It seems like there’s never a relaxed moment at Alligator. We’ve been scrambling to manufacture enough CDs to react to the demand for our new Holmes Brothers album, Speaking In Tongues. The orders have been pouring in ever since the group was featured recently in The New York Times, on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and World Café shows and the CD was named “the first great album of the year” by The Chicago Tribune. And we’re expecting more orders because the Brothers will be appearing soon on NPR’s Prairie Home Companion and on the Mountain Stage radio show (which will be transformed into a public television show in the fall). We showcased The Holmes Brothers at the huge South By Southwest Music Conference in March and it was my first real opportunity to hang out with them, because I wasn’t involved in producing their album (Joan Osborne was the producer, and did a great job). They’re delightful, witty and hilarious guys, and their four performances during the Conference were totally soul-stirring. There’s no one else in blues, R&B or gospel quite like them, and I’m thrilled to have them on Alligator. You can check out their tour schedule on our web site, www.alligator.com.
We also showcased Marcia Ball at SxSW, where she packed Antone’s. Marcia’s Alligator debut, Presumed Innocent, will be in the stores by the time you read this. I don’t think I have to introduce Marcia to any of you; she’s spent over 20 years building one of the most loyal followings in blues and roots music. Presumed Innocent combines the rollicking New Orleans style R&B she’s famous for with deep, soul-wrenching ballads and tough blues. And I would agree with Marcia that the album contains the best vocals she’s ever recorded, as well as terrific piano and a kickass band.
Just before SxSW, I was in Maurice, Louisiana, recording our third album with C.J. Chenier and the well-named Red Hot Louisiana Band. C.J. ripped through 16 songs, from contemporary and traditional zydeco to R&B ballads to French blues and waltzes to good old rock ‘n’ roll. C.J. is one of zydeco’s few true masters of the full-sized piano accordion, and a great blues singer, too. The album isn’t titled yet, but we’re going back to mix it in May, and if all goes well it will be out in July.
Last time I was telling you about the second session for James Cotton’s first Alligator album, High Compression—-the session for which James had me put together a classic Chicago-style band with Pinetop Perkins, Magic Slim, Aron Burton and Robert Covington. Because we were using all-star players from various bands, the only available recording time was a Sunday afternoon. I had asked everyone to get to the studio by noon, and at that time James and three of the four band members were there. We set up, got the sounds together as best we could, and waited for the last musician (who will remain anonymous). Two aggravating hours passed, and we finally turned on a football game and waited to see if he’d ever show up. When he finally ambled in, I was furious, but I didn’t want to destroy the session by exploding. So, in front of the other guys, I asked this musician what had held him up. He explained, “when the male member becomes turgid, one feels compelled to engage in sexual congress,” except his actual choice of words was somewhat more informal (I’ll leave the real words to your imagination). We all considered his explanation, and, being a bunch of guys, we realized that his logic was impeccable! He was instantly forgiven, amid gales of laughter.
When the session finally got underway, James again proved himself to be a masterful bandleader, sketching out the arrangements just enough to make sure that everyone was in the same groove, but leaving plenty of room for individual improvisation–the way the best classic Chicago blues records were made. He had chosen old songs by beloved bluesmen like Washboard Sam, Roosevelt Sykes, Eddie Boyd and Roscoe Gordon. We cut each tune in just a couple of takes, not wanting to lose the spontaneity or the fire.
More next time,