Blues Blood

Local blues scholar Bob Corritore has refined tastes guided by one rule: The music has to come from the gut.

To me it's not about race, although certainly you have to acknowledge that the blues was born from the black experience. And so I feel privileged that I was able to share a part of that experience with all the time I spent in blues bars. There's just something about being in a neighborhood blues bar on the south or west side of Chicago and being the only white guy in the club, and just seeing how people celebrate the music. Ladies waving their hands in the air, people responding with shouts and calls. It's a real audience-participation type of situation.

One time I was doing a gig with Taildragger and he was joking from the stage, and he gestured to me and said, "This is my son. When I took him from Mississippi, I had to put him in a paper sack and hide him on the bus, because if people saw me with him, they'd hang me and educate him." Everybody laughed, but it represented a bitter truth about where he was coming from. And it indicated the acceptance that was offered me.

NT: Got any more Chicago stories?
BC: Too many. (Pause) But here's a good one: The craziest shows I ever performed at was with Taildragger at this place on the west side called Delta Fish Market. It was a big open market owned by this guy Oliver Nelson, who they called Fish Man. He had a big truck and he would net catfish in the Mississippi River, bring 'em back and keep 'em alive in these big tanks, and people would go to the market and they'd point to what catfish they wanted, and a guy with big rubber gloves would grab the fish and put it on the scale and cut it up with a machete and pack it in paper, and you'd have fresh fish to take home and cook up, and it was a very popular place.

Well, Fish Man was a blues guy. He loved the blues and he was a performer himself, and he'd have this outdoor stage where he would pay bands to come out and play in the market on Saturday afternoons. And it was a real neighborhood scene. There was no cover charge, and everyone would come to hang out. Fish Man didn't sell any liquor but the liquor store right next door sure did, and people would sit outside and hear the blues and drink. Needless to say, it would get absolutely crazy late in the day. I mean, there were no rules at this place, and people would drink to the point of temporary insanity.

Anyway, it just so happened that me and a buddy of mine were doing a blues cruise one Saturday evening and we said, "Well, let's stop over at the fish market and say hi to Fish Man." Normally, they would cut off the music at six o'clock because it would be just too wild by then. But this was about nine o'clock at night and somehow they were still going. So we park and walk into this scene, and the first person we run into is Taildragger and he says, "I'm gettin' up there and you boys are gonna back me up."

Well, we'd played with Taildragger a few times before, and so we get up there on this wobbly stage with everybody in the crowd just crazy drunk and grabbing at us from all directions. Taildragger himself is so drunk he can barely stand, but he could still play. So we're backing Taildragger on this long Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightnin'" kind of song he was doing, and he starts to do some of his usual stage antics, which included crawling on his belly. Well, this big, fat woman gets up onstage and starts grinding her hips into Taildragger's back. Taildragger of course enjoyed this immensely and just kind of went for it. Finally, somebody pulled her off Taildragger and he tried to get up, but because of all the alcohol he had in him, he just started teetering and fell into the drum set. This didn't faze the drummer at all. He had just enough of a kit still standing that he could pound out a beat on a snare drum with one hand and he was reassembling his kit with the other, and as that's going on, Taildragger was lying in the middle of all these drums, still singing. It was completely wild--everyone around us was just pulsating to the beat of the music, just really feelin' it.

I got done with that set and it took like two hours to de-adrenalize. That was as intense and drunken and crazy as it gets. It was just one of those true blues moments, and that's sort of what I live for.

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