A couple weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending the Springing The Blues Festival in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Sam Veal founded this fest 18 years ago, and has raised the funding to keep it totally free to the public. This year, Sam decided to feature Alligator artists, and brought Michael Burks (celebrating the release of his new Iron Man CD), Tinsley Ellis, Cephas & Wiggins, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King (who just released Blood Brothers) and Eric Lindell (whose Low On Cash, Rich In Love came out in January). I was very complimented when Sam asked me to introduce all the Alligator artists. I had no idea that he had planned a complete tribute to Alligator, with a video about the label and me, and even presented me with the key to the City of Jacksonville Beach. It was a huge honor, and a great nod to our artists. I’m proud to say that every Alligator artist delivered a wonderful performance (though Cephas & Wiggins were cut short by a thunderstorm).
One of the highlights of the festival was watching Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials rock the house. It’s hard to believe that this same band has been playing together for almost 20 years! No wonder they won the 2007 Blues Music Award as Band Of The Year; their communication is almost telepathic, and they love playing together. By the time you read this, Ed, Mike, Pookie and Kelly will have been in the studio with me to record their seventh Alligator album. It’s always a joy working with these guys; they’re real seat-of-the-pants bluesmen, who record live and raw. Ed & The Imperials carry on in the great Chicago slide tradition of J.B. Hutto, Hound Dog Taylor and Elmore James. Along with Magic Slim & The Teardrops, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials are prime torchbearers for true Chicago blues of the old school. And they are so much fun to listen to. They’ll also be featured at this year’s Chicago Blues Festival, along with Koko Taylor and Eddy Clearwater, who will be celebrating his West Side Strut album by bringing all the guests from that session — Lonnie and Ronnie Baker Brooks, Otis Clay and Jimmy Johnson — to share the stage with him.
By the time you read this, Janiva Magness’ terrific new CD, What Love Will Do, will be in the stores and available online from Alligator.com, Amazon.com and almost all the key downloaders. The record fulfills all of Janiva’s promise to become one of the great blues and soul voices of her generation. You can hear sample songs on the jukebox at our web site, as you can with so many of our recordings. I guarantee you’ll love them.
I’ve been telling you about making Johnny Winter’s third Alligator album, the appropriately named 3rd Degree. This was the one that Johnny and Dick Shurman produced together, with me in the executive producer’s role. Dick and Johnny decided to show off some sides of Johnny’s creativity and deep blues feel that we hadn’t exposed on his two previous Alligator releases. For a start, they reunited Johnny with his National steel guitar, cutting two incisive solo performances–Evil On My Mind (actually recorded in the bathroom at Streeterville Studios, to get that cool ‘bouncing off the tile’ sound) and Bad Girl Blues (with Johnny playing doubled slide leads). For another session, Johnny and Dick invited Dr. John to sit in on a couple tunes, inspiring Johnny’s brilliant take of the Little Willie John blues ballad Love, Life And Money. More inspiration came when Johnny reassembled his original trio, with Uncle John Turner on drums and Tommy Shannon on bass. Of course this is the band that recorded Johnny’s first two albums, “The Progressive Blues Experiment” and “Johnny Winter.” They cut three songs for 3rd Degree, as raucous and raw as they had sounded 25 years before. (Uncle John died last year, a much-beloved figure on the Texas blues scene). And of course Johnny delivered some searing playing and singing with our ‘regular’ studio band of Ken Saydak, Casey Jones and Johnny B. Gayden, including J.B. Lenoir’s Mojo Boogie, still one of Johnny’s signature songs. 3rd Degree might be the best of Johnny’s three Alligator albums, and certainly shows the most sides of his amazing musicianship.
More next time,