For some reason one of my last letters never connected with LIVING BLUES, so I missed out on the issue before last. Then the last issue was taken up with my political musings, leaving me further behind than ever with telling you what’s going on now at Alligator, much less continuing my never-ending reminiscing.
Since the Rufus Thomas and Lazy Lester albums I told you about three issues ago, we’ve had a veritable flood of new albums–“Lucky Strikes” by the amazing young keyboardist/guitarist/singer Lucky Peterson; “One More For The Road,” by the prince of black tie blues, Charles Brown (actually a re-release of an LP he cut two years ago for the Blue Side label, with two added cuts, plus new packaging and remastering.); “Chicken, Gravy & Biscuits,” the second good ‘n’ greasy opus by Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials (now on the world’s longest tour); “Live From Austin” by Delbert McClinton, the great Texas roadhouse rocker; and “Devil Child” by young Kenny Neal, the followup to his 1988 debut, “Big News From Baton Rouge!!” It’s really quite a spread, from Charles’ sophisticated piano style to Lil’ Ed’s total slide guitar grit to Delbert’s R&B to Lucky and Kenny’s funky new blues for the 1990s. I’m very proud of the role Alligator is taking to bring forward the next generation of blues artists as well as throwing some much-needed light on some of the older generation.
But I just read a bunch of recent blues magazines and it kind of annoys me to see so much attention put on reissues (and often unauthorized ones) and so little on newer records. If the blues tradition is going to continue to grow, it’s because artists are recording and reaching new audiences. Part of this is economics. There are a certain number of blues buying dollars. If half of them are spent on reissues (for which artists often don’t get paid, publishers usually don’t get paid, and original record labels rarely get paid) the money left for labels like Alligator, Black Top, Rounder, Hightone, Blind Pig, Malaco, etc. to encourage cutting new artists is much less. Obviously, I’m not trying to tell you to buy only new recordings. I buy reissues, too. But consider that a really good selling new blues record (other than Cray, Little Milton or Albert Collins) sells perhaps 20,000 (if that!) in the first year in the U.S. Often break-even points for the labels are in the 10-15,000 area, which means it’s a big gamble for the labels. Knowing that a reissue label can dub some 78s and break even at 1500 copies hurts!
To return to the recording of one of our classics, “Ice Pickin'” by Albert Collins… After the not-so-coincidental teaming of Albert and A.C. Reed at the Wise Fools Pub, we put the band into rehearsal right there at the club, rehearsing in the daytime and playing at night. Albert, Dick Shurman and I had spent some hours wading through Dick’s amazing tape collection to find some appropriate tunes– “Too Tired,” by Albert’s Texas buddy Johnny “Guitar” Watson; “Honey Hush,” which began life as “Talking Woman” by Lowell Fulson before Albert funked it up; “Cold, Cold Feeling” by the dean of Texas guitarists, T-Bone Walker (I think that one was my idea; I always liked the thought of the Iceman doing a song with this title); and Freddie King’s “The Welfare.” Albert worked up two new instrumentals and we decided to cut a new version of his “Conversation With Collins” since the original was pretty much unavailable and this song was a high point of his live set. We went into Curt.om Studios in May of ’78 and cut the whole album in (I think) three days. The clearest memory’ is using the last bit of available studio time to put together music for Albert’s wife’s Gwen’s ly’rics about charge cards. I think the whole song, including the arrangement, recording, and Albert’s hilarious vocal took about 90 minutes, and in that 90 minutes we created “Master Charge,” which has become his most requested song. That’s the way it’s supposed to happen!
Thanks as always.