Seems like I’ve hardly had a good night’s sleep since the beginning of the year. First was a trip to MIDEM, the international record business trade show in France. I returned just in time to fly to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge. This competition, organized by The Blues Foundation, gets better each year. For 2008 there were over 160 entrants, both bands and solo/duo, playing up and down Beale Street. I acted as judge one night, but was still able to check out some of the other contestants in my jet-lagged state. Then I was off to L.A. with Koko Taylor for the Grammys. Koko’s Old School didn’t win, but she was honored to perform with Pinetop Perkins and Honeyboy Edwards at the pre-telecast event where most of the awards are presented. The very worthy Last Of The Great Delta Bluesmen was the winner, so both Pinetop and Honeyboy as well as the families of Henry Townsend and Robert Lockwood Jr. (both of whom passed away since the album was recorded by the Blue Shoe Project in Dallas) were there to receive Grammys. Koko was disappointed not to win, but was pleased that the award went to these blues legends a generation older than she is.
As you may know, we recently signed Janiva Magness, whom our community has honored with two recent Blues Music Awards as Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year. Janiva’s a wonderful blues and R&B singer whose last two albums, released by Northern Blues, showed her amazing soulfulness and continuing artistic growth. Her Alligator debut, What Love Will Do, is coming in early June. But right now I’m very proud because she’s joining Bobby Rush, Billy Gibson and a host of other fine players for Bluzapalooza, the first blues tour for the soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait. They’ll be going over in early April, and I’m sure they’ll be wildly received by the troops. If blues exists to soothe the soul, then I’m sure you’ll agree (regardless of your views on the war) that these men and women in uniform deserve plenty of soothing. Kudos to Steve Simon, organizer of the St. John Blues Festival and John Hahn, songwriter and Shemekia Copeland’s manager, for organizing this event. I’m proud that the blues music we all love is being brought to those who need it so much. Plus, I’ll bet the male soldiers will find Bobby Rush’s backup dancers very inspirational!
On April 8th, we’ll have two new releases that I’m sure you’ll want to hear. Marcia Ball is one of the most beloved artists on the blues/roots scene. She’s cut her last three albums for Alligator, and her new release, Peace, Love & BBQ, carries on her tradition of mixing Texas rockin’ blues with New Orleans R&B and Professor Longhair-inspired piano boogie. This new album is filled with the spirit of the Crescent City, with great slices of the second line party music that Marcia is famous for. But there are also some heart-wrenching ballads about post-Katrina New Orleans, infused with both anger and hope. Marcia is known for her party-starting music (and there’s plenty of that on Peace, Love & BBQ), but she’s a singer and writer of great depth, and reveals more with each record. She says she’s prouder of this album than any other of her career, and I understand why.
If you’ve been knocked on your butt by a Michael Burks performance at a festival or club, with his overwhelming, powerhouse guitar and emotional vocals, then you’ll love his new CD, Iron Man. (It’s named for the nickname given to him by fans of his hours-long sets). For the first time on record Michael is backed by his tough, road-tested touring band, and the album captures all the raw energy of his live show. He wrote or co-wrote seven of the songs, and he pours himself into every performance. If you’ve been following Michael’s career since he emerged on the blues scene from his little Arkansas hometown, you know that he has just gotten better and better with each passing year. Iron Man captures Michael Burks at his unfettered peak. You can check out some songs on the jukebox at www.alligator.com.
More about Johnny Winter’s 3rd Degree recording sessions next time…