It’s hard for me to believe that this is the 35th anniversary year of Alligator. I never anticipated when I went in to the studio with Hound Dog Taylor in May of 1971 that it was the beginning of one of the most prolific blues labels ever. I’m immensely appreciative to the wonderful artists who have entrusted their careers to Alligator, to a succession of great staffers, many of whom have stayed with the label for decades laboring behind the scenes with huge dedication, to the producers of the albums and to those who have co-produced with me, to the great friends who have encouraged me along the way (starting with the essential contribution of Wes Race) and of course to all of you –the fans who haves upported Alligator, its artists and recordings for all these years.
A syou may have guessed, Alligator is preparing a 35th Anniversary double CD collection later this year (two CDs for the price of one), highlighting some of our most popular recordings over the years as well as some hidden gems. And you already know that we just released our latest Deluxe Edition, featuring 20 of the finest tracks from our seven CDs by Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. At the same time we released the Alligator debut of Stray Cats’ bassist Lee Rocker. It’s called Racin’The Devil and it combines some terrific roots rock with excellent songwriting and of course the rockabilly that Lee is famous for. This is a bit of a departure for Alligator, but I believe that the honest, raw and hugely fun music on this album will appeal to any blues fan. (Note for European readers –this album is available in Europe on the Hyper-Tension label). Later in the year, you can look for new ‘Gators from Guitar Shorty, Coco Montoya, Michael Burks and at least one new member of the Alligator family.
I promised to tell you more about the making of Showdown!, our classic 1985 summit meeting of Albert Collins and his friends and protégés, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland. The first night of recording was Albert and Johnny only, because Robert had a gig and couldn’t get in town until the next day. We set up Albert’s super-loud Fender Quad Reverb amp in the studio’s only isolation booth, and put everything else –Johnny’s smaller amp, the drums, organ, bass and all the vocal mics– out in the main room. We knew the magic would happen only if we cut this album as ‘live’ as possible, so we weren’t worrying too much about keeping the sounds isolated and pristine. Everyone had sent songs in advance, and my co-producer Dick Shurman had brought a batch of tunes that he had heard the three of them perform individually, like Robert’s arrangement of T-Bone Shuffle and Albert’s classic instrumental, Albert’s Alley. But, to begin, we were going to take a shot at a song that Johnny had suggested, Hop Wilson’s Houston classic, Black Cat Bone. We intended to cut it as a shuffle, like the original. But the keyboard player, Allen Batts, had an afternoon gig, and we had to wait a few minutes for him. Our ace rhythm section of Johnny B.Gayden on bass and Casey Jones on drums started jamming on a funky groove, and Johnny began singing the Black Cat Bone lyrics in his big, sandpapery voice, to that rhythm. We were all abit taken aback that the song had changed from how we envisioned it, but Johnny insisted that this new groove would fit the lyrics perfectly, and then proceeded to prove it. He arranged the lyrics so that Albert could share the vocal. The contrast of Johnny’s huge voice and Albert’s lighter, dryer one worked perfectly; you could hear them having fun as they sang it together. Johnny also sketched out the shared spoken introduction; clearly he had perfectly grasped the spirit of this “old friends” session and encapsulated it in the first song. When Allen arrived, everyone jumped into the tune and cut it, totally live, in a couple of takes. I remember Dick turning to me and saying “is this as good as I think it is?” We realized that this album was going to be even better in reality than it was in our imaginations.
More next time,