Blues fans know vocalist and lead guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn as the leaders of their own band, the Blue Four, as well as for their stellar work with a dazzling array of blues legends.
"Confessin' The Blues," the 1941 classic by Kansas City pianist Jay McShann (with Walter Brown his vocalist), holds personal significance for Chris.
Chuck Berry was the first guy that was really a big influence on me," says Chris
tracked down a BBC
radio documentary on Berry.
At the tender age of 13, James joined Courtney's band as a harpist.
"I only played harmonica with him for maybe six months or something like that, and then the bass player quit," says Chris
"And then Tom just gave me a bass and said, 'Okay, boy, here's the bass.
The bass player's quit.
I need you to learn this by next week!'" Chris
followed Tomcat's instructions, though he
would soon switch axes one more time to guitar, developing his
own slashing style along the way.
lessons well during a long stint in Courtney's band, though he
did take a brief hiatus when he
was 17 to study with jazz saxists Gene Porter and Jimmie Noone, Jr. "I wanted to get myself a music education," he
first pilgrimage to Chicago in 1990, Chris
happened to hear the muscular piano riffs of Detroit Junior (whose sly "Call My Job" remains a Chicago blues standard) emanating from a nearby bar.
Sitting in on a guitar borrowed from the cook, he
impressed the diminutive keyboardist enough to earn a regular gig.
In his spare time, James
made the rounds of the North Side blues jams, including one at now-defunct B.L.U.E.S. Etc., impressing just about everyone in the house with his sizzling fretwork apart from his future musical partner, Patrick.
"We did not hit it off when we first met each other," admits Chris, who dropped by the Guitar Center where Patrick worked a short time later in need of picks and a harmonica.
And I turn around, and it's Chris
With both young bluesmen settled in the Windy City, the more experienced Chris
drilled Patrick on the traditional aspects of the blues.
With giants like Louis and Dave Myers, Sunnyland Slim, and David "Honeyboy" Edwards in attendance, Chris
was in awe.
"There's Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Sam Lay and all these guys, looking at us playing," says Chris
"The phone rang, and Chris
runs in the house, and he's in there for about a half hour," says Patrick.
Just My Luck, the C-Notes' 2003 encore album, was released on Earwig and featured guest appearances by Lay and Dave Myers, who grew close to Chris
More recently, the pair has recorded with piano man Dennis Binder on his 2007 Earwig disc Hole in That Jug and Chicago guitar legend Jody Williams on his encore comeback CD, 2004's You Left Me in the Dark, where Chris
had the dual honor of playing alongside not just Jody but another of his avowed heroes, Robert Jr. Lockwood.
Chris and Patrick began playing with Williams in 2000 after backing him unexpectedly at a Mississippi blues festival; Jody hired the Blue Four, then including Chicago drummer Willie Hayes, and they subsequently toured Europe and Japan.
and Patrick backed James's original mentor, Tomcat Courtney, on his just-released and long-overdue national debut album, Downsville Blues.
In 2005, Chris toured Europe as a member of harpist Bob Corritore's band.