We’re feeling pretty thrilled about the reception to Shemekia Copeland’s new CD, The Soul Truth. The press loves how Steve Cropper’s Stax-style production frames Shemekia’s sassy vocals, and the initial radio response has been great. The radio stations are focusing on Who Stole My Radio?, which seems especially appropriate as the government investigates the new-style payola in radio (not exactly a revelation to anyone in the record business; that’s how the rich get rich and the poor get poorer, and part of the reason you don’t get a chance to hear about 95% of the new music being released).
One place you can hear a lot of music, old and new, is on the completely revamped Alligator web site, www.alligator.com. On our new “Goodies” page, we’ve added six free downloadable tracks that you can own absolutely free, including one from Shemekia’s new disc and one from our brand new album by The Siegel-Schwall Band, Flash Forward. Plus, we’ve tripled the size of our jukebox, so you can now streamliterally hundreds of songs from the entire 34 years of Alligator releases.
Before doing some reminiscing, I wanted to say a heartfelt “goodbye, my friend” to Detroit Junior. He passed away last week at the age of 73. Detroit was one of the nicest, happiest guys in the blues world, with a friendly word for everyone and a great ability to laugh at himself. He was a terrific songwriter, with Call My Job, I Got Money, Money Tree and If I Hadn’t Been High as perhaps his best-known compositions. He cut a session for our Living Chicago Blues serie sthat was full of clever songs and his happy-go-lucky musica lpersonality. He wrote tunes for a lot of other artists, including classics cut by Albert King and Koko Taylor. Detroit would never have claimed to be the best piano player in the world, or that his raspy voice was the most melodic blues instrument, but he was a consummate entertainer, a true bluesman and a real sweetheart. I can’t think of him without smiling, which is just what he’d want.
It’s now my pleasure to tell you about the making of one of the best albums in Alligator history, Showdown! For the few of you who may not know, this 1985 session brought together Albert Collins, The Master of the Telecaster, with two of his protégés –Johnny Copeland, The Texas Twister, and a young singer/guitarist on the rise named Robert Cray. Albert and Johnny had jammed with their mentor, the brilliant Gatemouth Brown, at the first Chicago Blues Festival in 1984, but Gate wasn’t eager to join them in the studio in Chicago. So, at the suggestion of my co-producer, Dick Shurman, we invited Albert’s protégé from the PacificNorthwest, “young Bob” Cray to be the third guitarist. Robert and his band had often played as Albert’s backing group on Northwest tours, and Albert was a key inspiration on Robert, who was thrilled to be invited. At that point, Albert was Alligator’s best-selling artist and Johnny was undergoing a career revival with a series of fine albums on Rounder. It was Robert, with his third album just coming out, who was the least known of the three. Little did we know that Robert was standing on the brink of international stardom as the crossover bluesman of the 1980s.
We had only four days to make the album, so we did as much advance planning as we could, with each artist sending in tapes of tunes and Dick suggesting some songs from his vast knowledge of blues recording history. There would be no chance to rehearse, so all the arrangements would have to be worked out in the studio. Knowing it was a make or break proposition, we booked time at Streeterville Studios. Robert couldn’t make it the first night (he had a gig) so we set up to cut with Albert and Johnny. We were determined to cut everything “live in the studio,” which meant there would be little opportunity to fix mistakes. We needed to have some magic happen, and it certainly did!
More next time,