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Randy Chortkoff, record producer, President of Delta Groove Records, and founder and MC of the California-based blues supergroup The Mannish Boys, talked with John Darkhorse, host of KSMU's "Route 66 Blues Express."
JOHN DARKHORSE: You have one of the hottest labels out there right now, bring the West Coast blues into the scene. And the Mannish Boys are just an incredible assemblage of players. I've been watching you guys on YouTube a lot, and it's just incredible.
RANDY CHORTKOFF: This is something that's just taken on a life of its own. It was just a pet project, a passion I had for the music. It was supposed to be just a one-off, couldn't find a record label to take it--the record business, unfortunately, is in a strange state. And so I said, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. We just put out the fourth Mannish Boys CD, which I feel is the best. I wish I was just a guy buying it out there rather than trying to sell it! It is a revue, with some incredible talent, and it is an awesome live show. Particularly in the last several days we've had some major losses (in the blues world), and it's good to know that there are still some of the original guys out there doing it, and the flame is being kept burning in this genre we call "blues"--in a traditional sense, and not watered-down or "rock-a-cized."
JOHN DARKHORSE: You've been talking about people passing... like Phil Guy. The time to see these legends in action is coming to a close, unfortunately.
RANDY CHORTKOFF: I'm glad you brought up Phil Guy. I had a good relationship with Phil., and always thought that he should've gotten more exposure. That's why I brought him out here to Los Angeles for the first CD that I co-produced with Rod Piazza, "For the Chosen Who." It's a nice tribute to Phil Guy--he's on there playing his heart out.
JOHN DARKHORSE: The Mannish Boys are probably one of the more heavily-rotated bands on our show, and we certainly enjoy everything you guys do.
RANDY CHORTKOFF: The first CD that we did was "That Represents Man--The Mannish Boys." The photo on the cover should have been called "Lost and Found," because it's the lost-and-found drawer at the bar at Teresa's in Chicago, back in, probably, the early 1970s. It's got harmonicas, 38s...
JOHN DARKHORSE: Everything that represents the blues, huh?
RANDY CHORTKOFF: That's the first one, and it's really a gem. Then the live record was just something that accidentally happened--we didn't even know they were recording us. And it was kind of a magical set, so I got lucky and got that one cheap! The most recent CD, "Low Down Feeling," I have to give (co-producer) Jeff Scott Fleenor credit--he picked a lot of those obscure songs, sequenced them, and I think that's the best one we've done so far.
JOHN DARKHORSE: Talking about digging back in the catalog, I'm just amazed at where you guys go to find your material. And you make it so refreshing, your take on the blues.
RANDY CHORTKOFF: Man, you're killin' me with compliments! I don't know if I can get through the door when I leave here today! If you go to our website (www.deltagrooveproductions.com) and click on "Reviews," talking about these obscure tunes, what most of the DJs are saying is that there's this lost cache of B-sides, of obscure blues music that were the B-sides of 45s, that never really got much play but are absolutely brilliant and wonderful music. So, we're trying to keep that tradition alive. But we get a few original songs in there--Tom Levy, our bass player, wrote "Mary Jane." But pulling these obscure B-sides, blowing off the dust and putting our own take on it--not just trying to do something "retro" and do it note-for-note, but putting our own take and everybody's personality--is what's made the band as wonderful as it is.
JOHN DARKHORSE: We do a lot of the vintage blues on this program, recordings going back as far as 1927...
RANDY CHORTKOFF: Thank God somebody's still doing that! It's a lot of pressure on (radio) guys like you. You get product from all the independent labels, and of course they REALLY want you to play it--it's hard to keep everybody happy. But if you're dedicating a half-hour to what I call the "low-down" stuff--it could be an up-tempo T-Bone Walker that really jumps, or one of Muddy's most low-down cuts--people have got to hear that! The younger people have got to get hip to that. When I was 15 years old, I was walking by The Ash Grove in L.A. and I heard Lightnin' Hopkins in there... yeah, I was listening to Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds... but I was a young kid, and that music just grabbed me and pulled me into the club! And I went back and saw Muddy there and all those great players. I was young, I was a kid, and I felt that music. And I believe young people can feel it now--IF they're exposed to it.
JOHN DARKHORSE: You recently signed Tommy Castro to Delta Groove. He's going to be here also at the Greater Ozarks Blues Festival. Can we get some insight on what's going to be happening, some of the players who are going to be with him?
RANDY CHORTKOFF: I don't really know--I know he's had the same band for a long time, and they're extremely tight. We played on a show with them this summer at the biggest blues festival in Holland, and Tommy just smoldered! It was a thrill for me, just being a blues fan--you know, I'm flying by the seat of my pants with this record label--but I was always a big fan of Tommy's, and he called me and said, "Hey, I just like what you're doing with the label, and I'd love to be on it." So you can always expect a thrilling show from Tommy Castro.
JOHN DARKHORSE: So this festival's going to be almost like a family reunion for you--Tommy Castro, Deanna Bogart....
RANDY CHORTKOFF: Are we all on the same day, do you know? Sometimes that works out really well. Sometimes I get sad because I miss those shows because we fly in at different times. We just did a show in Wheeling, West Virginia that was amazing. The Mannish Boys were the headliner; Ana Popovic was on just prior to that, and John Black, our newest artist, did an acoustic set earlier in the day. And the finale that night was Ana, the Mannish Boys with everybody, Kirk Fletcher, Kid Ramos, and John Black. And who knows? Maybe that'll happen in the Ozarks as well--maybe we'll have an opportunity to get everybody up there at the same time. Those things happen spontaneously if they're meant to happen, and people talk about them for many years afterwards. So we'll see.