Born and raised in Rockdale, Illinois, guitarist Mondo Cortez was obsessed with the instrument as a kid. He would go into music stores and admire all the curves and colors but didn’t get serious about it until junior high school. At the time while indulging himself with hard rock music, Cortez took notice that many of these bands were simply covering old blues artists. From this realization he searched out more blues-influenced bands like The Fabulous Thunderbirds, ZZ Top, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Digging even deeper he found his way to American roots music via The Blasters, Los Lobos, and The Paladins, to eventually the originators of Chicago and Texas blues.
Cortez will tell you he plays “American roots music.” His musical conviction and vocabulary of licks are heavily influenced by traditional and West Side Chicago blues, Texas West Coast jump blues, and early rock ‘n’ roll. Lucky to have grown up near Chicago, Cortez witnessed live, in-person performances by blues legends Muddy Waters, Eddie Taylor, Buddy and Phil Guy, Otis Rush, and Junior Wells. “Being exposed to this caliber of musicianship made me want to learn more,” says Cortez.
Intrigued by the tone and look of Gretsch guitars, Cortez sought out albums which featured artists that played them. Robert Lockwood Jr., Lowman Pauling, Lowell Fulson, and Bo Diddley became staples on his personal play list. Cortez recalls, “After playing blues full-time, my close friend Nick Curran showed me his Gretsch and said, ‘Hey bro, you gotta get one of these!’” Ever since, Cortez’s modified Gretsch Country Club, which sports two P-90 pickups, has been his main musical soulmate. “I’m known for my Gretsch. It simply is like a member of the band and people expect to see me playing it at every gig,” says Cortez.
As founding member of the Chicago Blues Angels band, Cortez and company have been performing their brand of Americana rock ‘n’ roll, blues, rockabilly, with a whole lotta soul since 1999. Over the years they’ve been recognized to share the concert stage with Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Nick Curran, Kid Ramos, Kim Wilson,The Paladins, Lynwood Slim, Jimmie Vaughn, and Willie Smith.
Spotlight feature image by Vice Apostolovski – redstarfotography.com