Source: Big City Blues &
Writer: Scott Dirks
Chortkoff - West Coast Blues Entrepreneur
Chortkoff, a veteran producer of blues and roots is
the creative force behind the music arm of Delta Groove
Productions recordings and a talented musician in
his own right. Beginning in the 1980s, Chortkoff first
honed his studio skills working with his own band,
The Dirt Cheap Blues Band (which also featured future
blues heavy-hitters Debbie Davies and Alex Shultz)
before taking the plunge into independent record production
by recording blues legend Billy Boy Arnold. These
master tapes were leased by the world’s largest
independent blues label, the prestigious Alligator
Records, and were released as Arnold ’s highly
acclaimed ‘comeback’ release ‘Back
Where I Belong’ in the early 1990s. Over the
next several years Chortkoff produced his own sessions
featuring a number of prominent blues artists, including
the late King Ernest, powerhouse vocalist Finis Tasby
and others leasing them to major blues labels in the
U.S. and in Europe . Finally deciding to reap the
fruits of his own labors, Chortkoff has created the
Delta Groove Productions record label to release his
recent projects, including The Mannish Boys, Kirk
Fletcher, Mitch Kashmar and Rod Piazza & The Mighty
Flyers. Delta Groove Productions is a labor of love
and culmination of a lifelong obsession with blues
and roots music on the part of celebrated producer
and successful entrepreneur Randy Chortkoff. Each
project is undertaken with the idea that quality speaks
for itself, so the utmost care is given to every detail,
from A&R to production to packaging and promotion
- but first and foremost, the performances. Delta
Groove is all about the music. Without great performers
and great performances, nothing else matters.”
City Rhythm & Blues Magazine caught up with “Big
Chief” Randy Chortkoff in Los Angeles where
he was born and raised and still resides today. Randy
remembers hearing blues only a couple of blocks away
from his childhood home at the famous Ashgrove—one
of the first hip folk coffeehouses. There he saw many
blues men like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Terry
& Brownie McGhee, Mance Lipscomb, Howlin’
Wolf, Muddy Waters and Little Walter. He remembers
seeing Taj Mahal working at the coffee shop before
he became famous. Chortkoff ran away from home briefly
in the 60’s to catch the San Francisco scene
in its heyday where he was awed by Chet Helms’
show who produced a blues who’s who of talent
including blues greats like Little Walter, Jimmy Reed,
Freddie King, B.B. King, Jr. Wells, Buddy Guy and
many others. But it was Rod Piazza who really turned
Randy on to Little Walter Jacobs over 25 years ago.
“Rod was instrumental and he would make me tapes
of Little Walter, Sonny Boy, early Jr. Wells and Big
Walter Horton. When I heard Little Walter he changed
my whole opinion on the harp,” commented Chortkoff.
used to do parties on my birthday and I would find
a club and book harp oriented bands like Rod Piazza,
Mitch Kashmar and others but then I met Luther Tucker
and we became close friends. He used to stay at my
house. He gave me a lot of phone numbers and I would
put together big shows every year and called it ‘A
Tribute to Little Walter,’” explained
Randy about his early years of producing this annual
blues extravaganza for ten years. With Luther Tucker’s
help he brought together Jimmy Rogers, Dave Myers,
Louis Myers, Al Duncan and Rod & Honey Piazza
to perform, and often hometown blues stars like Willie
Dixon and Lowell Fulson would drop by. Randy is also
very proud that he was able to scrap together his
last dollars to make plaques and honored blues men
who performed at his shows like Jr. Wells, James Cotton,
Carey Bell and the Myers’ brothers, including
more obscure musicians like Lester Davenport and Big
Wheeler. He gave them an award thanking them for their
contribution to the blues that they very much cherished
because many had never received such accolades.
Randy’s life has come around full circle with
his Delta Groove Productions’ release of his
early mentor—Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers’
For The Chosen Few. “Rod Piazza introduced me
to the full essence—really deep stuff after
all these years. Chortkoff’s says, “My
big passion is to capture the open minds of younger
people to this genre of music”.
kind of harp do you use?
Traditional wood-combed Marine Band.
Your hero of the harp?
Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Big Walter
Horton who have passed and more recently Lester Butler.
Do you play any other instruments?
I sing. (Look for Randy’s debut on the upcoming
Mannish Boy’s Live & In Demand).
Who gave you your first harmonica?
I bought a brand new Marine Band harmonica at a pawnshop
Who gave you your first lesson?
I never took lessons. You know I’m not anywhere
in the league of Rod Piazza or Kim Wilson. I never
have much patience to learn note for note. I learn
Favorite harp song?
There’s too many.
Do you have a name for your harmonica?
If your harmonica could talk what would it
More tongue and less lips. Tongue blocking is a very
difficult technique but gives the best tones.
Did you know George “Harmonica”
Actually I knew him being that he was in L.A. He was
an hilarious guy—open and kind to young white
guys and always there to be a teacher. I remember
when he would put a show on and call himself Jimmy
Reed or Little Walter. He was just such a nice guy