||Deeply rooted in traditional blues, yet delivering high-energy house-rocking performances with a thoroughly contemporary impact, harp-playing vocalist Rob Stone is one of the busiest young bandleaders on the blues scene today. ¬His skin-tight band is comprised of blues veterans of the highest caliber that seamlessly support Stone’s blasting harmonica and cool, streetwise vocals. These musicians have performed with and learned from the greats––and it shows!
Though he spends as much of his time these days in sunny Los Angeles as he does in his chilly Chicago stomping grounds, there’s no questioning Rob Stone’s blues preference: he’s a proud postwar Windy City disciple all the way. Gotta Keep Rollin’, his fourth as a bandleader and first for VizzTone, emphasizes the veteran harmonica blower’s deeply ingrained Chicago roots more prominently than ever. Since most of the set was recorded there, that makes perfect sense.
Guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn, Rob’s musical collaborators for nearly two decades (they first met while serving in Sam Lay’s band), were on board every step of the way with this new album. As always, the prolific trio crafted all the original material together. “We’ve gotten to a point where we anticipate each others’ playing, in terms of energy, phrasing, and dynamics. And when we’re writing songs, we build off of one another’s ideas in a really fun way,” says Rob. “That chemistry is something very cool, and it always makes it an enjoyable experience to perform or write together.”
Naturally, Rob and his cohorts invited some of their high-profile Chicago pals to join in the fun. Master sax blaster Eddie Shaw, one of the newest inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame, blows up a storm. “We’ve been lucky enough to have shared the stage with Eddie many times over the years,” says Stone. “I was really glad that he agreed to be part of this CD, because he’s always been one of the older guys who’s been incredibly supportive.”
Guitarist John Primer, whose solo career has seen him build upon lessons he learned while employed by Muddy Waters and Magic Slim, is another very welcome guest. “John’s one of the few contemporary bluesmen who still plays traditional styles, and it was fun to have him in the studio because he really knows and understands all of the music that we’re trying to do,” Stone says. Willie “The Touch” Hayes has long been Rob’s primary timekeeper. “Willie is the consummate Chicago drummer and showman,” he says. “He’s a musical drummer with a finesse that is unparalleled, and an aggressive, driving, playful style that’s equally untouched.”
Boston-based David Maxwell, a frequent presence on Rob’s recordings over the years, brought his two-fisted piano prowess to the party. “He’s just a monster,” says Stone. “I mean, the guy can play anything and just crush it.” Maxwell isn’t the only ivories ace present; Baton Rouge legend Henry Gray, former Howlin’ Wolf piano player, distinguishes on one number. “It is always an honor to play with Henry,” says Stone.
Rob has opened for headliners as varied as B.B. King, Sheryl Crow, Robert Cray, James Cotton, Los Lobos and the late Etta James. He’s shared bandstands and recording studios with a dazzling array of blues giants: Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top), Charlie Musselwhite, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Jimmy Rogers, Jody Williams, David Myers, Big Jay McNeeley, Willie Kent, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Billy Branch, Jimmy Lee Robinson, Taildragger, Willie Buck, Eddie Taylor Jr., Aaron Moore, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Eddie Shaw, Phillip Walker, Rod Piazza, Sugar Blue, Little Smokey Smothers, Joe Louis Walker, Junior Watson, RJ Mischo, Lil’ Ed, James Wheeler and Koko Taylor. Stone has done his mentors proud, tirelessly leading his crew across the U.S. and around the world. Rob frequently tours Japan, where he’s built quite a devoted following, and he’s also barnstormed Europe.
All of Rob’s previous albums have been well received by fans and critics. His 2010 Earwig CD, Back Around Here, soared high on the blues charts for months and was named by Living Blues magazine as one of the year’s top CDs. It was preceded by 1998’s No Worries and 2003’s Just My Luck, which was nominated for a Chicago Music Award in the Best Blues Album category. Stone was also featured prominently in the Martin Scorsese-produced “Godfathers and Sons” episode of The Blues series that aired on PBS stations nationwide in 2003.
Stone got started on his harmonica-blowing odyssey at age 18, when he slipped into a blues joint in his native Boston to check out harp great Charlie Musselwhite and was instantly transfixed. He bought his first harp the next day and began listening to recordings of Little Walter, Big Walter Horton, Junior Wells, James Cotton and the two Sonny Boys. Before long, Rob was learning the finer points of the instrument from ex-Muddy Waters mouth organ maestro Jerry Portnoy and playing regularly with Rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef. Relocating to Colorado in 1990, he got his feet wet playing with biker bands on the smoky bandstands around Colorado Springs. Then in ‘93, legendary drummer Sam Lay invited the young harpist to sit in with his combo, leading to a job offer and a move to Chicago the next year. Touring internationally with Sam Lay for four years introduced Stone to blues fans worldwide. Despite leaving Sam’s band in 1998 to form the first incarnation of the C-Notes (with Chris James and Patrick Rynn), Rob and Sam continued to perform together over the years, and Sam has appeared on several of Rob’s albums. “I have worked with many harmonica players, and he turned out to be the best,” says Sam (quite an endorsement, considering Lay was a member of Paul Butterfield’s vaunted mid-‘60s band and also kept impeccable time for Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter). “That cat is a monster harmonica player and musician!”
But no matter who he stands beside on the bandstand, Stone’s hard-hitting, honest, highly danceable blues never fails to delight everyone from aficionados to neophytes. He remains strongly committed to blues tradition, but Rob is clearly his own man, a vibrant singer and instrumentalist boasting his own very distinctive sound and a repertoire loaded with terrific original songs. He’s not afraid to take a few chances onstage, either. “We never just perform songs note for note off the record,” he says. “That’s not our style.” From start to finish on Gotta Keep Rollin’, Stone dishes up hard-driving electric ensemble blues that’s a nod to the genre’s glory days as well as a contemporary breath of fresh air––genuine blues unsurpassed in energy, feeling, and authenticity.
“I’m really excited about this new album, and thrilled to be collaborating with VizzTone,” says Stone. His fans feel the same way.