stephen Kenyon, Kari Kempas of the Finnish Blues Society, Paul Hanover (blues harmonica player), Tenry Johns, Al Puerini, Jim Carty, Frank Orts of the Bay-Car Blues Festival, Kathy Bewell, Katnip of KKFI in Kansas City, MO, Ralph "Ike" Lacobone, Bob Kieser of Blues Blast Magazine, Matt Eimer of the Simply The Blues Festival, Larry Kapson, Kate Moss, Jean-Luc Varbes and Marcel Benedit of ABS Magazine, Andrzej Matysik of Twój Blues, Phil Vickman of Fat Tone Guitars, Nico Wayne Toussaint, Bob McLaren, photographer Michael Kurgansky, Jeff Dale, Bill Bates, James Segrest (co-author of the Howlin' Wolf bio Moanin' At Midnight), Rick Kreher, Jerry Del Giudice, Christian and Rene Boucour, Phil Vickman, Michael's lovely wife, Barbara Frank, Dave Specter, André and Lil Hobus, Paul Klapper, Terry "Harmonica" Bean, Little Smokey Smothers (who sadly had both his legs recently amputated due to diabetic complications), Bill and Sheila Wax, Big Rockin' Daddy, Jim O'Neal, drummer Bob Carter, Jean Pierre Urbain of ABS Magazine, drummer Rob Lorenz, Liz Sykes of the Ottawa Blues Society, Mary Flynn, harmonica player Chris Harper, bassist/producer Karl Meyer, writer Sandra Pointer-Jones, Peaches Staten, John Valenteyn of the Toronto Blues Society, and many others.

-Bob Corritore

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