Like so many other blues fans, as we come to the end of The Year Of The Blues, I’m trying to figure out the future impact of this event in blues history. As Steve Knopper recently pointed out in The Chicago Tribune, it’s easier to make an argument for 1936 (or perhaps 1954) as The Year Of The Blues. We’ve suffered so many losses of blues pioneers in the last few years that it’s hard to know if we can ever produce future blues musicians of the same stature as the ones we’ve lost. But some of those older pioneers are still going to be with us for a while longer. I’m overjoyed to report that Koko Taylor is on the road to full recovery after undergoing major gastrointestinal surgery in November. And I’m thrilled to see that Son Seals is gigging with some regularity after spending a lot of last winter in the hospital dealing with severe diabetes. Johnny B. Moore is apparently going to recover from his stroke. Unfortunately, Ashward Gates, Jr., a sweet, gentle and talented guy who played drums on Fenton Robinson’s second Alligator album, I Hear Some Blues Downstairs, has suffered a massive stroke from which he may not recover.
I’m unsure of the impact of Martin Scorsese’s The Blues public TV series. Like most of my friends, my reaction was very mixed. Each film offered something good, including a lot of great historical footage. But with no unifying overview, they may have been more confusing than illuminating for the casual viewer. We all can name key artists whose names were never mentioned. One friend said that more people would have been turned on to blues by 90 minutes of great performance footage. On the other hand, according to Amazon.com, there was a flurry of sales of Skip James CDs, along with (unfortunately) sales of Electric Mud. Was a huge opportunity to reach potential new blues fans wasted? Hard to tell, but the impact was certainly much less than that of Ken Burns’ immensely influential Jazz series. And the CD sales were primarily of the ‘official’ discs on Sony and Universal, rather than music from the independent labels that have been supporting the blues for all these years.
By the time you read this, our new Holmes Brothers CD, Simple Truths, will be in the stores (and at www.alligator.com). The Holmes are a wonderful, unique band; I can’t call them a blues band in the conventional sense, but I can’t imagine a blues fan who won’t love Simple Truths, with its gorgeous rough-edged gospellish vocal harmonies and tough playing. And for those of you who are enjoying the new acoustic blues revival, you’ll be knocked out by Double Take, a stripped-down duo album by Kenny Neal and Billy Branch, full of guitar and harmonica interplay. (Note to you European fans—this album is out there on Isabel Records and entitled Easy Meeting).
Last time I was remembering my first meeting with Roy Buchanan, who went on to cut three brilliant albums for Alligator. After our first meeting (when I was drunk and embarrassed myself), Roy was nice enough to keep in touch with me on the phone. Some months later, Roy was booked to open for Johnny Winter (already on Alligator) at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, a venerable rock hall. We chatted backstage and then I went out to hear the show. Partway through his set, Roy gave the drummer a solo, and I noticed that Roy kept looking back at his amp and strumming chords…but his amp was silent. I realized his amp was dead, and I knew Roy had no roadie. I rushed backstage and came out behind the amplifiers while the drum solo was still going on (one of the few times I’ve appreciated a long drum solo). The only thing I knew to check was the fuse, and luckily that was the problem; it had blown. Johnny’s amps were on stage and I quickly pirated a fuse from one of his amps and shoved it into Roy’s. The amp lit up and Roy was able to finish his set. I was a hero! That sealed my friendship with Roy. And the same night Roy bonded with Dick Shurman, Dick had already co-produced Albert Collins and Johnny with me, and he became my co-producer for all of Roy’s Alligator releases.
More next time,