I’m frantically squeezing this letter in between two overseas tours with Koko Taylor. Last night we returned from ten days in Europe and in two days we leave for Japan (on tour with Lonnie Brooks, Albert Collins and James Cotton… should be fun). In Europe, Koko did shows with Magic Slim, Dr. John, Walter Washington, Bobby Womack and, best of all, two nights with Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials including a wild jam at the first (hopefully annual) Redcar Blues Festival in northern England. Great to see the UK get a national festival together again. I also visited our new French distributor, NTI, whom I hope will improve our availability in France for you frustrated fans there.
Just before leaving I put the final touches on our new Son Seals album, LIVING IN THE DANGER ZONE. It should be out by the time you read this. It’s a great feeling having Son back on the label after a seven-year hiatus. Most of you know that he was the third artist I recorded, back in 1973, and we did five albums together before falling out in the mid-’80s (I was managing Son at the time and, as our roster grew, he felt he was getting a “back seat” at the company.) Anyway, we’re pals again, and I think the new album carries on from where we left off with BAD AXE. Four new Son originals, including a semi-acoustic tune with guest soloist Sugar Blue! Son is my kind of bluesman, tough through and through, and LIVING IN THE DANGER ZONE is as tough as its name.
Along with Son’s new album, we’re re-releasing the record that brought Tinsley Ellis to Alligator — COOL ON IT. This was Tinsley’s final album with his original band, The Heartfixers, first released in 1986 on Landslide Records.
I had only vaguely heard of the band back then, but the record impressed me enough to fly to Atlanta to check out Tinsley’s live show, and ultimately to sign him. Tinsley plays some astounding guitar, especially on the title track and a wonderful slow-burn blues called “Time To Quit.” If you liked GEORGIA BLUE and FANNING THE FLAMES, or just like hard-rocking blues guitar, this one’s for you.
Last time told you about the preparations for our Professor Longhair record, CRAWFISH FIESTA. In October of 1979, more excited than I can describe (and scared, too) I flew down to New Orleans with my trusty engineer, Fred Breitberg. We rehearsed for two nights at the local Musician’s Union. As I had hoped, Dr. John was invaluable in fine tuning the arrangements and creating “the vibe.” He was a bit rusty on guitar, but by the time we got to Sea-Saint Studios, he and Fess and the band were more than ready. It was my favorite kind of session –we recorded fast and furious. We cut almost all the tracks completely live, with the horn section tucked in a corner of the studio and Fess directing from the piano. He was the complete perfectionist, calling for extra takes because he wasn’t satisfied with his own solos, even though they sounded great to us. When the band took a break, he (probably twenty years older than any of the other players) would stay at the piano, practicing and re-practicing every note. In just two days, we cut every rehearsed tune except two solo numbers, “Willie Fugal’s Blues” (which is actually based on a classical piece) and the song that we named “Crawfish Fiesta.”
It was Dr. John who suggested the title, recounting one of Fess’ old stage monologues about an upcoming “Crawfish Fiesta” he was going to throw, where there would be plenty of food, women and booze, as long as the guests brought all three!
It was also Dr. John who suggested the addition of tuba bass and percussion played on a piece of cardboard taped to the snare drum. I can’t thank him enough for helping me make one of my dream records come true.
More next time.