It’s been a really great festival summer for me; I attended the Pocono Blues Festival, the Deep Blues Festival in Minneapolis and the Paramount Blues Festival in Grafton, Wisconsin, and of course the Chicago Blues Festival. I’ve seen a lot of terrific sets, including our own Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials and Buckwheat Zydeco. Among non-Alligator artists, I saw outstanding performances by James Armstrong, Diunna Greenleaf, Ruthie Foster, Zac Harmon and many more.
Right now, Tommy Castro’s new Alligator release, Hard Believer, is riding high on the Billboard blues chart, and Tommy’s been barnstorming across the country, electrifying audiences with his blend of blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Memphis soul, and growing his huge and intensely loyal fan base. Rick Estrin & The Nightcats are heading east from California on their first national tour to debut songs from their Twisted CD, featuring Rick’s brilliant harmonica playing and writing and Kid Andersen’s startling, quirky guitar work. Saffire are completing their Farewell Tour after 25 years together, performing joyful and uppity acoustic blues from their entire career, featuring tunes from Havin’ The Last Word.
In October, you can look for a new release from our long-time Alligator family member, Tinsley Ellis. The new album is called Speak No Evil, and it’s made up entirely of outstanding new Tinsley original songs. As you’d expect, the guitar work is riveting, ranging from steaming rockers to intense slow blues and soaring Southern rock. And Tinsley vocals are full of passion and fire, perhaps his best ever on record. Like the rest of the Alligator roster, Tinsley has honed his music by playing live on literally thousands of nights, and living the hard road life. These killer songs and performances speak from the strength, wisdom and resilience that he’s built up over 30 years as a touring bluesman.
Before last issue’s letter, which was dedicated to Koko Taylor, I had been telling you about cutting Lonnie Mack’s second Alligator release, Second Sight. It was perhaps the first “studio” Alligator album ever (and one of the last). That means, like most pop albums, every instrument was cut separately, to a perfectly timed click track. The parts interlocked beautifully, and Lonnie delivered his usual fiery solos on his first-generation Gibson Flying V, and sang with plenty of his gritty Southern spirit (I don’t hesitate to name him as one of the greatest blue-eyed soul singers of all time). But the players were playing parts, rather than reacting to Lonnie’s solos and vocals, and the whole project is more pristine, more “produced,” and less spontaneous than almost any other Alligator recording. So, even though one goal of these remembrances is to create sales, I am not urging you to buy Second Sight. If you want to hear the real Lonnie Mack, get the thrilling Strike Like Lightning (which pairs him with his disciple, Stevie Ray Vaughan) or the brilliant Live—Attack Of The Killer V. Go to your favorite download site and download A Song I Haven’t Sung, Tough On Me, Tough On You and Camp Washington Chili to hear the high points of Second Sight.
Speaking of downloads, the sad reality is that it’s getting damned hard to find CDs of Alligator music or any blues in stores these days. You can still order from us at www.alligator.com (with free U.S. shipping) or from online services like Amazon, but retailers have lost faith in the CD and many have just given up on stocking them. It’s my observation that most adult blues fans want to own the physical CD, but the time may have come for you to make peace with possessing a digital file rather than something you can literally hold on to. If you can live with a digital file, our entire catalog is available at most of the major download sites, like Itunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, HD Tracks, Junketboy, Napster (and some on E Music) plus on a number of foreign ones.
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More next time,