Between his weekly radio show on KJZZ and his work as entertainment director of the Rhythm Room, Bob Corritore has long held the title of the Valley's greatest advocate for traditional blues and roots music.
But Corritore is such an earnest and articulate fan that it's easy to forget that he's also a skilled musician in his own right. The 42-year-old Chicago native has been playing harmonica for nearly 30 years, often in support of the great blues masters. Since 1986, he has been building a cache of studio tracks, recorded at various local studios with blues legends who happened to be in Phoenix for a gig.
The roster of luminaries on these tracks reads like a who's-who of Rhythm Room favorites: Bo Diddley, Pinetop Perkins, R.L. Burnside, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Henry Gray and Bob Margolin, among others. As time went by, Corritore realized he had something special with these recordings, but after his father died five years ago, he was reluctant to pitch them to labels.
"I really didn't want to do anything with this while my mom was still living because she was very sick, and after my dad died, I needed to make my life very devoted to taking care of her," Corritore says. "For the four years between when my dad passed and when my mom passed [a year ago], I really didn't want to put anything out or take away from my focus on her.
"After I got over the shock of her passing, I thought I should put together these sides. I got together a package of 16 of my favorite songs and sent it out to a number of labels."
Corritore got a positive response from several companies, but he instinctively gravitated to Hightone Records, a label that he's long held in high esteem.
"Part of it was Bruce Bromberg, who is really the musical figurehead of that label and someone who I've strongly respected," Corritore says. "They're simply the greatest label as far as roots and blues. I don't think anybody seems to understand the concept of both of those kinds of music as well as Hightone. If you look at their catalogue, they've taken on the entire Testament catalogue, and have done a loving job of reissuing not only the stuff that initially came out on albums, but going through the vaults and coming up with some unbelievable gems."
Bromberg expressed enthusiasm for the project initially, but the Hightone chief got bogged down in work and never followed up with Corritore. In March, Corritore was at a Ronnie Dawson show at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, when Kim Lenz introduced him to Bromberg. The two blues aficionados hit it off, and Bromberg reasserted his interest in Corritore's project.
From that point on, things happened with blinding speed. Corritore inked a deal with Hightone, and his first album, tentatively titled The Bob Corritore All-Star Blues Session, is scheduled for release on August 10.
The roots of Corritore's all-star sessions in Phoenix go back to his early days, producing blues records in Chicago. Corritore is modest about his own musicianship, tending to see his knack for putting the right combination of musicians together in a room as his greatest skill.
"As I moved to Phoenix, I just found that more and more my role would be to use some of the connections I made from Chicago to bring artists into town," Corritore says. "So the earliest track on this record is one by Robert 'Junior' Lockwood, the stepson of Robert Johnson. I knew Robert well from playing with him in Chicago, and I actually first met him in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when I was going to college. We had a particular rapport--he called me onstage to play with him then--and I always had that kind of admiration for him as a true father of the blues. He sometimes joked around about wanting to adopt me."
Corritore brought Lockwood into town for a show in April 1986 and organized a band of local blues veterans around him. Lockwood also agreed to go into the studio and record some tracks with Corritore. "That was an example of probably the first thing we did that's on the record," Corritore says.
Because the sessions were recorded over a period of more than a decade, at different studios, and with various technologies, the challenge for Corritore was to make the compilation sound like a seamless whole. To that end, he credits Tempest engineer Clarke Rigsby for his efforts. Rigsby not only engineered the majority of the tracks, but also mixed the session tapes together to create a cohesive feel. The mastering work of Dave Shirk (Sonorous Mastering) was also a crucial component of the project.
What makes the album unique is that it documents a particular time period for the blues, and captures an array of greats in a loose, spontaneous recording environment. One of Corritore's favorite tracks features the late guitarist Jimmy Rogers, who was basically Muddy Waters' right-hand man for years. Rogers' work with Waters has always served as a kind of template for Corritore. "I'd always dreamed of playing in a band like that," he says.
At the recording sessions, Corritore says he would generally follow the artist's lead, and allow things to go in any direction that felt natural. Sometimes that meant redoing a classic from the artist's back catalogue, and at other times it meant creating something new.
In some cases, Corritore would lay back and relegate himself to a rhythmic, background role on harmonica. At other times, as with the Bo Diddley session, Corritore came to the forefront.
"Bo said, 'Now I really want you to stand out on this one, to be the star of this track.' We redid this track he had done in the '50s for Chess, a song called 'Little Girl.' We got Bo real excited. He was shouting, and everybody was in a solid groove. Bo has such a great sense of melody and hitmaking that it was really fun."
One of the album's most appealing features for Phoenix blues fans is that its sound is defined by a core of standout local players who've never received the national recognition they've deserved. For instance, Corritore's old friend Chico Chism plays drums on most of the album and also provides two vocal tracks.
"Phoenix has always had unbelievable players, but I don't think they've ever had the same forum for exposure as this, so hopefully this record will do well and it will make Phoenix proud," Corritore says. "I hope that happens."
Surely the record deal will change Corritore's life, but he remains unwavering in his commitment to his local duties: the Rhythm Room and his Sunday-night radio show. Such obligations almost certainly rule out any lengthy tours, but Corritore says he remains open to the idea of playing festivals or other special "fly-in" gigs to promote the disc.
"My ability to do touring and abandon what I'm doing here in town would be very hard for me to do," he says. "And ironically, Hightone really depends on me to play their records and promote their acts coming through. So they're very sympathetic about that. At the same time, I have no idea what new opportunities may arise as a result of this. I'm just looking at this as a wonderful time to grow and see what happens."
In Goth We Trust: In the wake of the recent Columbine High School murder spree, Tim Ringgold of BLESSEDBETHYNAME has been inundated with e-mails, many of them attacking his band for appealing to a largely goth crowd. Ringgold became concerned that many goth kids were headed for extreme abuse when school started again in August.
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With that in mind, Ringgold has organized a local benefit show aimed at funding a five-minute video that will be sent to guidance counselors around the country. The video will attempt to educate school administrators about the gothic subculture, which Ringgold calls "the most nonviolent, totally passive" group of people on the planet. Ringgold is realistic enough to know that many counselors will never bother to look at the video, but he felt he needed to make an effort to counterattack rampant media stereotypes.
The "Dark for Light" benefit is scheduled for Saturday, June 26, at the Icehouse. Performers include Nihil, The Azoic, Second Skin, Paris Burning, Thirteen Miles Down, Screw Machine, and BLESSEDBETHYNAME under the name Vultures Bleeding Mehena. Three DJs will also be featured. Showtime is 8 p.m., and admission is $10.
Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org