Teen blues musician ready to take on the world

by Becky Billingsley The Sun News (August 1, 1997)

Close your eyes and listen to some original music by blues musician Corby Yates and you might think Stevie Ray Vaughan has been reincarnated into the body of this 16-year-old freckle faced guitarist.

The kid smokes.

The day before his Wednesday concert at the House of Blues, Yates said he was not nervous about playing his biggest venue to date.

"I'm pumped," he said at Easyriders Cafe, where he's been playing five nights a week for the past month. " The House of Blues here is a lot better than the one in L.A."

"He could express emotion on the harmonica," his dad said. "He could make happy or angry noises with it. When he was three, he got a red toy guitar and told me he wanted to be the best guitarist in the world."

It wasn't long before Jim Yates realized his only child had extraordinary talent.

"Since he was itty bitty, he wanted to plunk around on my guitar. I would show him how to do something, and he would come back the next day and show me. The he would do 20 takeoffs on it. I knew then that he was something special. Even when there were not many licks he could do, I knew. But there's more to talent than just talent."

Corby Yates practices a lot. When he is at home in Shaver Lake in the upper Sierras of California, where he will be in the 11th grade this year, Yates is allowed to leave school at 1:15 p.m. so he can go home to practice his blues for two to four hours. Father Jim works fulltime as his son's music partner and business manager.

No one has to tell Yates to practice because he likes playing guitar better than anything. He's already as good as most professional blues guitarists three times his age, and he just keeps getting better.

"The first time, 19 months ago, we booked him on a lark," said Michael Purcell, president of national Easyriders Cafe chain. "I saw a little aricle in the newspaper, and I asked (the booking manager at the Fresno Easyriders) to see if he could find him."

Purcell said Yates' act went over well in Fresno, and he soon booked him in Myrtle Beach for a month. Purcell said he is constantly amazed by the teenager's skill.

"I took three days off...and when I came back the difference from Thursday to Sunday was dramatic. All the time he's taking more chances, more risks with vocals, extending himself more.

"You see him when he's not playing, and he looks about 12. He has no ego at all--he's a sweet kid. Then he picks up the guitar, and he turns into an animal," Purcell said.

"At the end of his first week here his fingers were bloody because he wasn't used to playing five days in a row," said Jim Yates. "At home we play two times a week, on Friday and maybe Sunday afternoon. On Monday it's back to school."

Corby Yates said his role models are Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, and he plays and sings their music as well as original material in his act.

"I listen to it (the blues) and I go 'Yeah!" he said, punching his fist in the air for emphasis. "It's good."

"I've never seen anyone with a passion for the music as this kid's is," Purcell said. "Every night he gets standing ovations. Everyone thinks it's going to be Donny Osmond with a guitar, and he blows them away. He's Tiger Woods with a guitar."