Release date: March 31, 2023
By Robin Zimmerman
Photo: Valerie June & Bob Corritore
It seems fitting that Bob Corritore’s latest “from the vaults” compilation Women in Blues Showcase dropped on March 31st, which was the final day of Women’s History Month. On this CD, his first to feature an all-female cast, the harmonica ace pays homage to a diverse line-up of dynamic blues women he has collaborated with when they come to town for gigs at Corritore’s own Rhythm Room in Phoenix.
While Corritore hails from the Chicago area, he’s been in the Arizona desert for a few decades now and has kept in contact with blues artists from every corner of the world. Luckily for us musical history buffs, Corritore had the foresight to capture all these magical moments by artists in peak form for posterity.
Although Corritore has been quite prolific on the CD release front, he said that Women in Blues Showcase “has a different vibe than any of the other things I’ve done. It has such a cool women power component to it.” He added, “all of the passion that the women sing with is just unmasked and right there.”
There certainly is a fantastic showcase of fine performances by women from every spectrum of the blues rainbow on this remarkable release. There’s Koko Taylor singing about “What Kind of Man is This” and 17-year-old Aliya Primer making her blues debut with a powerful rendition of “Te Ni Nee Ni Nu.” Carol Fran, Barbara Lynn, Valerie June, Shy Perry, Diunna Greenleaf and Francine Reed are also featured on Women in Blues Showcase.
Ever the blues historian, Corritore certainly has his share of riveting stories about many of the featured artists on this CD. When asked about his association with Koko Taylor, he recalls sneaking in at the age of 18 to see her play at the old Biddy Mulligan’s bar in Chicago. He added that, “Koko was the first act I saw there and was awestruck by her.” He said Koko was “such a kind soul and let me play with her band for a couple of numbers.” Corritore still has Taylor’s phone number on a well-worn scrap of paper!
As their friendship and musical collaboration evolved, Taylor asked Corritore if he would be interested in touring with the band. But, when he broached the subject to his parents, it didn’t fly since they wanted him to stay in college. Corritore said, “I was so embarrassed by this that I didn’t even call her back.”
Flash forward to Corritore’s Rhythm Room years later where he booked Taylor for gigs there. But he still had unfinished business on the recording front, so Corritore approached Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer to “try and make this thing happen.” He was able to record Taylor “with all these heavyweights” at Chicago’s Rax Trax Studio when they were in town for the city’s annual Blues Festival. This is the only track on Women in Blues Showcase that wasn’t recorded in Phoenix.
Corritore recalled that being around Taylor’s “cool energy was really powerful and positive” and the fourth track “What Kind of Man Is This” adds credence to this statement. When you hear Taylor belting out “I like it, I like it” it’s apparent that the Queen of Blues is having a fine time with her band of “heavyweight” musicians that includes Corritore on harp, Bob Margolin and Frank Krakowski on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums.
While Koko Taylor is the undisputed “Queen of the Blues,” Corritore has also collaborated with a slew of newer blues artists like Shy Perry, Valerie June, and Aliya Primer. If the last name rings a bell, it’s because her father is none other than John Primer, who is a frequent visitor at Corritore’s place in Phoenix.
Although Primer is all of 17 and “Te Ni Nee Ni Nu” was her very first studio recording, Corritore recalled that she “came in like an old pro and took charge because after all, she is a Primer.” He added that, “she went in and did what she needed to do and just knocked it out!”
This track also offers a knock-out cast of backing musicians including Corritore on harp, John Primer and Jimi “Primetime” Smith on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, drummer Wes Starr, with Anthony Geraci turning in some high-energy piano work.
While both Koko Taylor and Aliya Primer have a strong Chicago connection, Corritore has managed to mine shining performances from every corner of the country. Such is the case with Valerie June who appears on “Crawdad Hole.”
Corritore first encountered June at the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming in Helena, Arkansas and later caught her busking in the streets during the city’s annual King Biscuit Blues Festival. Corritore recalled that he “was immediately intrigued by this woman that had this natural raw talent and playing this really countrified version of the blues.” He added that, “it was so real and that voice of hers was somewhat between Jesse Mae Hemphill and Dolly Parton.”
Justifiably proud of his collection of recordings, including unreleased material from Carol Fran and Barbara Lynn, Corritore felt the need to get these women’s voices out there. One of his main musical missions is to “present these kinds of interesting albums and make them thematic” to give his blues loving public his very best offerings.
True to form, this CD does offer a nice blend of tunes for everyone. There’s Delta-tinged blues from Shy Perry who performs with her dad, Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry and Adrianna Marie on “Wang Dang Doodle.”
Houston-based Diunna Greenleaf is another standout on Women in Blues Showcase. She appears on two markedly different tracks with the same brilliant results on both the slow-paced “Be for Me” and a snappy take on Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Mess with the Messer.”
Of course, these blues sisters aren’t doing it all by themselves as Corritore always brings on a stellar cast of supporting musicians, producers, and other studio professionals. While the recording sessions span the years 2001-2022, the bottom line is that Corritore and company continually manage to have a blast playing the blues. It seems like there’s no phoning it in from Phoenix and this message comes through loud and clear on Women in Blues Showcase.
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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