The summer has sped away in what seems like a moment. I haven’t had a chance to get to many festivals, but the Chicago Blues Festival was exceptionally good this year, and I’m looking forward to Blues At The Beach in Norfolk and the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival in October.
We’ve just released our second album by Lee Rocker, the high-energy roots rock/rockabilly bassist/former Stray Cat. His music isn’t exactly blues, but it sure speaks to me as a blues fan-—raw, straight ahead and emotional original songs and gritty vocals that tell real life stories, plus some terrific playing from Lee and his crack band. The disc is called Black Cat Bone. You can check it out by visiting www.alligator.com and going to the jukebox. You’ll like what you hear.
Next month we’ll be re-releasing Blackwater and Lochloosa, the first two albums by Mofro, the Florida-based roots band now known as JJ Grey & Mofro. Many of you have fallen in love with the intense, Southern-rooted and bluesy music on their recent album Country Ghetto. Soon you’ll be able hear JJ’s earlier songs on these two albums. Again, this music is not pure blues, but speaking as a lifelong blues fan, I love it.
I’m also very happy to welcome both Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King and also Janiva Magness to the Alligator family. Both have won devoted fans through years on the circuit, delivering powerhouse live performances, and through excellent albums on other labels. Right now I’m in Dallas co-producing Joe and Bnois’ new album. Then I return to Chicago to record Michael Burks. Besides Joe and Bnois and Janiva and Michael, you can look for 2008 Alligators from Marcia Ball, Roomful of Blues, Eric Lindell, a new one by JJ Grey & Mofro, and more.
I’ve been telling you about the recording of guitar genius Roy Buchanan’s second Alligator album, Dancing On The Edge, back in 1986. After our wonderful first session with Delbert McClinton singing, we cut most of the other tunes we had planned and rehearsed. They included an amazing, blazing version of the old Peter Gunn TV theme that was a staple of Roy’s live set, and an hilarious take on Memphis Slim’s classic Beer Drinking Woman that took advantage of the humor Roy could bring to his vocals. He usually chose to let his brilliant, fiery guitar playing do the ‘singing’ for him, but with the right song, his vocals made up in personality what he lacked in range.
As the album took shape, I realized that we were lacking a true power slow blues that Roy could sink his guitar ‘teeth’ into. Driving home after a night in the studio, trying to think of a slow blues that fit Roy, Albert King’s mournful classic Drowning On Dry Land crossed my mind. The next morning I dropped a cassette of the song at Roy’s hotel before coming to the studio to put together some rough mixes. When Roy ambled in a couple hours later, he told me that he had fallen in love with the song, and had already memorized the lyrics. He said something like “that’s the story of my life.” Thinking now about all his personal traumas and about his tragic, mysterious death, I know what he meant. (I can believe that he may have killed himself in jail after being arrested by the police for public drunkenness, as was the official explanation. But he was just as capable of inciting the police to attack him and perhaps kill him. There was a deep streak of negativism in Roy, almost all aimed back at himself. He was convinced that he was doomed to go to hell, no matter how many people he was able to move and soothe with his huge talent). When I think of the lyrics-—I’m going down, my nose is in the sand; a cloud of dust just came over me, and I feel like I’m drowning on dry land—-they fit Roy’s deeply troubled personality far too well, which is probably why he was able to deliver such a wrenching performance of the song. It felt like both the vocals and the guitar solo were torn from the innermost places in his soul.
More next time,