Dear Friends,

Welcome to a new year, hopefully a better one than 2008. But I’m concerned that these tough economic times are really hurting the touring blues musicians, especially those who need to work five or six nights a week on the road just to make a living. I urge you to continue to support live blues whenever possible, and also to buy CDs direct from the artists. Not only do they make more money than when a store sells the CD, but also these days, sadly, it’s very hard to find a good selection of blues except at sites like our own or, or by buying downloads.

We’ll be doing our part for your happy new year with some very exciting albums. By the time you read this, the new CD by the beloved Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women will be out. Havin’ The Last Word carries on in the great Saffire tradition of raucous acoustic blues (piano, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, fiddle and bass) and memorable songs that range from sassy and sexy to intense and insightful. All are tied together with the joyful camaraderie of these three women who have spent 25 years making music together.

Eric Lindell has proven to be one of the most prolific Alligator artists and writers ever, creating a flood of instantly memorable roots/R&B/blues/Americana songs. With his soulful voice, free-flowing live shows and multi-instrumental talent, he’s become a huge fan favorite, regularly compared to Van Morrison and Delbert McClinton. Eric’s just finished recording a whole new album, Gulf Coast Highway, full of his deceptively simple, catchy tunes. It’s set for release in late March.

I’m also proud to announce the signings of three famed, veteran artists who will make their Alligator debuts in the first half of 2009. Buckwheat Zydeco is truly the big boss man of zydeco music. He’s taken rollicking bayou music to stages around the world, and recorded classic albums for 30 years. Buckwheat’s first Alligator release will be produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, one of American roots music’s true visionaries, so we’re expecting a very special album. Tommy Castro has earned his huge and devoted following of fans the old-fashioned way—-by delivering thousands of nights of soul-drenched, rocking blues to audiences from coast to coast. His muscular, urgent vocals and fiery guitar are among the most distinctive sounds in the blues world. Tommy will be recording this month, with the great John Porter producing. And it will be no surprise that we’ve signed Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, after over 20 years of releasing great Little Charlie albums that featured Rick’s songs, voice and harmonica. Since Charlie’s retirement from road touring, the focus is squarely on Rick and his fabulous harp playing. New guitarist Kid Andersen’s wildman (and very non-Charlie-esque) playing makes a perfect foil for Rick’s original tunes and virtuoso harp. With the skintight Nightcats rhythm section, they’ve been tearing up stages and knocking out audiences. I’m sure their new album will do the same.

Now, more about the unexpected Alligator recording of Roughhousin’, the 1986 debut of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. After Ed had recorded his two songs for The New Bluebloods anthology, I asked for a few more. Ed realized that he had an audience on the other side of the glass–the engineer, a few Alligator staffers, my future wife Jo and me. So, backed by his bassist brother James “Pookie” Young, second guitarist Dave Weld, and drummer Walter Louis Henderson, Ed began performing his live set for the “crowd,” punctuating his solos with his signature back bends, toe walks, and general jumping around the studio, then rushing back to the microphone to sing the next verse of each song. We broke into spontaneous dancing, while Ed amazed me with his batch of original songs in the tradition of his uncle, J.B. Hutto. After we taped about ten tunes (one take each), I went out into the studio and said “Guys—I want to sign this band to Alligator and make an album with you. I think something magical is happening tonight, so I want to record it right now!” Ed grinned his now-famous grin and agreed on the spot. And so began a relationship that’s lasted over 20 years.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer