Release date: May 26, 2023
By Robin Zimmerman
Photo: Chico Chism, John Brim, Bob Corritore, Henry Gray
There’s something to be said about the deep connection between Chicago blues musicians. It seems like no matter how far they roam; they always manage to find common ground in the storied musical traditions that sprung out of “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Harmonica ace Bob Corritore is a perfect example of the lasting bond between Chi-town’s music makers. He grew up in the Chicago area, became enamored with the blues at a young age, and made meaningful connections with a slew of beloved blues musicians ranging from Koko Taylor and Chico Chism to Eddie Taylor, Jr. and many more.
Corritore made the move to Phoenix, Arizona in the early eighties but his blues boosterism continued after putting down roots in the desert state. He entertained his many musical friends who happened to drop in and was soon hosting a radio show called “Those Lowdown Blues” that continues to this day.
In 1991, Corritore became a club owner when he opened his long-running Rhythm Room in Phoenix. Through the years he has booked a long list of popular blues musicians, to perform at his club and jam with Corritore’s band after playing there. Luckily, Corritore had the foresight and Chicago “street smarts” to record these many riveting performances, which has resulted in a variety of great releases via his “from the vaults” collection.
His latest output, High Rise Blues is a towering example of classic Chicago blues at its finest. This new CD features a venerable list of “Who’s Who in the Blues” with inspired performances from Bo Diddley and Pinetop Perkins to Jimmy Rogers, Magic Slim and many more. This fourteen-track tour de force was recorded between 1992 and 2022 and features unreleased cuts from artists in peak performance mode.
A prolific poster on social media, Corritore has taken on the role of blues historian for the internet age. He frequently shares classic photos and anecdotes of blues players from days gone by. While he’s known for his “vaults” of classic recordings, it seems like his extensive photo collection and blues memorabilia are equally impressive.
Corritore seems cognizant of the close relationship between iconic images and the blues tradition. In terms of his harmonica work he feels that “I’m a better player now” and has the confidence to “take newer things further” but firmly believes that these recordings represent a “snapshot of the older days” as well as a special “moment in time.” So, he has wisely let the artist’s work take center stage on High Rise Blues even though his harp playing has evolved over the years.
He recently posted some photos of the late Jimmy Rogers in honor of Rogers’ June 3rd birthday. He captioned one of his “throwback” shots by stating “it’s pretty amazing to make music with your hero.” Seeing as how Rogers was a member of Muddy Waters’ band and Waters was the man who inspired Corritore to take on the blues, it’s not surprising to hear Rogers leading off High Rise Blues with his rendition of “Last Time.”
Magic Slim was another beloved blues artist who was based out of the Chicago area after making the move from Mississippi. Slim and his distinctive sound are front-and-center on the second track, “Buddy, Buddy Friends,” He is joined by blues buddies Andre Howard on bass, BJ Jones on drums and the ever-present Corritore on harp.
Corritore’s frequent collaborator and fellow Arizona transplant, the late Chico Chism is up next with the title track. On Chism’s self-penned “High Rise Blues” he details the pitfalls of unattached males hanging out with married women who live in the “projects.” Before making the move to Arizona, Chism served as the drummer for Howlin’ Wolf and many others, so it’s clear that he knew his Chicago “High Rise Blues.” Guitar virtuoso Luther Tucker is also featured on this track.
The great run of previously unreleased blues material continues with the next track, “Twenty-Nine Ways.” This Willie Dixon composition features the “Queen of the Blues” Koko Taylor along with Bob Margolin and “Little” Frank Krakowski on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums with Corritore on harp. This all-star Chicago contingent hits all the right chords on this catchy number. Another Chicago all-star, recent Blues Hall of Fame inductee, John Primer, is on his A-game with “Why Are You So Mean to Me.”
Indeed, High Rise Blues has a Chicago blues tune for every taste. You want something a little lascivious? Then, try “Candy Bars” where Manuel Arrington is on a spoken word, double-entendre roll. Ditto for “Grinder Man,” featuring piano whiz Pinetop Perkins crooning about his many conquests. And if you’re in the mood for classic west side blues, then give “Short-Haired Woman” with Eddie Taylor, Jr. and pianist Henry Gray a spin. The West Side is also well-represented on “Caught in the Act,” featuring Lil’ Ed Williams.
The namechecking of great Chicago blues artists continues with Sam Lay on “Honey Where You Going” and on the Muddy Waters song, ”She’s Alright,” covered by Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater joins with pianist Bob Riedy on “Sail a Ship.” Bo Diddley makes his presence known on “Little Girl” while John Brim shines on “Hard Pill to Swallow.”
With so many of the artists on High Rise Blues making the transition to “blues heaven,” it’s heartening to hear them back in action with fresh new material and relishing the opportunity to record with Corritore’s well-seasoned stable of stellar musicians. From start to finish, High Rise Blues features a brilliant cast of artists doing what they do best. Corritore should be commended for his foresight in capturing all these classic Chicago blues giants at their finest, making this release a “must have” for any self-respecting blues fan.
About the Author: Blues enthusiast Robin Zimmerman, a.k.a. Rockin' Robin, writes a Blues Blog and is a regular contributor to Chicago Blues Guide
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