Blues Bytes


December 2023

Bob Corritore
Phoenix Blues Rumble
VizzTone / SWMAF

Bob Corritore

This album is truly a Flashback for me, bringing back memories of the first blues artists I heard when I moved to the Phoenix area in 1990. Phoenix Blues Rumble, still another of the plethora of live recordings in the deep vaults of blues entrepreneur / harmonica player / Rhythm Room owner Bob Corritore, contains a dozen cuts from sessions recorded between 1987 and 2017.

Corritore is the common thread on each number, blowing away on his harmonica in the background. The singers featured here are Chico Chism, King Karl, Sugaray Rayford, Dave Riley, Big Pete Pearson, George Bowman, Tommy Dukes, Dino Spells, and Chief Schabuttie Gilliame.the list of backing artists detailed on the back cover is practically a "who's who," not just Arizona musicians but well-known cats from around the country like pianist Henry Gray, guitarist Kirk Fletcher, guitarist Rusty Zinn, pianist Fred Kaplan, sax man Doug James, and many more.

It's mostly Chicago blues, not surprising since many of the artists here hailed from that background. It's especially great to hear Chico Chism again. During the time from when he relocated from Chicago to Phoenix, he WAS the blues in the Valley of the Sun, a charismatic personality that has never been replaced.

The album starts with one of Chism's classic songs, "Big Fat Woman 480 Lbs.," one of the times he would be showcased as the leader of the band rather than providing his usual steady beat on drums. If there's enough Chico material in Corritore's vaults, we'd all love to have a full album of his music. As if one legend is not enough, we also hear Henry Gray contributing his usual stellar piano work on this cut.

One of the more interesting singers around the Phoenix area in the 1980s and 1990s was Chief Schabuttie Gilliame, who actually had some level of African royalty. With a Howlin' Wolf-type growl and rasp to his voice, Chief is featured on two songs, "Come To Me Baby" and "Leopard Speckled Baby." The latter number is a slow blues highlighted by Gray's second of two appearances and Corritore comes in with a seductive harmonica solo, with Chief pouring out his admiration for that woman whose freckles on her body from head to toe and everything in between are there to keep her man at home. "Leopard Speckled Baby" is one of my favorite cuts on the album.

The Phoenix blues scene received a treat when Louisiana blues legend King Karl relocated to the Valley in 1992, remaining here until his death in 2005. We hear remakes of two of his earlier Excello classics, with nice versions of "Walking In The Park" and the iconic "Mathilda" that both rival Karl's original versions.

George Bowman, a native of Detroit, is still on the scene today, leading various bands, and we hear his soulful voice on the slow blues "I Was A Fool," with his powerful vocals blending with Corritore's unobtrusive harmonica riffs and fine guitar accompaniment from Jon Atkinson. The tempo picks up on another Bowman original, "Nine Times Out Of Ten," with another stimulating vocal performance from our star as well as a hot blues guitar solo from Atkinson. Listening to these two cuts makes me wish we had more George Bowman stuff available, although worth checking out is the more contemporary sounding Feel Sorry For The Man collection.

Dino Spells was a transplant with previous roots in St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Los Angeles before he wound up in Phoenix in 1983. A multi-instrumentalist who was perhaps best known for his contributions to an early Albert Collin s album, Spells sang and played guitar on his own "Jennie Bea," a rollicking, up-tempo raw blues that sounds like it could have come from the Mississippi Delta or perhaps the South Side of Chicago. Corritore's echo-y harmonica break is one of the highlights of the song.

Two of the more recent blues transplants include Mississippi native Dave Riley and Texas native and southern California blues regular Sugaray Rayford. Riley came to Arizona from Arkansas, and his "Laughing Blues" is a raw, up-tempo number that reflects his Delta background, dominated by his raspy vocals and Corritore's harmonica breaks. Rayford's big, big voice delivers a slow blues, "The Glide," as he sings about his three-legged horse. Typical for a Sugaray song, it delivers a raw blues sound with a touch of urban sophistication. Junior Watson's guitar work and Fred Kaplan's piano playing take "The Glide" to another level.

This collection would not be complete without a song from Texas native Big Pete Pearson, who perhaps deserves the crown of dean of Phoenix blues,. He closes the album with a slow blues, "I'm Evil," with tasteful jazzy piano from Matt Bishop that is in contrast to Big Pete's shouting vocals.

Phoenix Blues Rumble is recommended listening. If you weren't around the Phoenix area when these great performers were on the scene, you'll wish for a time machine to take you back to that era. Since that isn't possible, just listen to this wonderful collection and feel the groove of all nine singers booming out their original songs.

--- Bill Mitchell



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