I just finished the final choices of songs for THE ALLIGATOR RECORDS 20TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION, along with a 24-page booklet of my rambling reminiscences that will look a little familiar to those of you who have followed this “column” over the last 14 years. We’ll release the Collection in early March on two very long CDs and/or cassettes, both for the price of one regular CD or cassette. That’s right –no vinyl LP. I’m sorry, but we’ve probably come to the end of the road for vinyl. Our LP sales in the U.S. are under 6%, and the record stores just won’t stock vinyl any more. In a way, it’s a blessing, as this gives the stores the opportunity to stock a wider variety of music, instead of having the latest Madonna album on CD, cassette and LP, and no blues in any format.
Along with the 20TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION, we’re releasing the latest from one of the hottest young bluesmen around, WALKING ON FIRE by Kenny Neal. This is our third from Kenny (all produced by Bob Greenlee at King Snake Studios in Florida) and I think the best yet. It ranges from some very uptown funky shuffles that feature Kenny’s heavy duty electric guitar to a couple slices of authentic bayou blues that put the spotlight on his very, very down home Baton Rouge harmonica playing, to two totally acoustic cuts, where Kenny plays two guitar parts and harmonica through the miracle of modern multi-track recording. Of course, Kenny’s big, gruff voice is as recognizable as ever.
The two acoustic tunes have lyrics by Langston Hughes, the poet of the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance. This is particularly appropriate because Kenny is opening tonight on Broadway (!!) as the star of a “lost” play by Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston called “Mule Bone.” Kenny plays a Southern bluesman in the 1930’s and sings four songs with music by Taj Mahal and lyrics by Langston Hughes. Has Alligator given birth to its first Broadway star? Only the reviews will tell, I guess. Kenny’s always had a lot of charisma (if you’ve seen him live, you know) and I hope it will translate to the stage. He’s never acted before. By the way, Kenny had to shave his beard and mustache for the part, and cut his hair. He had never shaved before in his life (honest). We’ve just seen the preview photos and yes, he has a real chin!
Not much room for reminiscing. I think I’ve said enough about Lonnie Brooks’ first album, BAYOU LIGHTNING, but maybe I should remind you that his second one, TURN ON THE NIGHT, was recently issued on CD and cassette. If you missed it a decade ago, here’s your chance. Lonnie’s in the studio this week finishing his latest album (no title yet), which we’ll issue in the spring. A hot one, too. Other “new format” reissues are THE NEW JOHNNY OTIS SHOW now on CD and cassette, Jimmy Johnson’s BAR ROOM PREACHER now on CD, and the record you’ve heard so much about, BAYOU LIGHTNING by Lonnie Brooks, now on cassette.
I think I’ll skip over three releases: SOMEDAY YOU’LL HAVE THESE BLUES by Phillip Walker; BEEN GONE TOO LONG by Lonesome Sundown; and JOHNNY JONES WITH BILLY BOY ARNOLD. They’re all very good, but not out on cassette or CD, which means the only way you can find out is in a great store or through our mail order service (free plug –write for a catalog or call 1-800-344-5609 to make a charge card order). When we issue them on CD and cassette, I’ll circle back to them.
I want to move on to 1979 and the making of an album that everyone agrees is one of our classics, CRAWFISH FIESTA, by Professor Longhair. I had been listening to “Fess” since the LP reissue of his Atlantic sides, NEW ORLEANS PIANO in the early ’70s. He was one of a kind, with his “cracked” voice and crazed rhumba-boogie piano. Only in New Orleans could you find someone with such a sophisticated polyrhythmic sense combined with such musical humor and pure technical wizardry. Although he had a few great students –Toussaint, Dr. John and James Booker, in particular— there was only one Professor Longhair.
If you’ve never heard him, you should stop reading this RIGHT NOW and go buy one of his records (of course, I’d prefer you’d buy ours, but they’re all either very good or great). I had dreamed of recording Fess for years, but I never thought I’d get the chance. Then I lucked out (stay on the edge of your seats, folks…more next time).