I was looking over my last few “letters” and I suddenly realized that there’s a brand new Alligator release that I haven’t told you anything about! It’s the first album in many, many years by a true Chicago blues legend, Billy Boy Arnold. It’s called “Back Where I Belong” and we just released it this week.
For those of you who don’t know Billy Boy, he’s a contemporary of Junior Wells and Little Walter who began recording while he was still a teenager, back in the early..1950s. Billy was a disciple of the first Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Williamson, and was actually tutored by his idol a couple of times before John Lee’s very untimely death. In the ’50s, Billy was a local star when he was still too young to get into clubs legally. His singles on Veejay, especially “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You” were strong regional hits (and of course fodder for the Animals and the Yardbirds ten years after). Besides his own sides, Billy was an early member of Bo Diddley’s band and appeared on Bo’s first Chess singles. But Billy’s time in the spotlight proved to be relatively short. He gigged and recorded around town through the 60s, but by the time I moved here in 1970 he was working a day job and virtually never playing in Chicago, even though he occasionally toured and recorded in England and Europe.
As most of you know, some of the “truest” ’50s style Chicago blues is now being played by young California musicians who have studied the sounds and rhythms of the old records (and bought vintage equipment and vintage clothes to get inside the ’50s feel). Last year Billy was lured out of retirement to tour the West Coast with the Taildraggers, a fine band led by Randy Chortkoff, an L.A. harp player. Randy produced fourteen songs with Billy and some of the finest of the West Coast revivalist players, including The Taildraggers and veterans of Rod Piazza’s Mighty Flyers, the Red Devils and The William Clarke Band. It’s those L.A. sessions that make up “Back Where I Belong.” With the inspiration of these fine players, Billy really stretches out. You can still hear the acoustic influence of Sonny Boy, but he also gets down and dirty with some heavily amplified harp sounds. Billy is clearly a stronger and more inventive player now than in the old days, and a more mature and subtle singer, too. Plus he contributes a batch of tough new tunes that show he’s no slouch as a writer. All in all, it’s quite a comeback record.
So, for those of you who have decided Alligator has strayed too far from the tradition (we like to think of it as defining the future of the tradition), “Back Where I Belong” and Bob Margolin’s new album, “Down In The Alley”, should convince you that we still love the good old blues sounds as much as the good new ones. And if you’re nervous about spending $15 to see if you like our newer releases, we’ve got another of our “Genuine Houserockin’ Music” samplers out (this one’s # 5) so you can get a low-priced taste of gator.
Back to the past next time,