The Phoenix Rising
Son By T.E. Mattox
ob Corritore is a busy guy and you get an immediate sense he wouldn't
want it any other way. Less than 24 hours ago, Corritore was onstage
at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis playing in front of more than 1500
blues fans. Today he's in Clarksdale, MS. sitting in with Diunna Greenleaf
and a host of other blues artists at a benefit for the late 'Pinetop'
Perkins. Next week he flies to Europe with Henry Gray to promote
his latest project appropriately titled, 'Blues Won't Let Me Take
Corritore, who turns 59 this year, also runs one of
Phoenix's most popular blues venues, The Rhythm Room. His club
showcases some of the world's best blues musicians, most of which just
happen to be personal friends. And if that wasn't enough, the man hosts
a five-hour radio program 'Those Lowdown Blues' every Sunday
on KJZZ Phoenix. Corritore is a masterful harp player who tours
constantly, records regularly, writes, produces, and heads up his own
band, the Rhythm Room All-Stars. There's little wonder why the
Blues Foundation presented him with a 'Keeping the Blues Alive Award'
in 2007... they had too! The guys a one-person AED/CPR machine
who daily blows new life into an entire musical genre that he genuinely
loves and probably couldn't survive without.
With the Rhythm Room All-Stars and the Joint
was Jumpin.' Photo: Yachiyo Mattox
As fortune would have it, I briefly circled through
Corritore's orbit on the Hopson Plantation, not far from the Crossroads
in Clarksdale. In between stage appearances he took a few minutes to
talk about his road and his blues. "I was born in Chicago and
then raised on the North side, the suburbs," he says. "But
once I got to the point where I could get into the bars, I was into
the Chicago blues I was in the city all the time. You couldn't
get me away from those blues bars."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Little Walter came on the
earth and in his 37 years he totally rewrote
the rule book on the blues harmonica. When you hear those
early recordings, you're hearing somebody splitting the atom." Bob Corritore
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For a person who so readily identifies with blues music
Phoenix doesn't really jump off the Blues Trail map. "Ironically,
I went to Phoenix at a point," he says. "I loved Chicago
and actually intended to stay in Phoenix only one year and come back
to Chicago, but when I landed in Phoenix I was followed a few months
later by my friend who was living in Chicago at the time, Louisiana
Red. We played together and lived together for a year and that established
me pretty firmly, musically in town. Then I joined another band, I started
a radio show, my parents moved out to Phoenix, I have a cousin, and
an uncle who moved out. Chico Chism came out in '86. I opened up the
Rhythm Room in 1991 and my roots are so deep into Phoenix right now.
But I get around quite a bit, I'm all over the place but Phoenix is
definitely my home right now."
Can you talk a little about your Chicago blues roots?
"I was like twelve or thirteen and I heard Muddy Waters on the
radio," Bob says. "Everything I loved about music was
ALL in Muddy Waters. And I'm like, 'this is what I love' and at that
moment the direction of my life changed forever! And I
bought a Muddy Waters record and fell in love with all the harmonica
Walter on there. My brother gave me a harmonica like a year later.
And the next thing you know I'm trying to figure out the secrets of
this fantastic instrument and just kept going from there. Being from
Chicago, you could go see Big Walter Horton on Maxwell Street and Muddy
Water's would play in my High School gymnasium and you could see Otis
Rush at Barat College, and these great shows at Northwestern University.
This stuff was around then."
Bob and Diunna Greenleaf unleashing some hurt. Photo:
The memories begin to flood back. "You know,
the great thing about Chicago and this always kinda' freaked me out
because I was this young student of the blues with this inquisitive
look in his eye and asking a million questions and people would see
I was seriously interested in this. The older guys just latched onto
that, they just loved that kind of energy. Early on, one of my first
times I ever played was on Maxwell Street with John Henry Davis and
he had me up there for five or six numbers. And I'm like, 'Oh okay,
I can do this.' And then, Little Mack Simmons had a show on the North
side of Chicago and he invited me to play a number when I was asking
him some stuff. He was there two nights. The first night I chickened
out but the second... I'm ready! And he called me up and we did 'Blue
Lights' together and we did a shuffle together. It was really encouraging.
And Lonnie Brooks was in the band at the time, before he went out on
his own, and it was pre-Alligator in the early '70s. Lonnie would invite
me to come play full sets with him and cut my teeth. And Mighty Joe
Young the day that Howlin' Wolf died we went over to the Wolf's
club, '1815 Club' Eddie Shaw's club and there was a big tribute to him.
I played with Hubert
Sumlin the day after Howlin' Wolf died."
Legendary blues players were everywhere in Chicago and
Bob remembers how he learned to love the blues, the environment and
especially the people. "When I was eighteen we could go over
to Louisa's Lounge and the Ace's would have a regular Monday jam session
with Little Walter's old band... and I was up there playing with the
damn Aces!" He shakes his head. "And I'm going, 'I
don't deserve this,' I really didn't. But you know, I did know how special
it was and I always tried to grow into the opportunity of that. 'Cause
to me the Chicago blues and the tradition is so sacred, it's so beautiful
and so powerful and when I heard something that was being played, I'm
like, 'how do I get to that point?' So I'd ask Carey Bell, Big Walter
lesser known guys that were my friends, Big Leon Brooks, Little Willie
Anderson and all these people were very open and gave me tips. We'd
play together sometimes; just two harp players and I could see how the
sounds were and adjust what I was doing, because the harmonica is a
hard thing to teach, because everything is happening inside your mouth.
It's not like you can really see, like with a guitar you can see how
somebody's holding their hands. Big Leon would show me some tricks and
choking the harp. Louis Myers, the great guitar player and also a great
harmonica player he would show me a few things. These were the guys,
you know? All the harp players would tend to be at the same shows. Big
Walter would play every Sunday over at B.L.U.E.S., if the Aces were
playing everybody's there. I got to meet all these great guys."
He pauses briefly and looks off across the fields surrounding the Hopson
Plantation before he adds. "There's this beautiful tradition
I try and uphold... the music that I got to bear witness to, I got to
be trained in "
When talking with harp players, hell, any blues musicians
for that matter; the name Little Walter always looms large. It was no
different with Bob. "Little Walter came on the earth and in
his 37 years he totally rewrote the rule book on the blues harmonica.
He was such a powerful, bright burning ember that he almost had
to burn out early. But he left in his wake a whole changed perception
of the instrument which very few people could ever speak of in those
terms. When you hear those early recordings, you're hearing somebody
splitting the atom. It's a whole other thing that's happening. He's
breaking ground, it's fresh, it's exciting. It was swooping, it was
beautiful and a whole other approach that just took it to another dimension.
He was from outer space and left us with this cryptic language of blues
harmonica that we are all trying to encode. And its part of everybody's
playing, since him. He's the guy I listened to the most; of course I
loved Big Walter, Snooky and Junior Wells and all the guys I grew up
around. I love the current guys that are doing it; everybody brings
to the table something cool."
The latest from Henry Gray/Bob Corritore and friends
Corritore says one of the few regrets from his early
Chicago years was simply, "I didn't get to see Little Walter!
In the '70s Little Walter had just passed so his spirit and the memories
were still around, like Lester Davenport and Louis Myers, Junior Wells
and Carey Bell all have great stories about Little Walter. And you felt
like you kind of knew him. But Big Walter was still around playing and
I got to see him hundreds of times. He played every Sunday night over
at B.L.U.E.S. and we always had a great time watching him play. I was
over at his house one time and I got to talk with him and asking him
some things. He had this bell-like tone that was just so resonate and
so full it was like none other. One time a buddy asked him, 'how do
you get that tone, Big Walter?' And he said, 'It's all in the wrist!'
Having heard multiple stories about the 'larger that
life' force that was Big Walter Horton, Corritore was very troubled
about how the legendary harp players last days unfolded. "It's
a shame, because I was around him quite a bit, and he died penniless."
Bob just shakes his head. "His house was really a tenement,
a high-rise in the south side of Chicago. He made his little bit of
money, but he should have been a millionaire the way he played. But
nobody managed him, nobody looked out after him. He lived a very rough
life and ended up, I believe tossed out of the house by his step kids
and basically froze to death. Any one of us would have helped him if
we would have known but he was not able to call out for help. He died
in a cold Chicago winter."
Corritore and a fan outside the Hopson Commisary.
Photo: Jeff Beeler
Bob was being waved back onto the Hopson Commissary
stage for his next set, but graciously left us with his craziest bar
story "I was playing in Chicago on the west side at the
Delta Fish Market, which I did frequently with a guy named Taildragger,
who I still work with." He starts to smile. "Taildragger
is one of the most intense blues performers, most wild guys well,
the fish market was one of those places, in the corner and they sold
fish and there's a little liquor market right next to it and everybody
would buy their half-pints and drink. And about 4 o'clock in the afternoon
the crowd was pretty well lit. We went on stage at about 10:30 that
night and it was just pandemonium. Taildragger was just drinking
like crazy, we were all just, in this wild place. So we get on stage
and Taildragger's crawling on his belly, singing Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack
Lightnin' and a big woman got up from the audience and got on the
stage and starts grinding him on his back. (laughing) The security
guards, not that they were formal security guards, were dragging her
off. Taildragger gets up and falls into the drum kit. The drummer still
had his snare drum, we're still playing the song and the drummer's reassembling
his kit while we're doing it. We get done with that set and we're like
all, 'did we just ?' Meanwhile the crowd is swaying back and forth,
teetering, everybody's at the point of total intoxication, it was completely
wild. I dropped a harmonica on the stage; somebody picked it up never
to be seen again. It was just the wildest thing, and I don't know if
I'm giving it justice because you'd have to be there. Here's this one
chord Smokestack Lightnin' thing that went on for twenty minutes
of pure intensity. It was so wonderful, Illinois Slim my buddy and I
were playing with Taildragger on that and we still talk about it. It
was one of those things where you had to be there, but it was wild."
Or as Chicago blues fans refer to it Thursday
Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.
I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on
a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it
was both it was New Year's Eve (See
"The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),
Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA
* * * *
Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the
Shrine in '68?
I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where
Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black
Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked
on that evening.
Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International
Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine
folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers,
Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots,
The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat
or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared
with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal
One final note: The current Johnny
Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned
Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world,
Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned
Heat fan check out this interview
with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.
Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio
* * * *
I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our
high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.
Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA
I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston
Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic
but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston
really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three
years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time
hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything
you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive
influence in my life.
Janelle, Palm Springs, CA
Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was
Forrest George, Warren, Vermont
This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing
I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was
interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great
Tony Musto - Pittston, PA
Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it
and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.
Dave - Northridge, CA
* * * *
Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually
met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous
Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened
to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that
he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me
know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was
so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first
time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned
from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that
my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that
I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with
the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith"
with the world.
Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA
My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica
player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made
in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's
a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people
like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid"
tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most
important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues
everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale
or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will
keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman
there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her...
Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well,
I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian...
I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in
the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand
it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation ...www.bluessummit.com
Bert - Pavia, Italy
I wanna be Tim!
Brent, Seattle, WA
* * *
Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia
actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed
the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!
Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA
* * *
Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since
the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his
take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His
affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for
bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene,
this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen &
women around the world. Keep it Up!
Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA
* * *
Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so
much time with him, Tim.
Don, Louisville, KY
Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George
story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man!
Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?
Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN
* * * *
I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and
Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it
was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and
they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked
from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.
Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA
Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece.
I want that guy's job!
Brent, Seattle, WA
This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's
better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for
Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA
I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself
play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?
I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented
that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry
hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said
the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology
being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable
as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital
Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?