I just returned from the Blues Foundation’s big Blues First Weekend/International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The IBC is the amateur (and semi-professional) talent contest that the BF has been running for 20 years. This year’s event was clearly the best-attended yet, with over 90 participants, each sponsored by a blues society. I judged the finals, and many of the finalists were very much worthy of wider recognition, especially the winner, Zac Harmon and second place finisher Slick Ballinger (who appeared with an excellent harpist and drummer; I had seen him solo in the past.) I was glad to see about 20 solo and duo acts; it’s refreshing to see that the overwhelming number of Stevie Ray wannabes is beginning to be replaced by aspiring blues artists who realize how broad and deep the blues tradition really is. I was also happy to see at least a smattering of black faces on the bandstands, both leaders and sidemen. All in all, a terrific event with some real talent showcased. You should go next year; meanwhile, remember that this year’s W.C. Handy Awards in Memphis are earlier than usual, April 29, right before the Memphis In May festival. Time for a trip to Tennessee!
Back at Alligator, we’re getting great response to The Holmes Brothers’ Simple Truths and the Kenny Neal/Billy Branch duo CD, Double Take. Both received glowing reviews in Entertainment Weekly, and the Holmes album was reviewed in USA Today, on NPR’s All Things Considered, and in dozens of major daily papers. You can read more at our web site, www.alligator.com and hear some samples on our online jukebox.
I’m thrilled to announce the signing of our old friend Guitar Shorty, the tough Texas-raised bluesman whose career includes some excellent early singles and three albums on Black Top. Shorty is a unique bluesman, a tough singer and powerhouse guitarist who was a big influence on the young Hendrix and supposedly on young Buddy Guy. He’s just cut a very exciting new CD produced by Brian Brinkerhoff and Jesse Harms. We haven’t named it yet, but we’re looking at a late April release, so be prepared! I’m also combing through the vaults for the best of the remaining unreleased live and studio Hound Dog Taylor material. Hound Dog was of course Alligator’s first artist, and is undoubtedly our most beloved. No Chicago band was rawer than Hound Dog and The HouseRockers, and this previously unreleased material is pretty rough around the edges, and some of the recording quality of the live material isn’t the greatest, but has all the wild “Dog” spirit that his true fans love. If all goes well, we’ll unleash the Dog in late April. Meanwhile, we’re in pre-production for new CDs from W.C. Clark and Coco Montoya, and, if all goes well, we should have one big surprise before the end of the year.
This doesn’t leave much space to tell you more about Roy Buchanan’s coming to Alligator. After my roadie skills ‘saved’ his gig, Roy, Dick Shurman and I started talking about Roy’s Alligator debut, which he wanted to be his first ‘pure’ blues record, cut with an all-star Chicago band. In April of 1985, Roy arrived to record. Dick and I had heard about Roy’s having trash bags full of cassettes of songs in his basement, and it turned out that there was some truth to this—he arrived for our pre-production meeting with a pile of cassettes that were not full songs but song ideas that he had thrown on tape as they came to him. They were all instrumentals, and they proved that Roy had a very broad definition of blues. We chose a few of them to develop (and name)–the steel guitar-influenced “Mrs. Pressure” (named after his childhood lap steel teacher), a sort of heavy metal instrumental with Roy picking some parts with a lap steel slider (i.e. metal on metal) that we called “Sneaking Godzilla Through The Alley,” a rocker named in honor of Roy’s favorite Windy City cigar store, The Old Chicago Smoke Shop and one titled (in honor of my temper?), “Short Fuse.”
More next time,