Dear Friends,

As we head into 1994, it’s unfortunately time to say goodbye to a couple of the stalwarts of the Chicago blues scene. Since the first of the year, we’ve lost both Johnny Littlejohn, one of the great slide guitarists and deep blues vocalists of the first generation of postwar Chicago players and also Buddy Scott, blues and soul guitarist, singer, arranger, and bandleader. Scotty cut four songs for Alligator on the “Living Chicago Blues” series back in ’79 and just had his first full solo album released on Verve Blues. He was a consummate professional, an excellent musician, a sweet, outgoing person and the inspiration to a whole clan of fine musicians named Scott who populate some of the best blues and R&B bands in town. On and off the bandstand, he was a man with a lot of friends and admirers, and deservedly so.

Returning to reminiscing, I guess it’s time to talk about the recording of Lonnie Brooks* “Turn On The Night” album back in 1980, This was Lonnie’s second full album for Alligator and he wanted to explore some of his other influences beyond the more straightahead shuffles and slow blues and the signature bayou “voodoo beat” songs of his previous album, “Bayou Lightning.” Lonnie’s music has always been pretty diverse, with roots in blues, Memphis soul, early rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, swamp pop, zydeco, even country. Of course I was nervous about letting Lonnie stray too far from what I considered to be “straight” blues–what would the purists say? So, for “Turn On The Night” Lonnie chose some blues standards like “T.V. Mama” but also wrote a new song with the vibe of Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records’ Memphis soul called “Don’t Go To Sleep On Me” and brought back the old time rock ‘n’ roll beat of his earliest records with “Teenage Boogie Man.” Reaching back to his Louisiana roots, he covered Chris Kenner’s “Something You Got” and wrote his own tribute to the first music he played professionally, “Zydeco” (Lonnie and Lonesome Sundown were Clifton Chenier’s guitarist team in the late 1950s). But the showpiece of the album was clearly “Eyeball in’,” a funky, sexy shuffle which has since entered Lonnie’s “most requested” song list and become a feature of his live shows.

We cut fast, furious and sweaty, recording all the songs in two long nights at Curtom Studios, though I admit we added horns on five songs later. By this time, Lonnie and I were used to each other in ‘the studio, and because we were cutting with his road warrior band {Bob Levis, Ken Saydak, Harlan Terson, Billy Jackson), the communication was terrific and recording never became a chore. The best Alligator records feel like the best nights on the bandstand (I hope) and this one sure did. Even though we worked VERY late into the night, the energy never let down. I always loved the sound Lonnie got out of that raggedy old Gibson SG, and “Turn On The Night” includes some of his hottest soloing.

Of course, when the record came out, some of the purist blues fans thought it was a bit too R&B, but I hope and trust that most of our ears have gotten a little bigger and our definitions less hidebound since then! Lonnie has always been cursed by not being “purely” anything except purely Lonnie Brooks. But that’s always been good enough for me.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer