Certain cities have a well-deserved reputation for their blues. The Midwestern metropolises of St. Louis, Memphis and Chicago (among others) have rich blues traditions. And the sounds coming out of those cities often bear the stamp of their origin. San Jose, California might not be one of the first cities that comes to mind when thinking of others, but thanks in large part to producer-musician Kid Andersen, that’s changing. His Greaseland Studio has been and continues to be an effective tool for capturing the raw and rowdy sounds of the blues for 21st century listeners. And Andersen’s a busy guy. One of his latest production assignments is The Gypsy Woman Told Me, a blues album by John Primer and Bob Corritore.
Primer is a Chicago blues guitarist who has performed and recorded with Magic Slim, Little Milton, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Big Mama Thornton and many others. He was part of the ensemble that created the Grammy-nominated Muddy Waters 100 tribute album in 2015.
If those sessions were all he had done, he would still rate as an important figure in electric blues. But starting with 1993’s Blues Behind Closed Doors, he’s made a string of fine Chicago blues albums under his own name. His 1995 album The Real Deal won him a W.C. Handy Blues Award, and his music has been included in many compilations.
Born and raised in Chicago and now (since 1981) living in Arizona, Bob Corritore is steeped in Chicago blues as well. He has been featured on more than 100 recordings, making his name recording debut in 1999. He played with powerhouse vocalist Janiva Magness in one of her earliest groups, and won a Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 2007 from the Blues Foundation.
The Gypsy Woman Told Me is the second time that Primer and Corritore have teamed up on record; 2013’s Knockin’ Around These Blues was the first. On this latest set, it’s an all new set of backing players save for returning drummer Brain Fahey.
The title of track of the pair’s latest is a Muddy Waters classic; in their hands it retains all of the swaggering energy of the original. Save for a pair of original numbers penned by Primer (“Little Bitty Woman” and “Walked So Long”), the album draws upon the work of others. But the duo’s impeccable taste is evident in selections written by Chuck Willis, J.J. Cale and Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller).
Primer’s sinewy guitar and expressive vocals spar endlessly with Corritore’s blues harp, but the two musicians mesh seamlessly; they never once seem to jockey for supremacy. Instead they display what seems like an almost subliminal level of communication; everything that one musician does has the effect of complementing the efforts of the other.
One of the best examples of this is the album’s reading of Lil’ Son Jackson’s “Gambling Blues.” Featuring just the two – no backing musicians – in an acoustic format, the song cooks. Most of the rest of the album is full band electric, but that innate sense of compatibility runs through the whole of this superb record.