I’m still recovering from the whirlwind of the W.C. Handy Awards weekend in Memphis (including the annual meeting of the Blues Music Association) and the 2001 Chicago Blues Festival, one of the best we’ve had in recent years. The Handys were a treat, with my most senior and junior ‘Gator gals, Koko Taylor and Shemekia Copeland, both winning awards. It was Koko’s 21st Handy, the most any artist has won. For Shemekia, I was honored to accept the Album Of The Year Handy for Wicked.
The Chicago Blues Festival is a major event for me every year, not only because of trying to figure out which artists to catch in four days of continuous all-day music and all-night club gigs, but also because it seems like half the blues world shows up in Chicago for the Festival with the specific goal of having a conversation with me! Some of these folks are old friends whom I’m glad to see. But others think that my reason for coming to the festival is to hear them talk about their band. By adamantly refusing to take audition CDs from anyone, I managed to escape with only about a dozen, most of which I’ll get around to listening to in November at the rate I’m going.
In the midst of all the conversations, I did manage to hear some great sets, including excellent shows by our own C.J. Chenier and The Holmes Brothers. But the high point of the festival for me was a magical, hour-long jam between Pinetop Perkins and his most famous pupil, Ike Turner. Ike learned from Pinetop when he was only nine years old, and now, 60 years later, Ike was honoring his mentor. While Pine chose and led off the songs, Ike followed his every note, answering Pine’s phrases on piano with his own brilliant keyboard work or wild but tasty guitar fills. I saw Ike the bandleader at work, cueing the horns on what fills to play, signaling accents to the drummer, every note calculated to support Pine. Ike was like a big kid fulfilling his fantasy.
Just before the festival, we released new albums by two long-time members of the Alligator family. Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women have a new album called Ain’t Gonna Hush!, filled with rollicking acoustic music, including songs that push the lyrical boundaries of the blues tradition and give us men a hard time. Dave Hole’s new disc, Outside Looking In, is the latest dose of raw, rocking electrified slide guitar from the Down Under bottleneck master. Dave will be here during July and August for one of his rare American tours. You can check out all our artists’ tour dates at www.alligator.com. There are some other cool new features on our web site, too.
I’ve been spending late nights in the studio over the last month, choosing material for The Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection. Like our two previous Anniversary Collections (20th and 25th), this will be a double-disc set, two CDs for the price of one. But this time, one disc will be made up of live performances, including previously unreleased treats by Albert Collins, Son Seals with Elvin Bishop, Little Charlie and the Nightcats, C.J. Chenier, and Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials. Plus, there will be a CD-ROM of the only piece of Hound Dog Taylor video that we know of, shot at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues Festival! The second disc will contain some of the crème de la crème of our last 30 years of studio recordings. The Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection is set for release at the end of August.
This leaves me with very little space to wax historical. In the 23 years that I’ve been writing this letter/ad, I’ve covered the first 14 years of Alligator, and only 37 of almost 200 releases! So, I’m going to skip reminiscing about Son Seals’ fifth ‘Gator, Bad Axe, and next time go directly to Lonnie Mack’s 1985 Alligator debut, Strike Like Lightning. But I want to ask for some help concerning our other Lonnie, Lonnie Brooks. In the early 1980s, I came with him and his band to a city in Germany (I think Hamburg) for a TV filming in a small club. I don’t have a copy of this show, and I wonder if any German readers of LB might have one? I’d love to see it.
More next time,