Release date: March 4, 2022
SWMAF/ VizzTone Records
By Robin Zimmerman
Photo: Aigars Lapsa
Like a modern-day Alan Lomax, harmonica player/producer, Bob Corritore manages to capture preeminent blues artists at the peak of their playing perfection. Corritore’s new release, Down Home Blues Revue, is no exception. Here, Corritore jams with a variety of legendary musicians in a CD that’s steeped in old-school blues with a juke joint vibe. It ultimately gives listeners a deep and delicious dive into the roots of the genre.
The cover art for Down Home Blues Revue paints a picture of the musical masterpiece that’s in store for listeners as it shows imagery from Clarksdale’s “Shack Up Inn” that’s just minutes from the famed crossroads of Highway 61 and 49. While Corritore was raised in Chicago and relocated to Arizona in the early eighties, he shows a deep reverence for the old masters who paved the way for today’s modern sounds.
As the longtime owner of the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Corritore has booked the best blues acts west of the Mississippi River. But Corritore isn’t content to just let the artists play for the crowds and send them packing. He set up recording sessions with many of his special Rhythm Room guests, resulting in this CD that’s part of his “From the Vaults” series. The songs on this album were recorded between 1995 and 2012.
The guest roster on Down Home Blues Revue certainly reads like a “who’s who” of the genre’s founding fathers. There’s Honeyboy Edwards, T-Model Ford, Henry Townsend, Big Jack Johnson, Robert “Bilbo” Walker, Smokey Wilson, Tomcat Courtney, Dave Riley, David “Pecan” Porter and Al Garrett.
In addition to these headliners, Down Home Blues Revue also features a stellar cast of rotating musicians that includes Johnny Rapp and Chris James on guitar, bassists Paul Thomas, Patrick Rynn, and Yahni Riley as well as Chico Chism, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Mart Reinsel and Brian Fahey on drums.
Robert “Bilbo” Walker kicks off the Down Home Blues Revue with his rendition of “Rooster Blues.” Walker hailed from the Clarksdale area and became interested in music through fellow local, Ike Turner. Like so many from Mississippi, Walker lived in Chicago where he hung out with the likes of Muddy Waters and Magic Sam.
Walker was also heavily influenced by Chuck Berry and was still duck-walking for appreciative audiences at the age of 80. On “Rooster Blues,” Walker lets his guitar and vocals do the strutting with Corritore providing the perfect jaunty harmonica. Bilbo Walker is also featured on two other outstanding tracks-- “Still a Fool” and “Baby, Baby, Baby.”
Texas-born bluesman Tomcat Courtney pops up on the next track as “Clara Mae” showcases his guitar and vocal skills that gained him legions of fans in his adopted hometown of San Diego. “Clara Mae” is followed by “Mean Old Frisco,” which features T-Model Ford going full throttle on guitar and vocals. Ford also turns in a riveting performance with his outstanding version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked for Water.”
Born in 1909 and one of the few artists who recorded for nine consecutive decades, bluesman Henry Townsend released his first record in 1929 and was still in peak form when he recorded “Nothing but the Blues” with Corritore. Townsend was a popular fixture on the St. Louis blues scene before working in Europe where he plied his trade for large and appreciative audiences.
Smokey Wilson is another featured artist who was rooted in the Mississippi blues tradition. “Don’t Know What I’m Gonna Do” demonstrates the musical dexterity of the artist who once said, “I bring the cotton fields with me.” Corritore’s harp work is right in sync with the guitarist who “got the juke joint inside of me.”
As a close confidante of the late Robert Johnson, David “Honeyboy” Edwards witnessed his share of juke joint jams and key musical moments. So, he walked the talk and his version of “Take a Little Walk with Me” is another stellar performance straight from the vaults of musical history.
The vault continues to run over on the next track as Pecan Porter punches in with a fine version of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together.” This tune was a huge hit for Canned Heat back in 1969 but Porter puts his own indelible stamp on this rendition of this blues classic.
Greenbacks, or lack thereof, it always a classic blues theme and on “My Money Done Run Out” Al Garrett and Corritore are right on the money with this collaboration that focuses on Garrett’s slow-groove guitar and honey-smooth vocal delivery.
“Home in Chicago,” features Corritore’s long-time collaborator Dave Riley. This tune was also written by Riley and it’s rife with references to Chicago including “stepping off the train on Michigan Avenue” while taking in all the tall buildings.
Down Home Blues Revue concludes with Big Jack Johnson’s slow jam on “Bluebird Blues.” Before his passing in 2011, Johnson was a popular performer on both the worldwide stage and at Red’s Juke Joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
While many ponder the direction that the blues is taking in 2022, it would behoove everyone to put Down Home Blues Revue on repeat to study the musical stylings of these rough-edged predecessors to modern Chicago blues. Kudos to Bob Corritore for his yeoman efforts to keep the genre alive and for assembling such an incredible cast of artists and session musicians so today’s listeners can get a taste of the roots that have helped bear such beautiful blues fruits.
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