Liner Notes from Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues

Chioo Chism
Bob Margolin
Kid Ramos
Bob Corritore

Welcome to one of the tastiest CDs of Old School Chicago blues in awhile, featuring piano great Henry Gray supported by the harmonica and production of Bob Corritore, direct from……Arizona. Henry was heavily represented on Corritore’s well-received High Tone anthology ALL-STAR BLUES SESSIONS (HMG 1009). That compilation showcased a commendable diversity of styles and artists. This new Henry Gray CD is exhilarating testimony that there was a lot more of note from those sessions. In this case, listeners get to enjoy Corritore and a notably sympathetic band of local stalwarts and guest luminaries escort their illustrious leader through a rock solid program of pure and deep Chicago blues, recorded over five studio sessions while Gray was doing club engagements around Phoenix.

Though born in Kenner, Louisiana on Jan. 19, 1925, Henry Gray built a Hall Of Fame Chicago blues pedigree during the 40-plus years between his 1946 arrival in the Windy City after military service and his 1969 move to Baton Rouge. In Chicago he became best known (sometimes by his nickname of “Birdbreast;” not “Birdbreath” as it’s been reported in the past, according to Jimmy Rogers) for his extended stay with the Howlin’ Wolf Band. He lent his rousing piano to studio outings by Wolf, Rogers, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold, Jr. Wells, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Morris Pejoe, Dusty Brown and Harold Burrage. His own Chicago session as a leader for a handful of hallowed labels all remained unissued for too many years. Since his relocation to Baton Rouge, he has become a revered elder statesman, persevered through the loss of his house to a 1989 tornado, restored sobriety to his life, and recorded for labels around the world, mostly on anthologies. His handful of albums began with a 1977 European debut and his 1988 U.S. Outing for Blind Pig, waxed in Chicago. His excellence and ongoing activity (he was a highlight as usual of the 2000 Chicago Blues Festival) and the loss of so many contemporaries make this addition to his discography all the more rewarding.

Henry is obviously still at the top of his game as a standard-setting pianist, a singer and songwriter of conviction and a consummate, inspiring ensemble player. The match of his talents and gift for generating musical interaction, combined with the respect of sterling players who subordinate their egos out of love and respect for Henry, make this CD a standout. Henry has pronounced it immaculate. Corritore has Chicago roots and this project was a dream come true for him. Guitarists Bob Margolin and Kid Ramos are deservedly well known, but this CD isn’t about pyrotechnic fretwork. Henry’s school of Chicago blues is based on going toe to toe, with a high level of musical interaction. As Corritore notes, “The thing about Henry that’s so great, he just knows how to set up a groove so everyone can just fall in right behind him. There was a straight line from the heart to playing. There’s so much stuff to feed off, everyone could play off each other. It was really fun.” Guitarist Johnny Rapp and a tandem of bassists provide a sturdy foundation. As for drummer Chico Chism, another Wolf band alumnus, Corritore lauds, “to put Henry and Chico together was pure magic. The two of them just connected, and I think that was the cornerstone of the record.”

It’s certainly a CD built to last, a real two-fisted, vigorous treat. As long ago as ’50s Chicago blues flowered (a scary thought), and regardless of how much its longevity and popularity have led to cliches, as Corritore rightly observes, “it still feels fresh when Henry does it. With all due credit (and that’s a lot) to Pinetop Perkins, Henry Gray can boast the biggest slice of prime Chicago blues piano history to his credit of any living artist. Having such a wonderful reaffirmation of the many joys of Henry Gray, and of the classic Chicago blues he helped to define, is cause for great enjoyment now – and something to remember when the next round of awards comes around. It’s time to give an all-time master some deserved plaudits for a lifetime of achievements, capped by this superb listening experience.

— Dick Shurman
Special thanks to: Illinois Slim, Eileen Bailey, Mary O’Halloran, Raful Neal, Steve Wisner, Jim Wells, Leonard “The Mule” Mule, Tom Mahon, Sam Lay, Charlie Lange, Kim Wilson, James Harman, Barry Dolins, Tad Walters, Wes Johnson, Jerry Gordon, Dick Rice, Dave Fethkenher, Konrad Frank, Drew Verbis, Linda Peterson, Rick Oswald, Alan Shutro, Paul “Texas Red” Halperin, Johnny tanner, Steve Freund, Melissa Testa, Kara Holt, Cathi Norton, Jef Jaisun, Raven Valdez, Sunny ‘Sunshine’ Gaines, Ken Cahill and everyone at The Rhythm Room, Barbara Lee, Bruce Bromberg, Larry Sloven, Mark Pucci, Darrell Anderson, Deb Letner and all the folks at HighTone, Bill Mitchell and the Phoenix Blues Society, Scott Williams and KJZZ, The Corritore Family, The Gray Family, Tracey Thomas.
Very special thanks to: Andy Cornett for his encouragement, cooperative efforts and long standing love and support for Henry.
Produced by Bob Corritore (
Engineering, Mixes, Technical Oversight and lots of friendship by Clarke Rigsby
All tracks recorded between 1996 & 2000 at Tempest Recording – Tempe, Arizona
Additional Editing by John Wroble and Jeff Harris at Porcupine Studios – Chandler, Arizona
Mastered by David Shirk, Sonorous Mastering – Tempe, Arizona
Liner Notes by Dick Shurman
Henry Gray photos by Jeff Gatesman
Chicago Skyline photo by C. Andrew Brown
Sleeve design by Johnny Bartlett
Bob Margolin appears courtesy of Blind Pig Records
Kid Ramos appears courtesy of Evidence Music

1. Talkin’ Bout You (2:35)
(H. Gray, Showers of Rain Pub., BMI)
2. Times Are Getting Hard (4:35)
(H. Gray, Kid Man Music, BMI)
3. Henry’s Houserocker (2:06)
(H. Gray, Kid Man Music, BMI)
4. Trouble Blues (5:32)
(J. Fulson, Swing Time Tunes, BMI)
5. How Many More Years (3:01)
(C. Burnett, Arc Music, BMI)
6. It Hurts Me Too (3:42)
(E. James, Bob-Dan Music, BMI)
7. How Could You Do It (2:34)
(H. Gray, Showers of Rain Pub., BMI)
8. I Held My Baby Last Night (4:03)
(E. James, Modern Music Pub., BMI)
9. Everybody’s Fishin’ (2:52)
(M. McCoy, P.D.)
10. Don’t Start That Stuff (3:58)
(H. Gray, Kid Man Music, BMI)
11. They Raided The Joint (3:03)
(Eldridge, Jackson & Page, Asso. Comp., ASCAP)
12. Aint No Use (3:15)
(H. Gray, Showers of Rain Pub., BMI)
13. That Aint Right (2:56)
(H. Gray, Arc Music, BMI)
14. Showers of Rain (3:27)
(H. Gray, Embassy Music, BMI)

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