Summer started off with a bang at last week’s Chicago Blues Festival. Among many terrific sets, the highlight for me was an explosive Saturday night performance by Alligator’s own Shemekia Copeland. It’s a thrill to see Shemekia, at the tender age of 23, headlining the biggest blues festival in the world. It’s hard for me to believe how quickly she’s developed into one of the biggest-drawing blues artists in the country, and how her voice and stage presence have matured. Shemekia has already been in the studio working on her third album, with Dr. John producing! Tracks are being cut in New York with members of both their bands, and the songs have the kind of slinky, funky rhythms that Dr. John is famous for, combined with Shemekia’s best singing on record yet. If all goes well, the album (still untitled) will be out in September.
Also appearing at the Chicago festival were W.C. Clark, celebrating the release of his Alligator debut, From Austin With Soul, and Cephas and Wiggins, previewing some of the intricate, gentle Piedmont-style acoustic blues from their fall ‘Gator release. W.C.’s album has been very well received, with more airplay than any of his previous releases. He’s been doing some great live shows that have proven him to be one of the world’s most soulful vocalists, as well as a powerhouse Texas-style blues guitarist.
I just finished the final mixes for Lil’ Ed And The Blues Imperials’ fifth Alligator album, Heads Up! It’s everything you’ve grown to love from Ed–tons of energy, slashing slide guitar, driving rhythms and plenty of deep blues feeling. We cut the whole album in three jam-packed days, recording 25 tunes in one or two takes each. Thirteen of the best appear on Heads Up! It was a challenge deciding which of the tunes to leave off the disc; one of the best ones was a hilarious Christmas song that I hope will appear on a 2003 Alligator Christmas collection. Also in 2003, I expect new albums from The Holmes Brothers, Marcia Ball and Michael Burks, plus some surprises.
Speaking of Marcia (and Shemekia), it was great to be in Memphis a few weeks ago to see them both win W.C. Handy Awards. Koko Taylor was also a Handy winner (with 22 Handys under her belt, she’s won more than any other artist). The Handy weekend also included the annual membership meeting of the Blues Music Association, the organization of blues professionals. If for some reason you don’t know about the BMA, check it out on line at www.bluesmusicassociation.org. And, if you’re a blues fan, you should of course be a member of the Blues Foundation (www.blues.org), the organization that presents the W.C. Handy Awards.
It’s time to tell you a bit about everything that happened to Alligator in 1985, a banner year for the label. After 14 years of living in the same space as my label(four years in apartments and 11 in my little house), I decided that fitting Alligator under my roof had become impossible. We had a basement full of LPs, and 7000 cassettes stored in the kitchen, stacked five feet high with a little path that led from the door to the refrigerator to the coffeepot to the sink. The copier was in the dining room, my desk was in my bedroom (so visitors were forced to sit on the bed to have a meeting with me) and I had seven employees arriving at my house every day. With albums by Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, Koko and Son Seals all selling well, I decided I could finally afford to move my label into a commercial building. But I wanted Alligator phones to continue to ring in my house, so I could do business there on nights and weekends, and so the artists could easily reach me in case of emergency. I found that I could only relocate Alligator within a few blocks of my home and still have the phones ringing in both locations. I found a storefront building with two apartments overhead a few blocks from my house, and scraped up the money to buy it. We moved the warehouse onto the ground floor, and took over one of the apartments for office space. I never thought Alligator would grow enough to take over the third floor. But with our momentous releases of 1985, my vision of what Alligator could be changed radically.
More next time