Smilin' Blues

It may not fit the genre, but Bob Corritore may be the jolliest blues advocate you'll ever meet

"It's amazing. Even after 19 years I'm still finding great joy in putting unique collections of songs together," he says. He built this night's set on a Mardi Gras theme. Recently, Corritore assembled sets on food references and on bad sound effects – cheesy bell ringing, bad rain and bad bombs were included in that one. "To me, the sound effects are so charming in their down-home inadequacies that it really adds to the whole song," says Corritore with a grin.

Corritore's smile is ubiquitous, as it was at one recent double-take-inducing Rhythm Room show, which found Corritore standing next to very British pop singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock. The Room, principally devoted to and still steeped mostly in the blues, has opened up the flexible space to more diverse talent over the past few months. Corritore has established a relationship with Clear Channel, bringing performers like Julia Fordham and Robert Earl Keen to the room, not to mention Hitchcock.

But Corritore leaves no doubt as to his true love. Since its 1991 inception, the Rhythm Room has become a prime attraction for touring blues and roots-rock acts and obscure down-home music makers that otherwise may thumb their nose at Phoenix. Credit Corritore's brand of optimism for that – his affability helped him forge numerous professional relationships, first as a club manager, now as the owner. He bought the place to keep it from going under in April 2001.

Blues train: Bob Corritore, the most gleeful of sad harp players.
Kevin Scanlon
Blues train: Bob Corritore, the most gleeful of sad harp players.

Corritore's enthusiasm also has helped him establish a pipeline of recording projects as an album producer, retrospective compiler and sideman.

When the Rhythm Room was in its formative stages, Corritore and company brought in sound engineer and Tempest Recording studio honcho Clarke Rigsby to help design the space with acoustics in mind. The goal: to create the best sound possible in the given space, and to create a room conducive to live recordings.

A font of live recordings at the Room has since resulted, the most notable being Smokin' Joint, a 2001 album by Fabulous Thunderbirds singer Kim Wilson that was nominated for a Grammy. Roughly half of that album was recorded live by Rigsby at the club. Rigsby and Corritore also oversaw the recording of R.L. Burnside tracks released on Fat Possum and Hightone Records.

Since 1999, Hightone has released four Corritore-related albums, and all but the R.L. Burnside compilation were entirely engineered and mixed by Rigsby.

"He comes in with his boards and sound trucks and does a fantastic job on the live recordings," Corritore says of Rigsby. "As a matter of fact, a lot of people comment on how some of these live recordings done out of the Rhythm Room have sounded better than most studio recordings. Clarke is just a wizard."

The wizard was at the boards when we dropped in to the Sound Lab in Tempe to see what he and Corritore were working on. The two were busy mixing live tracks for an upcoming Fabulous Thunderbirds live album, culled from two separate concerts at the Rhythm Room. Wilson was unable to attend and gave the two the go-ahead to work with the tapes. And there, behind Rigsby, was Corritore, smiling and looking around at others to make sure they were hearing what he was hearing. He was geeked.

Back in the KJZZ studio, Corritore received a call from an older fan in an off-the-air moment. The caller said he was reminded of his youth at Carver High in Phoenix and thanked Corritore for playing good stuff. The conversation meandered. Corritore was polite to a fault, but he needed to get back on the air. He told the man that they should meet up sometime in person and exchange pleasantries:

Corritore: "What's your name? (Pause.) Say that again. (Pause.) Opera Rimes? (Pause.) Opera Grime Jr.? (Clarifying.) Opah Grimes Jr. (Understanding.) Opah Grimes Jr. That's a great name. (Pause.) They call you that, huh? (Pause.) Okay. Well, I think I'll call you Opah rather than Midget."

Actually kind of surprised Corritore didn't know this fella, too.

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