Elvin Bishop, others bring back Mojo for JoJo – Times-Herald

Joe “JoJo” Russo might be one of those shadow guys for most of the world, but for Bay Area blues musicians he’s front and center, especially during a crisis. And Russo is in crisis.

The Pittsburg songwriter’s house burned down a month ago, and while he lives in a hotel, it could be another year before his house is rebuilt.

To the rescue – emotionally, if not financially – are some of the region’s, if not the country’s, acclaimed blues musicians, including Elvin Bishop, Chris Cain and Rick Estrin. A dozen other musicians will take part in a fundraising race this Sunday with “MoJo for JoJo” at the Empress Theater in downtown Vallejo.

Russo is normally a stoic type, but when Vallejo’s blues lawyer Geoff Drake decided to coordinate the advantage, “it almost made me cry,” Russo said over the phone. “I never asked anyone for anything.”

With every stellar artist added, Russo was humbled.

“These guys are the best blues guys alive right now,” he said. “I cannot stress enough my pride. These blues people form such a tight-knit community.

Chris Cain is one of the best talents expected this Sunday for ‘Mojo for JoJo’, a blues performance for Joe Russo. (Photo provided)

Russo likely won’t forget that horrific night when flames swept through his kitchen set ablaze by a neighbor’s trailer.

“My house was on fire all around and I sat outside thinking, ‘Son of a bitch,’” Russo said.

As the house returns, photos of blues heroes of the past are gone forever, he lamented.

“I can replace almost anything: sofas, beds. The memories of the blues cannot be replaced and that is what saddens me, ”said Russo.

Drake said there is no doubt he will be hosting an event for his longtime friend.

“I lost everything and I know the feeling. And that’s exactly what we do in the music community, ”said Drake. “The money part will help. But seeing all his friends on stage and 300 people there to support him will do more than all the money in the world.

Russo said he was made aware of the pending fundraiser shortly after the fire.

Bishop, arguably the biggest name in the Bay Area blues, called Russo when he heard about the fire and said, “JoJo, what can I do for you? “

Grammy-nominated Joe Louis Walker, who has performed many pieces written by Russo, first discussed a possible event for Russo with Drake.

“They made it happen,” Russo said. “And for Elvin Bishop, it’s amazing to show up. And Rick Estrin is the biggest name in the blues right now. All these guys are my family. This is all awesome.”

Russo, 63, lived in the house for 32 years. When he realized that “a fire was going through the kitchen at a million kilometers an hour”, he grabbed his two dogs and brought his partner and his 82-year-old father out of the house.

“I went out in my underwear. There was no time for anything else, ”Russo said. “We were very lucky. The house is demolished.

Since then, Russo has moved from hotel to hotel after the Red Cross gave him $ 500 for lodging.

Russo had owned Russo’s Auto Body in Pittsburg for years, selling the business in 2009 when he “got into this blues thing,” particularly working with Walker.

“It was just good,” he said.

Saxophonist Stabe Wilson offers his talents to ‘Mojo for JoJo’ at the Empress Theater. (Photo provided)

Although he touched the Hammond organ, Russo said he was strictly a blues songwriter, explaining his philosophy of working with Walker: “We write the song, they play the song, we play on the radio. “

Nicknamed “JoJo” at age 4 by his late father – “It just stuck” – Russo said he got a taste of his talents when he was 12 when he won poetry competitions at school.

Good thing, he said.

“The only things I’ve been able to do all my life – paint cars and write songs. The rest is a struggle, ”Russo said.

Russo couldn’t wait for Sunday’s event, then spending time with Bishop, Estrin, Chris Cain and the rest of the roster which includes Wilson Brooks, Timm Walker and Don Bassey de Vallejo.

“I know most of them,” Russo said. “I can’t believe the talent that’s on the bill. I’m so lucky to have these guys show up.

Single and childless, Russo said he has a sibling, a estranged brother who lives in Texas.

“The blues is, really, my family,” he said.

Sunday’s extravagance from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. is sure to get a little touching, Russo acknowledged.

“I will try not to cry,” he said.

“Mojo for JoJo” is this Sunday, December 5, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. General admission is $ 25. For tickets and full lineup, visit empresstheater.org. The Empress Theater is located at 330 Virginia St., Vallejo.

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