As the summer rolls on, I’ve been in the Christmas spirit, finishing up production on a collection of holiday blues called Genuine Houserockin’ Christmas. A decade ago we released The Alligator Records Christmas Collection, one of our most successful records ever. Genuine Houserockin’ Christmas includes 16 brand new slices of yuletide music, with tracks from virtually every Alligator artist–Koko Taylor, Shemekia Copeland, Lonnie Brooks, Marcia Ball, Coco Montoya, Roomful of Blues, Lil’ Ed, Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Saffire, The Holmes Brothers, Dave Hole, Cephas & Wiggins, W.C. Clark, C.J. Chenier, Michael Burks and Carey Bell. I had the pleasure of producing the tracks by Koko, Carey, Ed and Saffire. Fourteen of the tunes were written especially for the album, and each one is filled with plenty of holiday spirit, from the serious blues of Michael Burks and Coco Montoya to lighthearted musical Christmas romps from Lil’ Ed and C.J. Chenier. This album is guaranteed to give you and anyone on your gift list a truly blue, blue Christmas!
I have to mention the great response to Michael Burks’ new CD, I Smell Smoke. Fans and critics have clearly figured out that Michael is maturing into a major blues figure. The Chicago Sun-Times, for example, called it “decidedly urban, contemporary blues with plenty of firepower…Burks’ fierce but fluid fret runs and soulful blues moan give this record its phenomenal power.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Early next year, watch for our second album by the wonderful Holmes Brothers. This one (still untitled as I write this) was produced by the Grammy-winning Craig Street (who produced Norah Jones) and brings the Holmes back into the secular world, with four strong new original tunes and songs from such diverse writers as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Marley, Collective Soul, Gillian Welch, Jimmy Reed and Hank Williams. The Holmes bring their famed rough-edged, gospel-tinged harmony voices to every song. Also, early in 2004, watch for some more additions to our budget-priced Crucial Blues series and later in the year, new ones from Coco Montoya, W.C. Clark and more.
Now, to return to my remembrances… I’ve been recalling our various recording projects, and it’s time to reminisce about Roy Buchanan and his years with Alligator, and especially about the making of his debut for us, When A Guitar Plays The Blues. It’s sometimes hard for me to think about Roy, because he was often such a tortured soul, and because his life ended so sadly. He and I didn’t know each other very well when he came to record for Alligator, but working together built an intense bond between Roy, my co-producer and friend Dick Shurman and myself.
Of course I was familiar with Roy’s music. He had broken out of his underground status and become a national phenomenon in the early ‘70s, with a public television special called “The World’s Greatest Unknown Guitar Player.” But for me, his albums were disappointingly eclectic and less bluesy than I wanted.(My definition of blues was much more traditional then, and I also had grave doubts about any white people being qualified to be blues artists, though no doubts about my own ability to be a qualified (white) blues producer!). Later I had seen Roy play a double bill with Hound Dog Taylor at the Performance Center in Cambridge, MA. I had been very impressed by his wild musicianship but again disappointed by the relatively small amount of blues material. And then he kind of slipped off of my radar, until I was in Toronto in 1983. I had just closed a Canadian distribution deal with Warner Music in Canada and I went out celebrating with my old friend Derek Andrews, head of the Toronto Blues Society and the booker for Albert’s Hall, the city’s leading blues club. I drank way too much and went back to the club, to lay down/pass out on the couch in Derek’s office. I didn’t realize I was about to have one of the most important meetings of my career.
More next time,