I promised that this time I wouldn’t use up valuable reminiscing space touting new Alligator releases, but I will tell you what they are: NO FOOLIN’ by the Swamp Boogie Qutee-h herself, Katie Webster (with guest appearances by Lonnie Brooks and C.J. Chenier) and ALONE & ACOUSTIC by Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (the reissue of their French album, GOING BACK, with five never-before-released tracks. A full hour of gentle, acoustic blues). Good records—buy them!
To turn back the’proverbial hands —by early 1980, Alligator was actually becoming a force in the blues world. We had released 21 albums in a bit over eight years, had a staff of four, and our artists were touring regularly all oyer the States and sometimes in Europe. There wasn’t a lot of competition ^o we were getting to be big kids on a very small block. Albert Collins was becoming Alligator’s hottest artist, and I was. eager to cut a new album (I’m always eager to be in the studio). The band we had put together for ICE PICKIN’ had become the core of The Icebreakers, Albert’s red hot road band, with Casey Jones on drums and A.C. Reed on sax. They had been touring with him for almost two years and knew his music backwards and forwards (plus they were all great friends), so rehearsals could be minimal. Albert wanted a big horn sound for this record, so he asked Bill MacFarland to put together a horn section for the session, with A.C. as featured soloist. Dick Shurman again co-produced, and brought some great songs, like “Don’t Go Reaching Across My Plate” and “Brick”. Gwen Collins wrote the^lyrics to “Snowed In” (from real life) and “Give Me My Blues,” and Albert suggested “If You Love Me Like You Say” and “Blue Monday.”
We rehearsed in the middle of winter at Eddie Shaw’s 1815 Club on the West Side, with the daytime patrons giving us plenty of useless advice. When we got to Curtom Studios everyone was excited, and we cut fast and furious. Albert was feeling very confident and really burned, especially on “Brick.” “Snowed In” was the big challenge; when we went into the studio we didn’t really know how we were going to pull off all the aural tricks — car horns, whistling wind, footsteps’ in the snow, the ignition key, trying to start the car — but Albert turned into Mr. Sound Effects, and everything you hear came straight from the Telecaster. We called the new album FROSTBITE; it was released in March of 1980.
At the beginning of the year I had been talked into putting together the first blues tour of Greece, to take place in late Spring. It would be virtually the first time the Greek audiences had heard live blues so I wanted this tour to be something special. I organized an extravaganza that headlined Albert, Koko Taylor, A.C Reed, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell plus The Icebreakers. I didn’t realize it, but the fascist junta had only recently been deposed in Greece and this was the first tour by (decadent) American musicians in a decade. So it was not only the first dose of blues there, but a celebration of new freedom for a lot of young Greeks. And quite a celebration–in Thessalonika, where we played in an indoor basketball arena, about 3000 people paid; the rest just broke down the doors. It was a scary scene — the musicians at one end of the court and the frustrated audience seated all around the sides, but banned from coming out on the floor. Still, everyone stayed cool until the riot police (complete with shields, helmets and nightsticks) showed up and ringed the court. I thought there would be a riot, since the police were trying to provoke one. Thank heavens for Albert, who took advantage of his 150-foot cord to calmly stroll across the court, through the lines of police, and into the stands! Kind of saying to the audience “you can’t come to us, but we can come to you, so who cares about the police?” The power of the blues released the tension of the audience, but we still got out of there fast when the concert ended! Greece was a different and exotic experience for me and the bluesmen; I have a classic photo of the whole group on the Acropolis, obviously wondering what was so special about a fallen-down ruin!
More next time.