Seems like I’m still living in airports. Just six days ago I returned from a very successful tour of Australia with Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials. Great, rowdy crowds, terrific shows, lots of fun. One of the reasons I love about Ed is that he goes on the bandstand with absolutely no song list and just follows his feeling and the mood of the audience, pulling out not only songs that he’s recorded but obscure tunes from other bluesmen and even songs that he’s still putting together for his next album (which I hope to record in October and release early next year). Ed’s shows remind me so much of Hound Dog Taylor’s — I never know what’s going to happen! Plus, while I was in Sydney, I signed a long-negotiated Australia/New Zealand distribution deal with Festival Records. That means our Down Under fans will have a much easier time finding ‘Gators in their local stores. By the way, the blues radio scene in Australia is amazing. On a weekday afternoon in Melbourne, I was switching back and forth between two of them, one on AM and one on FM, both clear and powerful. If only we could be so blessed in the USA, birthplace of the blues!
The new releases continue to come fast and furious at the Gator. We’ve just shipped the long-awaited new one by Lonnie Brooks, SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.
It’s Lonnie’s first studio album in five years, and though it sounds like hype,
I think I’m happier with this album than with any other of Lonnie’s career. That’s because he’s touched so many bases on this one, and touched them so effectively. Lonnie’s never been easy to categorize; he’s not a “pure” Chicago bluesman, and he’s always had very big ears and the ability to personalize lots of different kinds of music. You know he began in Louisiana as a rocker in the ’50s, and there are a couple of newly-written “good ol’ rock ’n’ roll” tunes on this album that really DO rock. Then there is his Chicagoized version of Memphis soul that he sings so well. Then there are his deep, soulful slow blues that give him a chance to really stretch out, both vocally and on guitar. And there’s the chooglin’ bayou “voodoo” grooves that have become Lonnie’s signature over the last decade. Plus (should I say it?) a few tunes that (subtly) include the country music influences implicit in South Louisiana swamp pop. Finally, this album provides a couple of showcases for Lonnie’s son Ronnie Baker Brooks, who is fast maturing into one of the most exciting young blues guitarists in Chicago. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Lonnie’s recordings, I urge you to check out SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.
And since you’re already going to be in a record store, try taking a chance on an artist that you may be only vaguely familiar with—JOHNNY HEARTSMAN. Johnny was the subject of an LB cover story some years ago, when it was almost impossible to find any of his recordings (except as a sideman) in the U.S. Now comes his first nationally (and internationally) distributed recording, THE TOUCH. Johnny is the dean of Oakland blues guitarists. He played on literally hundreds of sides in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s, and his sound, with slippery
solos, big fat chords, huge dynamic shifts, wonderful use of the volume knob and lots of swing is one of the most distinctive among bluesmen anywhere. But he’s also a master of jazzy blues organ and very, very soulful flute (!!). Plus, he sings in a personal, understated style and writes almost all his own songs.
This record was produced by Dick Shurman, producer or co-producer of albums by Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Fenton Robinson, Cal Green, Andrew Brown and Roy Buchanan. It was Dick who championed this project and opened my ears to Johnny Heartsman. Trust me (and Dick) on this one — you won’t go wrong with THE TOUCH.
I know this letter has bypassed my usual reminiscences to (hard) sell you some very good records. Sorry, but I believe in everything Alligator releases, and sometimes I just HAVE to do it. I promise to wax extra nostalgic next time!