This is the hottest summer I can remember and we’re preparing two September releases calculated to keep the heat turned up. As you know, Dr. John is producing Shemekia Copeland’s third CD, Talking To Strangers, and he’s just finished the mixes. It’s chock full (15 songs!) of funky grooves, cool lyrics, great musicianship and of course Shemekia’s huge, soul-drenched voice. In just five years, Shemekia has moved from relative obscurity to headlining blues festivals worldwide. Her giant talent and riveting stage presence have won her a legion of fans. On Talking To Strangers, she delivers not only her patented raw power and energy, but also some of her finest recorded performances yet. At the age of 23, she’s already been singing the blues professionally for eight years. And, as Johnny Copeland’s daughter, she’s been immersed in the blues her whole life. That’s how she can bring such maturity and soul to her singing.
Also in September, those masters of acoustic Piedmont blues, Cephas and Wiggins, return with Somebody Told The Truth, a joyful album full of fingerpicked guitar, romping harmonica and down home vocals. From insightful original songs to fresh arrangements of traditional tunes, these two great bluesmen create an intimate recording that proves they can take a very traditional style of blues and continue to make exciting, contemporary statements.
As I told you last time, 1985 was a banner year for Alligator. As we released Lonnie Mack’s Strike Like Lightning, I jumped into the production of Alligator’s fourth Koko Taylor album, Queen Of The Blues. After ten years with Alligator, during which she covered tens of thousands of highway miles pouring out three sets a night for a few hundred dollars, Koko had finally won some of the recognition she deserved, and was becoming a blues icon and festival headliner. She had performed with so many of the world’s greatest bluesmen that she and I decided to invite some of them to appear on this new album. But first we needed songs. Koko hadn’t written anything for this project, but she had some great ideas for reworking some obscure classics—-Big Maybelle’s I Cried Like A Baby, Ted Taylor’s I Don’t Care No More and a remake of one of her obscure Chess sides, I Can Love You Like A Woman (Or I Can Fight You Like A Man), written by Cash McCall. She also brought a new Willie Dixon tune called Flamin’ Mamie. I had the idea to cut a female version of another Dixon tune, Evil, made famous by Howlin’ Wolf. I found an obscure Johnny Otis song called Beer Bottle Boogie, and suggested Albert King’s The Hunter. An Alligator staff member offered the funky classic Come To Mama (originally cut by Ann Peebles, not Bob Seger).
Next, Koko and I put together an all-star core band, with the great Johnny B. Gayden on bass (from Albert Collins’ Icebreakers), Ray “Killer” Allison from James Cotton’s band on drums, Professor Eddie Lusk on keyboards, and, at the helm, the brilliant Criss Johnson on guitar. Criss had played on Koko’s previous album, From The Heart Of A Woman, but this time, at Koko’s urging, I allowed him to lead the band and put together the arrangements. Criss had been in Otis Clay’s soul band, but for a few years previous to these sessions, he had completely committed himself to gospel music (where he still is today), playing and touring with Shirley Caesar and the Caravans. Criss is simply one of the most exciting guitarists I’ve ever heard, and his arranging skills and musical knowledge are immense. Like me, he idolizes Gene “Daddy G” Barge, the horn player and rhythm arranger who put together so many of the great Chess R&B classics (and produced our Big Twist And The Mellow Fellows albums). From Gene, Criss learned how to get the most out of a musician, and get everyone focused and excited in rehearsal and in the studio. With the songs and band picked, it was time to invite the guests.
More next time,