3 Generations of the Blues featuring Billy Boy Arnold; Bob Corritore, Oscar Wilson and Billy Flynn; Big Jon Atkinson

By January 8, 2017
Friday 8:30 pm

This blues supergroup came about after a series of conversations between Bob Corritore and festival producer Cam Hayden. Bob is a serious blues dude… harp maestro, broadcaster, record producer, club owner and above all a huge fan of the music. He contacted Cam to ask him to write a letter of support to have Henry Gray honoured with a Keeping the Blues Alive Award. Cam was more than happy to accommodate, and the letter included the line “It’s so important that we honour these great musicians while they are still with us.”

“That got both Bob and myself thinking”, says Cam, “You can’t talk the talk without walking the walk, and over the course of numerous phone calls Bob and I decided that we should put together a band that showcased 3 generations of the blues”. Legendary harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold was brought on board; he and Henry worked together in Chicago during the 1950’s; Bob spoke with Chicago based guitarist Billy Flynn and up and comer Big Jon Atkinson, in his late 20’s, was recruited…Add to that a killer rhythm section and you have an incredible survey of the blues from the 1940’s to the present day.

When planning the 2017 Edmonton Blues Festival, the idea of having Henry Gray co front a “3 Generations of the Blues” Revue seemed a natural. Unfortunately, this giant of Chicago blues, who played with so many of the greats, had a heart attack in January. While Henry is still with us, it was determined by his doctors in May that he could no longer travel by air, making his appearance at the festival impossible.

So, we turned to the deep well of talent that is Chicago’s Cash Box Kings and asked vocalist and front man Oscar Wilson if he would take Henry’s spot. We’re thrilled that Oscar agreed, and will be with us this summer.

Oscar Wilson joined the Cash Box Kings in 2007, bringing with him an instantly commanding stage presence and an authoritative vocal style that gives fire-breathing power to the music. A self-taught musician and singer with an encyclopedic knowledge of almost every blues song known to man, Wilson—standing 6’1” and weighing over 300 pounds—is a natural-born entertainer. Born in 1953 on Chicago’s 43rd Street (aka Muddy Waters Drive), Wilson grew up in the company of many famous blues artists. Junior Wells, Elmore James, Big Smokey Smothers and close family friend David “Honeyboy” Edwards were all regulars at weekly Friday night fish fries/jam sessions at the Wilson home. Throughout his adulthood, Wilson held regular jobs but was always welcome sitting in with Chicago blues mainstays Melvin Taylor and Johnny B. Moore. His vocal inspirations range from Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Albert King to Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter but he mostly sings like Oscar Wilson. Award-winning harmonica giant and vocalist Rick Estrin (leader of Rick Estrin & The Nightcats) says, “Man, that guy can really sing”.

Billy Boy Arnold is one of the last of the legendary Chicago Blues harmonica players. In addition to his solo releases, he recorded with Bo Diddley in the Fifties and has been covered by David Bowie, The Yardbirds and The Blasters. Born in Chicago, he began playing harmonica as a child, and in 1948 received informal lessons from his neighbour John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, shortly before the latter’s death. Arnold made his recording debut in 1952 with “Hello Stranger” on the small Cool label, the record company giving him the nickname “Billy Boy”. In the early 1950s, he joined forces with street musician Bo Diddley and played harmonica on the March 2, 1955 recording of the Bo Diddley song “I’m a Man” released by Checker Records. The same day as the Bo Diddley sessions, Billy Boy recorded the self-penned “You Got to Love Me” which was not released until the box set Chess Blues 1947-1967 in 1992.

Arnold signed a solo recording contract with Vee-Jay Records, recording the originals of “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You”.

In the late 1950s Arnold continued to play in Chicago clubs and in 1963 he recorded an LP, More Blues From The South Side, for the Prestige label, but as playing opportunities dried up he pursued a parallel career as a bus driver and, later parole officer.

By the 1970s, Arnold had begun playing festivals, touring Europe and recording again. In 1993, he released the album Back Where I Belong on Alligator Records, followed by Eldorado Cadillac (1995) and on Stony Plain Records with the Duke Robillard Band Boogie ’n’ Shuffle (2001). In 2012, Arnold released Blue and Lonesome featuring Tony McPhee and The Groundhogs. Another tribute to Sonny Boy was the album “The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold” on Stony Plain Records.

In 2014, he was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the “Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year” category. Billy Boy played the Edmonton Blues Festival in 2006 and was our “Poster Boy” that year. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.

Bob Corritore is considered among the top traditional blues harmonica players on the scene today. Additionally he is the owner of the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, the host of “Those Lowdown Blues” on KJZZ, the founder of Southwest Musical Arts Foundation, an official endorser of Hohner harmonicas, a Keeping The Blues Alive award recipient, a Grammy nominated harmonica player and producer, an honorary member of Collectif Des Radios Blues, and a great fan of, and active participant in blues music in general. His album “Bob Corritore & Friends / Harmonica Blues” won a 2011 Blues Music Award and in 2012 Bob received a Living Blues Award in their Harmonica category.

Billy Flynn was born in Green Bay Wisconsin in the mid 1950’s and by the time the 70’s rolled around the blues had captivated him. Having the chance to see and hear Jimmy Rogers, Mighty Joe Young, Luther Alison, Johnny Littlejohn and a host of others at his local blues club and having the opportunity to jam with Jimmy Dawkins (at Dawkins request) when he was just 16 opened a whole new world for Billy. In 1975, Jimmy Dawkins invited Billy to join his band and he jumped at it! While with Jimmy for four years, he also had the chance to work with Sunnyland Slim, Mighty Joe Young and Luther Allison, the very players that got him enthralled with the blues in the first place. He was integral part of The Legendary Blues Band in the 1980’s; a group that featured Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Calvin “Fuzz” Jones.

Big Jon Atkinson is the youngster in this group… In 1988 he was born into the digital cyber age. He grew up in a world full of children playing video games while adults were watching all manner of YouTube videos on their computers. The young man had no use for any of those things and pursued a singular passion, making blues music. A sound inspired him that is seldom heard. He worked to create this music using the great masters of the past as the mentors who would guide him to great heights in the blues world in a very short time. He’s worked with James Harman, members of The Hollywood Fats Band, Kim Wilson, and more… as Wilson puts it, “Jon is one of the only guys doing it the right way. He knows the music. He knows the gist of it. He understands the soul of the music.”

Backing all these bona fide front men is the world-renowned blues rhythm section of Brian Fahey (drums) and Troy Sandow (bass).

If you love the blues, you can’t miss this performance!

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