East Side Slim
John Primer & Bob Corritore – Knockin' Around These Blues
John Primer & Bob Corritore – Knockin' Around These Blues – Delta Groove Music, Inc., 2013
It's hard to believe (based on the beautiful and powerful sounds emanating from this CD), but this is the 1st teaming of and release by John Primer and Bob Corritore. Both men have long and undeniable blues credentials. John Primer has suddenly become one of the blues old-guard (we all keep getting older), and his pedigree is impeccable. Coming of age in Chicago, he worked in Junior Wells' band at Theresa's lounge, was recruited into Muddy Waters' final band, spent years and years as Magic Slim's foil in The Teardrops, spent some time working with James Cotton, and finally stepped out to do his own thing in the 1990s.
The Songs: (songwriters in parentheses).
Bob Corritore grew up in Chicago, immersing himself in the blues scene there as a teenager. In fact, he used to hang at Theresa's, soaking up all the music there (including bands that John Primer was working with.) Bob left chilly Chicago for toasty Phoenix in the 1980s, eventually becoming the father figure of the Phoenix scene via his: blues club (The Rhythm Room), band leading, harmonica playing, radio DJ work and music production.
Two backing bands were utilized on Knockin' Around These Blues. One consists of Corritore's running partners Chris James, Patrick Rynn and Brian Fahey. The other is comprised of Billy Flynn, Bob Stroger and Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith (son of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.) And if that weren't enough (and it really should have been), Barrelhouse Chuck plays magnificent piano on all of this.
For 45 Live, Chris Vachon (current band leader and only the band’s 4th guitarist ever) chose songs for the project from band’s lengthy history, with one previously unrecorded track also making an appearance. Vachon tried to pick the most memorable tune or tunes from the band’s albums (although he may have leaned a bit heavily on his own tunes, as there are several Vashon-only songwriting credits in the mix.) Many of the songs from Roomful Of Blues’ “Duke years“ (those years prior to band originator Duke Robillard leaving the band) had to be reinvented to some degree due to changes in the band’s personnel – different numbers of horns, different types of horns, that sort of thing. But, that really served to reinvigorate material that the band hadn’t been performing, giving the songs new life. Recording these songs live in front of a rabid audience was a stroke of genius, as the following quote from longtime sax man Rich Lataille attests: “the best qualities of this band come out in a live setting”. And that should carry some weight, as Lataille has been on-board for 43 of the band’s 45 years – mark it 1970 (since the 1st days of the horn section cementing Robillard’s vision of what this band should be.).
1. The Clock – (Jimmy Reed)
--While I'm not personally a big fan of high-end harp work (closely associated with Jimmy Reed's songs), I am a huge fan of the Jimmy Reed shuffle groove. The Clock is a rarely covered Reed tune, and Primer & Corritore take this about as deep into the groove and you can get. Primer's vocals are reminiscent of Magic Slim's (remember, Primer was a long-time Teardrop), only adding to the deep blues feeling of this tune. What a fine start to a fine album.
2. Blue And Lonesome – (Walter Jacobs)
--The band covers a Little Walter tune, but takes it in a decidedly Muddy Waters direction. As Primer has aged, he's really come into his singing voice (which wasn't always a great strength.) This is blues of the deepest sort, making you feel every bit of the blues and oh so lonesome. The real star of this tune may be Barrelhouse Chuck, playing the piano for all he's worth. Yeah!
3. When I Get Lonely – (Alonzo Primer)
--This is the only Primer-penned track on the album, and it harkens back to the blues styles of the very early 1950s (and earlier, really.) It runs along a "Rolling & Tumbling" groove, clattering along like a freight working its way to highball speed. Just try to keep a smile off your face while listening; I don't think you can do it.
4. Cairo Blues – (Melvin Jackson)
--I just had shivers as the ghost of Magic Slim passed by. There's no way this cut isn't a loving tribute to the fallen Morris Holt, as Primer and band sound eerily like Magic Slim & The Teardrops here. Three words sum it up: groove, groove, groove.
5. Leanin' Tree – (Robert A. Jones)
--Speaking of tributes and influences, this song is just that for Primer's 1st major influence: Junior Wells. It's a slow- to mid-tempo hard blues with a dangerously feral, funky groove just barely containing itself, and jagged spikes of guitar and harp trying to tear that groove completely loose. Whoo!
6. Harmonica Joyride – (Bob Corritore)
--What would a Chicago blues album be without a harp feature? This is that, with Corritore displaying great taste, tone and control, showing the listener it really is all about the song. This is a wonderful example of sympathetic ensemble playing, and should be required listening for all young players who are stuck in a "me, me, me- more, more, more" phase.
7. Little Boy Blue – (Robert Lockwood)
--This is a blues classic, made famous by Robert "Junior" Lockwood. Listen to Barrelhouse Chuck's piano licks, weaving in and out of the lyrics lines. Also listen closely to Primer give himself over to the lyric, singing from deep in his soul. Nothing fancy or flashy, but so deep and so righteous it almost hurts. The performance here is bringing tears to my eyes, and that's all right.
8. Just Like I Treat You – (Willie Dixon)
--The guys take us in a Wolf direction here, tackling this Willie Dixon composition that was recorded by Howlin’ Wolf (in Dec 1961, and released on a Chess 45 with “I Ain’t Superstitious” as the flip side – not too bad!) This thing is raucous, tied firmly to a Killing Floor groove. And you know, that's not a bad groove to tie off to.
9. Man Or Mouse – (Robert Kelton)
--The guys take on a tune closely associated to Herman "Junior" Parker here. While Parker's blues could get a little smooth sometimes, Primer and band make sure that isn't the case here as they take "Man Or Mouse" out of the big city and place it firmly in a Mississippi Juke Joint. Loose but tight (you blues-heads know what I mean), a little dangerous, and groovin' all the way home.
10. Going Back Home – (Sam "Lightin'" Hopkins)
--This is quite interesting. A Lightin' Hopkins tune is reconfigured absolutely in a Muddy Waters mold. It's fitting that Primer saved the final tribute on the album for the "old man", his old boss Mud. The harp warbles, guitars ring, piano pounds and Primer's vocal is deep in the Waters' well.
Frankly, this is the album I've been waiting for from John Primer. While the majority of songs here are covers, the arrangements are always interesting, the ensemble playing is impeccable and sympathetic, and Primer's singing is full of soul. This is traditional blues of the highest order. It is stunning in it power, depth and beauty – as well as a loving tribute to the mentors and influences of both John Primer and Bob Corritore. There is no messing around on this album: if blues is truth, "Knockin' Around These Blues" is truth. Let's rate this bad boy; this CD deservedly earns a rarely-given top rating of 5.0 on the STLBluesometer.
For more information concerning John Primer and Bob Corritore, see the following websites:
http://bobcorritore.com -- be sure to sign up to receive newsletters from Bob
Lee Howland - aka East Side Slim