With all the troubles that the record industry is going through right now (including the recent bankruptcy of Valley Media/DNA Distributors which has had a murderous effect on dozens of independent labels), it was fun to forget about business and get down to Memphis last week for the Blues Foundation’s Blues First weekend. The weekend is built around a three-night talent contest, with blues societies from around the country sending their contest-winning bands to compete. I heard some very good music, acted as a judge one night, met a lot of old and new friends, and also spoke at a panel presented by the Blues Music Association, the organization of blues business people (of which I’m president this year). But the definite high point for me was receiving one of the Blues Foundation’s Keeping The Blues Alive (KBA) awards. It feels great to be honored by my peers, the blues ‘gang.’ I’m very proud of Alligator’s 30 years, and this was a nice way to see my work honored. For those of you who don’t attend the Blues First and Handy Award weekends in Memphis each year, you’re missing out.
Since I last wrote, we’ve released Little Charlie and The Nightcats’ new CD, That’s Big! Shemekia Copeland is in the studio with a surprising and exciting producer (more on that in the near future). And W.C. Clark, the grand master of Austin soul blues, has just finished a new album for us, to be released in April.
If you’re unfamiliar with W.C. Clark, he’s the Austin singer/guitarist/bassist who cut three terrific albums for the Black Top label. W.C. is perhaps best known for his membership in The Triple Threat Revue with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, but his roots in Texas R&B are much older and deeper. He was part of Austin’s thriving East Side blues scene as a teenager in the late 1950s, learning from local legends like T.D. Bell and later touring with soul man Joe Tex. W.C. developed a beautiful, gospel-influenced singing style that evokes soul masters like O.V. Wright and Al Green. On guitar, he can remind you of a young Gatemouth Brown as well as Steve Cropper, but his style is truly his own. It’s a pleasure to welcome him to the Alligator family.
And now, more on recording Lonnie Mack’s Alligator debut album back in 1984. We had to work as fast as we could to make up for lost time with all the studio and engineer problems. On the last available day, Lonnie realized that he had cut so much uptempo material that the album wasn’t very balanced. He rooted through his lyrics bag, trying to find something that fit the ‘mellow’ slot. He chose a ballad he had written for Ray Charles to sing (and one that Ray should sing!) called Fall Back In Love With You. Its late-night vibe was the perfect counterpoint to all the rockers we had cut.
With all the tracks completed, we decided that we didn’t want to mix the album under the same problematic conditions that we had recorded it, so we went looking for an Austin mixing studio. Stevie’s regular engineer found a home studio that filled the bill, with just enough space for Lonnie to re-record some vocals and backgrounds. We set out to mix the album in just a few days, but first Lonnie wanted to rewrite some lyrics, and especially to write words for the song that became Strike Like Lightning. He huddled with Stevie, bassman/composer Tim Drummond and the famed writer Will Jennings. It was Stevie who suggested ‘cold chills running down your spine’ and they took off from there, throwing out lyrics fast and furious. The whole tune was done in about 15 minutes, and Lonnie was pumped to sing it. He was in love with the song, and sang it so hard that he began coughing up blood! It was typical of the intensity Lonnie brought to the performances, and of the excitement that everyone was feeling. We knew we were making a great record.
In closing, I wanted to mention my sadness at the demise of the excellent magazine Blues Access. The publisher, Cary Wolfson, fought the good fight. He’ll continue to give us his great radio show, but his magazine will be sorely missed.