2010 marks the 5th anniversary of Delta Groove
Music and The Mannish Boys, for whom the label was originally conceived.
To mark the occasion I had the opportunity of interviewing Randy
Chortkoff, CEO of Delta Groove and Eclecto Groove Records and founding
member of The Mannish Boys.
I believe your passion for music started when you were young, with
Louis Armstrong coming round for dinner and having informal jam
sessions. Do you recall those sessions?
Yes, my father was a jazz fan and somehow made friends with Louis
Armstrong at one of Louis’ gigs. Louis would contact my dad and his
friend Abe whenever he was coming to Los Angeles. Louis would bring his
wife and some of his band members to our house or Abe’s house, mostly to
just eat, drink and party. I’m sure that he would bring his horn
because I have pictures of the whole gang having a good time and Louis
would be holding his horn in some of the pictures. I was only 5, 6 and
maybe 7-years-old at the time so I would be sent to bed long before the
party started. I have one picture of me and Louis at a motel in Lake
Tahoe (many great jazz artists played clubs and hotels in Lake Tahoe
back in the 1940’s and 1950’s) but again, I was too young to see these
shows. I heard lots of jazz music played from my dad’s stereo. Mostly
Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima and others like Joe Liggins and his Honey
Drippers. I’m not sure if this is why I had a passion for mostly black
music or not. I do know that as I grew older I was always drawn to the
black music of the 50’s, 60’s and continued to enjoy blues and soul
music through the years. When kids my age were listening to rock and
roll (Beatles, Rolling Stones etc.) I liked that music but was drawn
more to the Doo Wop groups of that period and singers like James Brown,
Sam Cook or Ray Charles.
As a teenager, what was the blues scene like in California at that
lived a few blocks from a coffee house/music venue called The Ash Grove.
Ed Pearl who owned the place booked a lot of blues during the 1960’s.
There was no age limit to go in there and I liked the sound that was
coming out of the place. I got to see a lot of Delta blues artists as
well as Chicago Blues artists. I saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee,
Lightnin' Hopkins as well as Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal and Howlin' Wolf
just to name a few. Also there were clubs in Los Angeles that booked
Albert Collins, Slim Harpo and other popular blues artists at that time.
I left for San Francisco when I was 16-years-old and went to the
Fillmore Auditorium as well as the Avalon Ballroom and other smaller
clubs who allowed teenagers. I saw all the great English bands who were
highly influenced by American blues artists like early Fleetwood Mac and
The Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Savoy Brown. I had the pleasure of seeing
T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed, B.B. and Albert King, Junior Wells and Buddy
Guy as well as the San Francisco bands that were playing a kind of
psychedelic blues. California had it’s own blues bands like Canned Heat
What do you remember of seeing Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddy King
and Jimmy Read perform live in the 60's?
Unfortunately, I never got to see Freddy King live but I did see Muddy,
Jimmy Reed and Albert King. I was fastinated by these live acts. Jimmy
Reed was always interesting because you never knew what would happen.
Often his wife would sit besides him and whisper the lyrics to the
songs in his ear as well as making sure he stayed put in his chair!
Muddy was powerful and always did something crazy during his show like
put a beer bottle down his pants, shake it up and while doing the song
“I’m A Man”… pop the cap off the bottle and let the foam fly all over
the place! Muddy always had a great band and great harmonica players
with him. I loved harmonica and got to see Muddy with George Smith,
James Cotton and Paul Oscher. I saw Albert King in San Francisco
several times and believe me, no one wanted to follow his show… he was
just that good! I had the pleasure of producing Albert King’s last show
in Los Angeles before he passed away. He liked to carry a derringer in
his inside suit pocket! Albert Collins was a great live act… I think he
was one of the first I saw travelling through the audience with an extra
long guitar cord. Of course Buddy Guy used to go outside the club and
play in the street! In Los Angeles we had so many great blues artists
who I got to see play like PeeWee Crayton, Joe Turner, Big Mama
Thornton, Lowell Fulsom, Smokey Wilson, Shakey Jake, Johnny Otis, Etta
James, and my dad was amazed when my little blues band opened for Joe
Liggins and his Honey Drippers.
How did you get started as a musician?
Just fooling around with a harmonica playing along with records. Then
sitting in with friends’ bands and finally I talked some musician
friends into starting a band with me. I sang and played harp and we
were terrible! But I managed to book small gigs around town. Finally
about 25 years ago I met Rod Piazza and he helped me understand more
about what the real blues music was all about. He made me tapes of all
the Little Walter recordings and some early Junior Wells, James Cotton,
George Smith, Big Walter Horton and both Sonny Boy 1 and 2. He gave me
the first recording of The Hollywood Fats Band and told me how good he
thought Al Blake was. I put together a band with Debbie Davies and Alex
Shultz. It’s a wonder that they even considered playing with me
considering how bad I was! I still haven’t the patience to truly learn
the harmonica but I guess I get by.
What kind of material were you playing in the early days?
was playing the music that was popular at the time. Mostly copy stuff
from the Fabulous Thunderbirds and ZZ Top! I did some Jimmy Reed, James
Cotton and a bit of Sonny boy 1 (Rice Miller). I also liked the early
Billy Boy Arnold stuff but I was afraid to tackle Little Walter… still
am!! I tried to keep it simple and the style of Junior Parker was
something I felt that I could do well and liked a great deal.
What attracted you to get involved in producing records?
was working with a great singer named King Ernest who was living in Los
Angeles but was playing in Chicago in the 1960’s and 1970’s. We needed
a recording to send to clubs and festivals so I scrapped up enough money
to produce a 12 song album. I got lucky and sold it to Evidence Music
(a label out of the east coast that was very popular at the time) and we
started playing here and in Holland. Then I hired Billy Boy Arnold to
play at one of my Little Walter festivals in L.A. Later we rehearsed
in my living room and I produced an album on Billy Boy. Again I was
lucky enough to have it released on Alligator Records in 1993. I
brought Finis Tasby into the studio and produced a great album on him.
That one came out on Evidence. I was fortunate to have a great many
excellent musicians play on these recordings. That’s how it started.
Your first project as a producer was with Billy Boy Arnold which I
believe was the highly acclaimed comeback release 'Back Where I
Belong'. Tell me a little about it.
of my all time favourite songs was “Wish You Would” by Billy Boy on
VeeJay Records in the 1950’s. I was introduced to Billy Boy by Luther
Tucker and Dave Myers who played at one time with Little Walter. Billy
Boy had not done any recording in a long time and now I had a chance to
record an album with one of my idols. I had very little money but the
great musicians who played on the album also relished the chance to play
with Billy Boy… We rehearsed in my living room and recorded the project
in about a week… start to finish. I sent it to Bruce Iglauer at
Alligator and he liked it. The only regret I have is that it got
remixed by Bruce and Julian Herzfeld in Chicago. It was originally
mixed in Los Angeles by myself and Glenn Nishida at Pacifica Studios.
Still, I feel that it is some of Billy Boy’s best work and it started a
great relationship with Alligator and Billy Boy.
How did the Delta Groove Productions label come about?
had produced two wonderful albums with Kirk Fletcher and Franck (Paris
Slim) Goldwasser… I followed that up with the first Mannish Boys album
but when I shopped them I couldn’t find a taker! That’s when I decided
to put them out myself. I leased the rights to Kirk and Franck’s CD’s
to the Cross Cut label in Germany and recorded Mitch Kashmar’s first
album “Nickels and Dimes” here and those were Delta’s first releases…
Soon came the first Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers double CD/DVD “For
the Chosen Who”… The rest is history. We owe it all to the fans who
liked the music.
Following the formation of Delta Groove, The Mannish Boys were born.
Tell me how the band got together and how the band is evolving.
Well that project was done with only the thrill and excitement of
getting some of my favourite musicians together and having fun. I had
no idea it would evolve into what it is today. I called two of my
favourite drummers and bass players (June Core and Ronnie James Weber)
then called in a couple of my favourite front men (Finis Tasby and
Johnny Dyer) two great guitar players (Kirk Fletcher and Franck
Goldwasser) a great old school piano player (Leon Blue) and we had a
band! I threw in some special guests to round out the stew (Paul Oscher,
Mickey Champion and Roy Gains… I produced it and blew some harp and my
cousin Josh Temkin was a huge help doing co-production and all the art
and photos. I had no idea that it would be nominated for traditional
blues album of the year by the Blues Foundation then called the W.C.
Handy Awards. People wanted to see the band live so because June Core
was working with Charlie Musslewhite and Ronnie James Weber was with the
Fabulous Thunderbirds, I asked one of the greatest blues drummers in the
world (Richard Innes) and my good friend and veteran bass player Tom
Leavey) to join the band… because Kirk Fletcher was also playing with
Kim Wilson and the Thunderbirds, I asked my old friend and monster
guitar player (Kid Ramos) to join up. We started touring with those
individuals and the live act turned out great. The Mannish Boys live CD
“Live and in Demand” was a result of this touring line up.
The Mannish Boys are clearly a 'supergroup' of blues legends,
musicians who have played with the greats of the past. Tell me a little
about the ethos of the band and the blues roots that the band draws
Well, our latest (5th) CD has a new rhythm section… You
couldn’t ask for much better then Richard Innes, Ronnie Weber or Tom
Leavey. So I had to really dig deep! Jimi Bott our new drummer has had
a fantastic history. It would take too long to name all of the great
artists Jimi has played with. Let’s just say that almost a decade with
Rod Piazza as a Mighty Flyer and years with The Fabulous Thunderbirds
should say it all. Willie J. Cambell has played bass for the best in the
business, most notably with the great James Harman band and of course
The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The addition of Bobby Jones (on the last
three albums and touring with the band for a couple of years now) who
has performed all over Chicago as lead singer with the greatest
musicians of all time during Chicago’s golden blues years. Kirk and
Franck are the perfect match… their guitars playing off of each other is
as close to blues heaven as you can get. The band draws it’s music from
the very best of Chicago, West Coast, Texas and Delta roots, yet they
have an original sound all their own.
The Mannish Boys have been dubbed the 'one band blues festival', why
Mannish Boys live show is more of a review than a band playing a set of
blues and roots music. Each player is a soloist in his own right. Each
member takes turns at the front of the band similar to what we would
have seen if we had gone to an early Ike Turner or Johnny Otis review in
the 1950’s. Each member is spot lighted during the live set. Even the
drummer and bass player take a turn in the spot light and there are four
singers, five when Johnny Dyer comes along! That’s what I would call a
one set blues festival… but then, I’m the biggest fan of these guys so
don’t take my word for it, come and check out The Mannish Boys
You have now branched out to cover other music styles with the
formation of Eclecto Groove Records; keeping Delta Groove true to its
blues roots. How is the new label developing?
didn’t want to upset the purity of the traditional aspect of the Delta
Groove label so we created Eclecto Groove… meaning eclectic music with
soulful roots. So far I think that we have chosen some really great
artists for the Eclecto Groove label. When People Magazine gives your
latest artist (Nick Curran) the near highest review rating, we know that
we may be on the right track. Kirk Fletcher’s newest is such a diverse
mixture of fantastic music, it had to be on Eclecto Groove.
Who are your favourite blues artists (both old and new)?
Honestly, there are just too many to mention. I will say that I am a
big fan of John Nemeth and Curtis Salgado but there are so many new
artists that amaze me I can’t mention them all. As far as the past
goes… wow, it would take up a whole book starting with guitar players
like T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Jimmy Rogers and Luther Tucker to the new
kid on the block (Shawn Starsky from Jason Ritchie’s band) a guy to
watch out for! Then there is Little Walter, Muddy and the Wolf… Have
you got another 24 hours?
Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?
Just too many to mention… I write as if I was from a poor black family
in a previous life!
Are there any particular songs that you play that have special
meaning to you?
Well, I have been playing the same worn out songs for so many years that
even I am getting tired of them! I’m a big fan of Jimmy Reed (first
black blues I ever heard) and I think that I really have my own style of
playing. I do have a song on our newest CD ‘Shake for Me’ that has
special meaning. It’s called “Educated Ways” and one that I wrote for
Jody Williams to sing on our CD ‘Big Plans’ called “Young and Tender.”
I understand you are also involved in the production of feature
films. How does this fit in with your passion for the blues?
get to use some of the money I have made in film to satisfy my passion
for blues. We did get a Mannish Boys song, a Mitch Kashmar song and an
Etta James song into one of our films. But a lot has changed in the
last year or so… I think I will have to survive by playing first
position Jimmy Reed notes on a harmonica till the economy recovers!
The Mannish Boys latest release 'Shake For Me' marks the fifth
anniversary of the band and the Delta Groove label. Tell me about the
making of the album, how the songs were selected, and how the album was
Good question… I was going through some health issues during the time
‘Shake for Me’ was recorded. Jeff Fleenor who has worked for the label
many years had to cover for me in the studio. Jeff and I chose the
material and in the past I have tried to record as much in old school
analog as possible. Jeff took over the production chair for ‘Shake for
Me’ and along with our engineer Preston, Jeff did it all. I spent maybe
two days in the studio and Jeff did the entire album digital. He and
Preston mixed it and all I did was play some harp and listen to the
mixes. I asked for a few changes but Jeff did a ton of editing, mixing
and over all producing. The sound is warm and fat and almost sounds
like it was done at Chess Sun studios on tape! Personally, I think that
it’s the best Mannish Boys CD to date and Jeff deserves all the credit…
well, ok I guess the musicians deserve some major credit too! Jeff
should be nominated producer of the year!!
Are we likely to see The Mannish Boys in the UK or Europe soon?
Randy: We leave for Holland May 6th and play at
the 25th anniversary for the Moulin Blues Festival in Ospel Holland.
There are other dates scheduled for Europe this year but nothing in the
UK. We would love to play the UK so have your fans contact
www.fesivalsexclusive.com and hopefully
we can come to the UK someday soon.
Some music styles may be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do
you think that is?
Like Willie Dixon once said “The blues are the roots of all American
music and the rest are the fruits” Someone also said (I think it was
Muddy Waters) “The blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll.”
How do you see the future of blues music?
Good I hope or I won’t be eating much! Seriously, if so many young
people could feel the blues back when blues records were selling in the
millions, why can’t they feel it now? I think it is because they just
aren’t exposed to it… So thank you for doing your part to expose more
people to this heart and soul felt art form. Like Albert King once said
“If you can’t dig this music, then you got a hole in your soul!” We
need another British invasion!
Thank you so much Randy, I really appreciate your time.
Blues Interviews List
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