So far this year is shaping up to be a very difficult one for the world’s economy, and, as you’d imagine, for the blues. Some festivals have already been cancelled or downsized, and stores that sell CDs are closing rapidly. Nonetheless, we’re still determined to release some of this year’s best blues and roots music.
By the time you read this, Eric Lindell’s third album of New Orleans-flavored roots music, Gulf Coast Highway, will be out. Eric just continues to grow as a writer, singer and player. His memorable, intense and just plain fun songs and improvisational, inspired live performances have won him thousands of fans. This is Eric’s most fully realized recording yet. It’s a joyous celebration of Southern American music, with 12 new Eric originals that range from funky R&B to soul ballads to down-home country rock. It’s not blues, but it’s music that will appeal to almost every blues fan. Visit our jukebox at alligator.com to find out for yourself.
I’m also completely thrilled with Lay Your Burden Down, the Alligator debut of Buckwheat Zydeco. This year celebrates Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural’s 30th year of leading the world’s most popular and iconic zydeco band. The new album is Buckwheat’s deepest and most varied ever. Produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, the album finds Buck stretching himself into new territory. His interpretation of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe’s When The Levee Breaks, with old friend Sonny Landreth on guitar, is filled with the anguish of a man whose beloved Louisiana has been ravaged by natural and man-made disasters. But then the performance suddenly breaks into a wild zydeco two-step, announcing that neither nature nor man can break the spirit of the Bayou State. The whole album is infused with raucous, infectious energy. Other guests on the album include Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes (who wrote the title track), young New Orleans sensation Trombone Shorty, and Alligator’s own JJ Grey, who also contributed a song to the album. If you think that zydeco music is just about dancing and partying, Lay Your Burden Down will be quite a surprise. Oh, there’s plenty of rhythmic, joyful party music, but it’s also an album of real emotional depth and power.
I’ve been telling you about the surprising recording debut of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials back in 1986. That’s when the band came into the studio for the first time, to cut two songs for an anthology, and ended up being ‘signed’ (by handshake) to Alligator. Ed and the band were inspired by our ecstatic reaction to his first songs, and launched into an unrehearsed 10-song live set in the studio, then agreed to cut an entire album on the spot. In the course of just three hours, they recorded 30 songs, almost all first takes. The energy just kept building, our dancing and hollering in the recording booth continued, and we experienced the happy magic that Ed and The Blues Imperials have brought to so many thousands of you in the 23 years since. My pleasant job afterwards was simply to pick the best of those 30 performances for an album. I said it then and I’ll say it now–Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials are just the kind of band that Alligator was created to record. In the spirit of the label’s longstanding slogan, “Genuine Houserockin’ Music,” we named that first album Roughhousin’. After its release, Ed quit his job at the Red Carpet Car Wash and the band hit the road, starting to win the devoted fan base of “Ed Heads” who still love him today.
My next recording project in 1986 wasn’t cut in Chicago. Lonnie Mack’s first Alligator album, Strike Like Lightning, produced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, had been a huge success for us. Now Lonnie wanted to record in California, where his then-current manager lived, and use some California musicians. He wanted to produce himself, and to make a tighter, less seat-of-the-pants album than the previous one. I had fallen in love with the wild, tremolo-saturated signature sound of his Gibson Flying V and his big, raw “Bobby Bland meets George Jones” voice. Times were good at Alligator (partly because of the success of his first album) so I was ready to give Lonnie what he wanted.
More next time,