Dear Friends,

A lot has been going on at Alligator in the last few months that I haven’t had a chance to tell you about. In January, Little Charlie and The Nightcats completed their ninth album, which we just released last week. It’s called, appropriately, Nine Lives. With Charlie Baty’s brilliant, off-the-wall guitar and Rick Estrin’s hot harmonica, cool lyrics and hip vocals, plus their red-hot rhythm section, the guys really surpassed themselves. Rick is simply one of the finest songwriters in the blues world, and the whole band stepped up a notch in the studio, perhaps inspired by the new, young rhythm section of J. Hansen on drums and vocals and Lorenzo Farrell on bass. Charlie and Rick have been playing together for almost thirty years, and their communication is nothing less than telepathic. This is simply one of the best groups in blues, and Nine Lives may be their best album ever.

Marcia Ball has earned her place as one of the most popular and best-selling members of the Alligator family. She is a huge draw on the road, mixing Texas rocking boogie piano with New Orleans R&B and her gorgeous, soulful vocals. For decades, her fans have been clamoring for a live album. Now, finally, it’s here. Entitled Live! Down The Road, the new album captures over an hour of some of the best-loved songs of Marcia’s career. Backed by her road-tested touring band, plus extra horns, Red Young’s terrific organ and a guest appearance by her old Texas pal Angela Strehli, Marcia brings all her soulful talent and vibrant personality to a terrific concert performance recorded last year in California. Plus, there are three songs Marcia has never recorded before. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Marcia Ball show, this will be essential listening.

Finally, I’m very happy to announce that Alligator has re-signed an old friend, Tinsley Ellis. Tinsley cut five albums for us in the ’80s and ’90s, proving he’s one of the finest blues/rock guitarists on the scene. We then parted ways and he cut three albums for other labels. But now he’s back, and he and I are both thrilled about it. To celebrate, we recorded two nights of live performances at Chord On Blues in St. Charles, Illinois at the end of March. In a marathon session, we mixed 77 minutes (the longest Alligator album ever) of powerhouse live performances. The album captures everything that fans have grown to love about Tinsley in his 20-year career as a blues road warrior —fiery guitar, intense vocals, loads of energy provided by Tinsley and a crack band. The album, entitled Live–Highwayman will be released in early June. Miss it at your own risk!

Last time, I took the entire letter/column to remember Son Seals. Now it’s time to return to the saga of recording Roy Buchanan’s Alligator debut, When A Guitar Plays The Blues in 1985. As I told you, we went into the studio with an all-star Chicago blues band. Roy was capable of playing anything from country to rock to jazz, but he had come to Alligator to record the blues. Still, I didn’t realize how broad Roy’s definition of blues was. For example, he opened a straight slow blues with quotes from Bach, employing his signature volume knob swells. On a harder rocking song, he hammered the strings with the slider from a lap steel guitar, devising effects (without pedals) that almost sounded like a dinosaur stomping and inspired the song title “Sneaking Godzilla Through The Alley.” On the other hand, backing Gloria Hardiman’s guest vocal, he played with a delicate, melodic ballad approach that was totally infused with blues, playing only the essential notes of the solo and creating a gorgeous, shimmering tone. And then, for “Hawaiian Punch,” he employed the nut extender to raise the strings and play wild slide with the guitar in his lap. From song to song, he was consistently inspired.

After just two intense days of recording, the album was in the can. Roy declared himself totally happy, naming it as the favorite record of his career. It turned out to be one of the best sellers in Alligator history, and is today considered a classic.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer