Today I spent remastering some of the best tracks from the seven Alligator albums by Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. A Saffire collection, set for January release, will be the latest addition to our Deluxe Edition series. It was loads of fun digging back into these albums, listening to the relaxed acoustic chemistry between these three blues women. Ann Rabson is an extremely underrated, two-fisted piano player (and a tasty guitarist), with a deep love for and knowledge of the blues tradition. Gaye Adegbalola is a witty, insightful songwriter with a sly sense of humor. And Andra Faye is a terrific multi-instrumentalist who is especially proud of carrying on the blues mandolin style that she learned from the great Yank Rachell. Each of them sings the blues with power and deep feeling. Together, they’re an unbeatable team.
Ijust returned from the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival (formerly the King Biscuit Blues Festival). I love this festival, honoring the blues tradition of Helena, Arkansas, the King Biscuit radio show and Sonny Boy Williamson. Every year Sonny Boy’s bandmates Robert Lockwood Jr. and Pinetop Perkins perform, along with Delta stalwart Sam Carr. It’s a free festival, with thousands of people sitting on the Mississippi River levee watching the mainstage, and others gathered around the smaller acoustic stage a few blocks away. The festival also created two stages for emerging artists. (Take note, other festivals.) For me, one high point was the performance by Little Charlie & The Nightcats, featuring songs from their new Alligator release, Nine Lives. Charlie Baty’s wild guitar and Rick Estrin’s vocals, harmonica and wry songwriting have never sounded better. When Rick took overlead guitar and Charlie grabbed the harp to blow a powerful JamesCotton-like solo, the crowd went wild! As an added treat, the band invited me to join them on background vocals for Dump That Chump, recreating my brilliant studio performance on this tune.
Earlier in the week, I accompanied Koko Taylor to Memphis, where she joined Pinetop, Hubert Sumlin, Bob Margolin, James Cotton, Willie Smith and Calvin Jones in a recording session led by (pause) Steven Seagal! Steven turns out to be a solid guitarist, quite a good songwriter and a truly nice guy. He’s a huge blues fan who showed total respect for the veterans. I was expecting movie star ego, but it was just the opposite. This album could be a nice surprise.
The whole world was watching the devastation on the Gulf Coast, and there’s nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know. But it was especially sad to hear that, partly as a result of the hurricane, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, lost his long battle with cancer. Gatemouth had been evacuated to his childhood hometown of Orange, Texas, just before his home in Slidell, Louisiana, was completely destroyed. I guess the loss of his home was the final straw. Gate cut two albums for Alligator, Standing My Ground and No Looking Back in 1989 and 1992. We also issued Pressure Cooker,a 1986 album of some of the best material he had cut for the French Black & Blue label. I don’t think many people appreciate Gate’s essential role in the development of modern blues. He wa ssimply a thrilling, swinging guitarist who was the crucial bridge between the jazzy style of T-Bone Walker and the flashy stringbending of today’s Texas blues. In the 1950s, if you couldn’t play Gate’s Okie Dokee Stomp,you couldn’t call yourself a Texas bluesman. I was so proud to have him as part of the Alligator family. And I was even prouder when he told me that his first royalty check from Alligator was the firs troyalty check he had ever received from a label (not for his songwriting, but for his record sales). Gate was a seminal, giant figure in the blues story. Like so many others, he cannot and will not be replaced.
Next time I’ll tell more about the making of Showdown! Meanwhile, check out the new, expanded online jukebox at www.alligator.com and sample 300 songs from our catalog.