Seems like I’m virtually living in the studio these days. I’ve just finished the final mixes for Katie Webster’s second Alligator album, “Two-Fisted Mama!,” which should be in the stores just about the time you read this. There’s so much good materinl on this album, I can’t figure out what to leave off, so it’s going to be a very long record! Unlike Katie’s debut, “The Swamp Boogie Queen,” this album features just Katie and her touring band, (no special guests except the Memphis Horns to spice up three tracks). Katie wrote some fine new songs for this album, and we planned it to show off more of her great blues and boogie woogie piano playing than her previous record. Special credit goes to Vasti Jackson, who plays guitar and leads the backup band and co-wrote two songs.
He’s a very talented guy and was a tremendous help in the studio with building the arrangements around Katie’s feel. It’s always exciting to meet a young musician with this kind of talent…he reminds me of Criss Johnson, who co-produced Koko’s last couple of studio albums, or a bit of Donald Kinsey (in the arranging role he took with Roy Buchanan’s records).
Coming at the same time as Katie’s new one will be Tinsley Ellis’ followup to last year’s “Georgia Blue.” It’s called “Fanning The Flames” and it’s a hot one indeed. Tinsley wrote most of the songs on the album, and the confidence he’s gained from a year on the road (around 200 nights in 12 months!) is there in every groove. And you blues purists, who predicted that Tinsley really wanted to become just a flashy rocker — you’re going to be disappointed! The energy of this record is at a rock level, and the guitar playing is astounding, but the material is blues through and through. I think this record will stand next to any of the new crop of young bluesmen, not only for the playing, but for the singing and writing.
It’s time to jump back to 1977 and talk about the six-volume “Living Chicago Blues” series, which is one of my proudest achievements. For those of you who were around in the ’60s, you’ll certainly remember the Vanguard Records’ “Chicago/The Blues/Today!” series, produced by Sam Charters. It was a three-LP set that marked the first appearances on album (as leaders anyway) by a host bluesmen who became household names: Junior Wells, Otis Rush, J.B. Hutto, Otis Spann and James Cotton amongst others. Pretty impressive list, eh! Well, like a lot of blues fans who grew up at that time, I was inspired by that series and the music and liner notes formed some of my earliest Chicago blues impressions, and probably had a lot to do with my first blues pilgrimages to the Windy City. But these records were released as part of the folk boom, and when it died a lot of blues recording did, too. By 1977, only Alligator and Delmark were doing much recording here at all. Of course I was frustrated by the fact that I was hearing chilling performances almost every night in the clubs, but because I could only afford to put out about three records a year, I couldn’t do albums with a lot of the artists I really loved. Besides that, I was reading from time to time that blues was dying in Chicago, when in fact the music was thriving, but the recording scene was even more limited then than it is now. Imagine hearing a scorching set by Jimmy Johnson or Lonnie Brooks and realizing that the only people who were ever going to appreciate their talent were sitting there with you in Pepper’s Hideaway ox- The Checkerboard. I had to do something, and it seemed like an anthology series modelled on the Vanguard set was the answer. Except, I didn’t have NEARLY enough money to embark on a 3-LP set of almost unknown artists. What to do?
More next time,