Last night I shared one of the most joyful musical experiences of my life—the last performance by my dear friends Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women. After 25 years performing and recording rollicking, sensitive and sometimes outrageous acoustic blues together, they’ve decided to pursue their individual careers. The sold-out concert was in their hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia. As is so typical for them, it was a benefit performance — in this case for education for underprivileged students. These three amazing, warm and outspoken women — Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola and Andra Faye — have brought their music, their humor and their soulfulness to tens of thousands of fans over the course of the last two and a half decades. I’ve been honored with their friendship and with the pleasure of releasing eight Saffire albums over the last 19 years. Helping them hone their songs as their co-producer, seeing them live dozens of times, watching them grow musically and personally, has been one of the greatest experiences of my career, and loads of fun. Their latest album, Havin’ The Last Word, is as good as anything they’ve ever recorded, and it includes some of their best songwriting ever. The video of Gaye’s Bald Headed Blues, perhaps the most uppity song about cancer treatment ever, was shown at the beginning of the evening. You can see it on line at: www.alligator.com/index.cfm?section=artists&artistID=22&.
I’ve just been enjoying the mixes for our March 2010 releases by The Holmes Brothers and Guitar Shorty. The Holmes’ album, Feed My Soul, is perhaps the strongest, deepest album of their long career. Inspired by Wendell Holmes’ victory over cancer, it’s full of exhilarating new Holmes originals, sung with their trademark gospel-fueled, soul-stirring vocal harmonies. The Holmes are the ultimate roots musicians—for them there is no line between blues, gospel, country, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. Guitar Shorty’s new songs are as raw, tough and rocking as his last two albums, which is about as tough as blues can be. And his guitar playing is as wild, unpredictable and intense as ever. Also in 2010, look for new Gators from Janiva Magness, Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King, and more. To keep abreast of what we’re doing (and get great deals on new and old Alligator music and other goodies), sign up for our mailing list at www.alligator.com.
And now, returning to my personalized history of Alligator and our recordings—
This time, I want to sing the praises of an artist who’s been too overlooked in recent years, and maybe inspire you to buy one (or more) of his albums, too. Lonnie Brooks is one of Chicago’s, and the world’s, great blues treasures and most entertaining, energized and fun live artists. Blessed with one of the biggest, most soulful voices in the blues, a personal and immediately recognizable “voodoo blues” guitar style, and a pile of energy that he puts into every performance, he’s one of the city’s true blues stars. But he’s never gained the superstar reputation outside of town that he has right here. I’ve never quite figured out why. Of course Lonnie’s not a “Chicago” bluesman in the strictest sense. He began as a proto-rock ‘n’ roller, first in Cajun country where he grew up, and later in his adopted home of Port Arthur, Texas. There, inspired by Gatemouth Brown and local star Long John Hunter, he began playing guitar for fun while working a day job. His first professional gig was with zydeco superstar Clifton Chenier, and you can still hear those zydeco grooves in Lonnie’s playing, along with Texas swing, swampy Louisiana syncopations, hints of country and plenty of good old rock. Lonnie’s first recordings, for Louisiana’s Goldband label, weren’t really blues at all; they were straight up rock ‘n’ roll like his classic The Crawl and strolling swamp pop like Family Rules, his huge regional hit in the late 1950s. It was only when Lonnie came to Chicago, in 1960, that he added hard-edged blues to his repertoire. Melding all these styles, Lonnie has written some of the most memorable contemporary blues songs. He wrote eight of them for Wound Up Tight, his 1986 Alligator release. Like most artists with a regular touring band, we cut Lonnie with his own group rather than with studio musicians. Plus, we arranged a very special guest appearance by one of Lonnie’s biggest fans.
More next time,