Dear Friends,

As I write this, we’re just releasing Tinsley Ellis’ Live – Highwayman CD, marking his return to Alligator after a few years away from our family. Already fans of hard-charging blues/rock are calling this his most exciting album ever, and I agree. For a dose of sheer, guitar-powered energy, this is one you need to hear.

Look for the August release of Shemekia Copeland’s much-anticipated fourth Alligator album. Shemekia’s music has always blended straight ahead blues with Memphis-style soul. For this new project, Shemekia teamed with famed guitarist Steve Cropper as her producer. Steve created an updated version of the Memphis sound that he pioneered, framing Shemekia’s volcanic voice with funky rhythms, the strutting Muscle Shoals Horns and snaky, minimalist Cropper guitar. The album features brand new tunes that range from classic Southern soul to high-powered modern blues. This new CD, appropriately entitled The Soul Truth, is the most mature and intense statement yet from a true blues superstar who has won the hearts and souls of the entire blues world.

Speaking of beloved artists, no ‘60s-era Chicago blues group is more beloved than The Siegel-Schwall Band. While their contemporaries Charlie Musselwhite and Paul Butterfield followed the intense, electric sound of the city’s South Side bands, Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall blended amplified acoustic guitar and soaring harmonica with clever original lyrics and lighter, folk-influenced grooves. With legendary master shuffle drummer Sam Lay and idiosyncratic bassist Rollo Radford, they created a signature sound that blended the influence o fJimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf with the feel of amplified jug bandmusic. Their Reunion Concert album, released on Alligator in 1988, marked their return to active gigging. Now the Siegel-Schwall Band has produced their first album of all-new material in three decades, Fast Forward. The new disc includes 13 fresh, new compositions, including five that showcase Sam’s inimitable vocalstyle, plus tunes featuring Corky’s harp and piano, Jim’s clever songwriting and Rollo’s completely left-field takes on life and love.

It hink I’ve said enough about the making of Roy Buchanan’s When A Guitar Plays The Blues album back in 1985. That was a busy year for me and for my co-producer Dick Shurman. Right after we finished Roy’s album, we were back in the studio to work again with Johnny Winter on his second Alligator release, Serious Business. Because we had found that our team, including Casey Jones on drums ,Johnny B. Gayden on bass and Ken Saydak on keyboards and engineer Justin Niebank had worked so well on Guitar Slinger, we didn’t want to mess with a good thing. This time, we decided to go entirely with a guitar-driven, stripped down, no-horns approach. For harmonica duties on a couple songs, we brought in the very talented Jon Paris ,who played bass and harp in Johnny’s road band. Johnny and Dick provided an endless supply of obscure ‘50s and ‘60s blues classics (and I brought a couple myself). As before, we recorded a lot of tracks, but the songs that were ultimately chosen for the album included two originally recorded by Johnny’s fellow Beaumont-ite Clarence Garlow, Sound The Bell and Route 90, an almost unknown Slim Harpo tune called It Ain’t Your Business, the Tiny Powell/Buddy Guy classic My Time After Awhile, Sonny Boy Williamson’s little-covered Unseen Eye, Doctor Clayton’s ode to impending violence, Murdering Blues, Big Smokey Smothers’ hilarious Give It Back, Johnny’s reworking of a Z.Z. Hill hit, Master Mechanic and two new Johnny compositions. All in all, the mood of the sessions was straight-from-the shoulder, hard-edged performances by Johnny with the band pumping as hard as he did. If there was less variety than on the previous album, there was more raw energy. The only problems occurred when Johnny’s hyper personality and my hard-headedness bumped into each other, especially during the mixing process. Luckily, Dick was there to referee when things got tense.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer