I’m writing this the day after the Presidential election. It has been an amazing event in American history, hopefully a turning point for our country, for how we see ourselves, and how the world sees us. I was born during segregation, and grew up during the Civil Rights movement. My entire career has been spent working closely with black Americans. It would have never crossed my mind even a decade ago, that the President-elect of the United States would be an African-American, or that he would have won by earning the votes of a huge number of white people.
Although the artist roster of Alligator these days is multi-racial, the core of our music, the blues, is the proud creation of African-Americans. It’s a music devised by an oppressed people to face down the effects of that oppression, by speaking honestly of the problems of real life, and then dealing with those problems by sharing them between musician and audience. And the blues is infused with a joy unmatched (for me) by any other. Ain’t no party like a blues party! So part of my personal mission for Alligator has been to bring a recognition of the artistic creations of African-Americans to the world. How could you respect and love the blues without respecting those who created it? Now, with this election, we’re seeing a moment of true change in this country, and the hope that the worst of racism may be behind us. A black American was chosen as President based not on his color but on his competency and vision. And a huge number of Americans of all colors have judged him competent and visionary. I never would have believed this could happen in my lifetime. It fills me with pride and hope, and I believe that all the Alligator artists and staff share in this feeling.
Three of those artists are the members of Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women, the queens of sassy, and sometimes outspoken, acoustic blues. I’ve just finished the mixes for their new release, entitled Havin’ The Last Word. That’s not just a tribute to their brassy attitudes, but also a recognition that this will be the last Saffire release. After 25 years of playing music together, Ann, Gaye and Andra have decided that they are going to cease touring as a group soon, to concentrate on their solo careers and other passions. They remain the best of friends, and there will be one more big tour, beginning in late winter and stretching through festival season. Havin’ The Last Word is just what you have come to love about Saffire – uppity, fresh songs from a female perspective, great vocals, rollicking piano, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and harmonica. They tell blues stories in new ways —- stories of frustration and love, loss and sorrow, the joy of sexuality, and the lessons of life, both serious and comic. They’re guaranteed to put a smile on your face and fill any hole in your soul.
Last time I was telling you about the unexpected recording debut of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials (whose seventh Alligator album, Full Tilt, was released only a few months ago.) When Ed and the band arrived at Streeterville Studios to record a couple tracks for our up-and-coming artists anthology called The New Bluebloods in 1986, they entered in a nervous little huddle, walking almost shoulder to shoulder, looking so scared that they could flee at any moment. Most of them had never seen a recording studio before. Ed had come in work clothes, straight from his day job as a buffer at the Red Carpet Car Wash. His brother, bassist James “Pookie” Young, never took off his winter boots. I tried to assure them playing in the studio would be just like playing a gig; I told them to set their amps just like they would on stage (and just as loud), and put on the headphones. The headphones were their first source of amazement; Ed said that they had never heard each other so clearly before. Then they lit into their two rehearsed songs. In half an hour I had a couple of takes of each, just as raw as they played them live. But I had more hours of studio time booked, and it seemed that they were just getting warmed up. So, in one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made, I asked Ed if he and the band had a few more songs they’d like to record. Boy, did they!
More next time,