I just returned from the 2009 Blues Music Awards in Memphis. It was a very exciting night —lots of great music (about six hours of it) and plenty of happy award recipients. From the Alligator roster, the big winner was Janiva Magness, who walked away with awards for the Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year and the top award, B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year, presented by B.B. himself. Koko Taylor received Traditional Female Artist Of The Year (her 29th–more than any other artist), Marcia Ball won the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Of The Year, and Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials walked away with Band Of The Year, the second time they’ve won this one. Over 40 artists or groups performed, with too many high points to mention. I wish that the BMAs could receive the same level of recognition as other music awards, but each year the show just gets better.
We continue to be thrilled about the public reaction to our new Buckwheat Zydeco release, Lay Your Burden Down. Launched with his performance at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the album has already been declared by USA Today to be a “soulful trailblazer” of a recording. Of course you can hear tracks on our online jukebox at www.alligator.com. I should also mention that I’ve started a personal blog on the site, including excerpts from some of my older Living Blues letters.
By the time you read this, our debut by Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, entitled Twisted, should be in stores and available for download. I assume almost all of you know Rick as the voice, harmonica, streetwise songwriter and front man of Little Charlie & The Nightcats. Rick and Charlie were a team for 30 years, and their nine Alligator albums (plus a Deluxe Edition compilation) are full of cool, fresh and sometimes hilarious original Estrin songs supported by brilliant blues musicianship. With Charlie’s retirement from touring, Rick has officially taken over the band and recruited ace guitarist Kid Andersen. Rather than try to recreate Charlie’s swinging, jazzy style, Kid brings his own slightly skewed (should I say ‘twisted’?) approach to guitar, combining tough blues with rockabilly and early rock ’n’ roll sensibility. His playing is sort of the musical love child of a young Ike Turner and some alien from outer space. With Rick’s incisive lyrics and hip vocals, plus his world-class harmonica (every ‘name’ harp player lists Rick as one of today’s true greats) and the driving Nightcats rhythm section, this is simply a terrific album by a terrific band.
I was telling you about the recording of Lonnie Mack’s second Alligator release, Second Sight. Unlike his debut, Strike Like Lightning, which was cut raw and loose and pretty much live in the studio, this time Lonnie wanted to approach the studio with more planning and care. We traveled to the L.A. area and set up shop at Sound City, a big, old, well-respected and huge studio in Van Nuys. Lonnie brought his old gang–bass man Tim Drummond and veteran keyboardists Stan Szelest and Dumpy Rice, all of whom had played with Lonnie on the road and in the studio. For drums, he corralled the studio ace, Jim Keltner, one of the truly great talents in rock drumming. But rather than record everyone live and just let the music fly, as he had done in the past, Lonnie decided on a different, more careful method. He began with a computer-produced click track to hold the time, and played a super-tight rhythm guitar part to it. Then he brought in Tim to lay down a bass line that Lonnie had already conceived, then Keltner to play drums, then keys, and finally his own vocals and lead guitar. So, rather than playing the song, each man was playing a part mostly created by Lonnie. During the whole process, Lonnie was listening in his motel room to albums by Peter Gabriel (very talented but not exactly a bluesman or roots rocker) and Gabriel’s production style. This whole approach was pretty much antithetical to the “Genuine Houserockin’ Music” spirit of Alligator. It was only because of my liking and respect for Lonnie and his lifetime of thrilling, soulful music that I chose to step back and allow the process to happen his way (which is exactly the way so many hit records are made).
More next time,