Dear Friends,

I’m glad to see that, in the midst of a very scary world situation, blues fans are still planning for happier events down the road. Our artists’ summer calendars are crowded, and there will be some good new festivals this year. Check out our tour calendar at to see your favorite Alligator live.

As you read this, we’ve just released Marcia Ball’s second Alligator CD, So Many Rivers. I had been a fan of Marcia’s music for years before she joined the Alligator family in 2001 and released the W.C. Handy Award-winning Presumed Innocent. One of the many joys of working with Marcia is watching her continue to grow as an artist. With So Many Rivers, Marcia and her producer Stephen Bruton explore all the streams that have contributed to Marcia’s music–blues, New Orleans R&B, old time rock ‘n’ roll, boogie woogie, Cajun, zydeco, Gulf Coast soul ballads and swamp pop. Marcia stretches out in all these genres, blending elements of each into a moving and personal statement that will speak to any lover of American roots music. She also steps out as a songwriter, contributing six new songs to So Many Rivers, as well as bringing eight excellent tunes from a bevy of other talented writers.

I’m just wrapping up production on Michael Burks’ June release, I Smell Smoke. Since we released Make It Rain in 2001, Michael has been on the road almost constantly, pouring out his soul for blues fans in clubs and festivals around the globe. His music has become even more dynamic, more energized and his sound and style more personal. Michael and I were joined in the studio by the great Jim Gaines, who acted as co-producer and brought some terrific musical ideas to the sessions, as well as supervising the mixes. For anyone who has pledged allegiance to Luther Allison, Albert Collins or Albert King, Michael Burks is carrying on in their ‘high energy but don’t forget the soul’ tradition.

I’ve been trying to tell you the story of recording Koko Taylor’s Queen Of The Blues album, though it’s stretching out over a lot of issues! After we finished the rehearsals down in Koko’s South Side basement, we headed downtown to Streeterville Studios to capture all those carefully wrought arrangements on tape. To spice things up, Koko and I asked some of her friends to join her in the studio. For her version of Howlin’ Wolf’s classic Evil, we invited James Cotton in to blow harp. On Ted Taylor’s I Don’t Care No More, her pal Son Seals sat in on guitar. For the Albert King classic The Hunter, Albert Collins froze us solid with his Telecaster. And Lonnie Brooks brought his swampy guitar sound to Queen Bee. No one is better loved on the blues scene than Koko, so the sessions were like a family cookout, with everyone bringing a carefully prepared spicy dish to give to the hostess. With a band full of guys who liked to clown around, like Ray Allison and Professor Eddie Lusk, no one could stay too serious too long (though Criss Johnson, acting as bandleader/arranger, did his best). Cotton in particular brought high spirits to the studio. James and Pops Taylor were old friends from the South, and James and I had bonded during the recording of his first solo album for Alligator, High Compression. On Evil, he gave us a powerhouse solo that fit perfectly with Koko’s vocal (one reason that it’s ended up in two major feature films, Adventures In Babysitting and Mercury Rising.)

We cut Queen Of The Blues in three fun-filled sessions in late 1984 and early 1985, and released it with a cover photo that was taken for a big feature story in The Chicago Tribune. The album has become one of Koko’s classic recordings, earning a Grammy nomination and selling over 75,000 copies in the USA alone. The songs on that album have become among the most-requested at Koko’s live performances.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer