Blues Boy

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Jim Yates is every inch the proud father. He has good right to be, as his 20-year-old son Corby is a blues guitarist who already is being mentioned in the same breath as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.

The Yates, both junior and senior, will be appearing with their band at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz this weekend. Anticipating sell-out crowds, the venue is hosting two performances, on Friday and Saturday nights.

Corby Yates first took an interest in the guitar at age 3, when he would listen to his father playing. By the time Corby was 6, his father was teaching him how to play a few blues licks.

“I would show him how to do something,” Jim said, “and he would come back the next day and show me. Then he would do 20 takeoffs on it. I knew then that he was something special.”

Corby’s love of the guitar and dedication to playing was evident. At his home in Silver Lake, he practiced for hours every day. At age 14, he began playing his first public shows, stunning audiences with his dexterous and emotive blues leads. By the time he was in high school, he was allowed to leave class at 1:15 in the afternoon so he could go home and practice with his father.

It was when Corby was, 12 however, that he first gained major recognition by wining Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition in the 17-and-under category. After being presented with his prizes, including a $25,000 scholarship, by Hendrix’s father Al, Corby got to jam on stage with former members of Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies.

These days, Corby Yates plays all over California, including the Salinas area, with his band, backed by his father on bass and Andy Doerschuk on drums. He has played as opening act for Robin Trower, Jimmie Vaughan and the late John Lee Hooker among others.

In 2001 he released his first, self-titled CD comprising six original tracks and six covers of blues classics. Hearing him play songs such as Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” available for download from his Web site, one can tell that Corby Yates is a guitarist in the tradition of the blues greats.

“It’s definitely got Jimi and Stevie influences, my two kings,” Corby said of his sounds, “but it’s got a lot of other stuff in it too.”

Here then is the appeal of Corby Yates: a blues guitarist traditional enough to appeal to the purists, yet innovative enough to reach out to a younger, more progressive blues-rock audience.

At age 20, he looks set to have a long and distinguished career ahead of him. ‘

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, July 4, 2002

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