I had a great time attending Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival a couple weeks ago–some outstanding sets, almost all featuring blues or blues-based rock. Buddy Guy won my personal award for best vocals of the day (he played amazingly too). It’s always a treat to hear B.B., even if he’s struggling with the effects of age. Hubert Sumlin clearly enjoyed every accolade, and played simply and beautifully. Clapton himself was not so exciting at first, but inspired by the elder statesmen, stepped up and played some gorgeous solos. I found it fascinating that thousands of fans of all ages paid big money to hear the same blues-rooted music that is shunned by commercial radio.
I’m thrilled to announce that two major bluesmen have returned to the Alligator family. Charlie Musselwhite has brought us one of the best albums of his career–The Well. It’s Charlie’s first full-band album of all original songs, with lyrics drawn straight from his amazingly colorful life. There are stories of his Mississippi and Memphis roots, his hard years in Chicago and his battle with and triumph over alcohol. As you would expect, the harmonica playing is nothing less than stellar. Backed by an all-star band, Charlie has created one of the classic albums of his long career, coming directly from the deep well of his soul. It will be released on August 24.
Also returning to Alligator is another icon of blues harmonica, James Cotton. James just tore up the Chicago Blues Festival with a performance that proved his legendary power and command remain undiminished, even in his 70s. He followed with a landmark star-studded show at New York’s Lincoln Center. His new album, Giant, finds James in timeless form; his signature gigantic harp sound dominates the proceedings. With vocals and guitar from Slam Allen and Tom Holland, James delivers inspiring performances in the great Chicago blues tradition. Giant will hit the streets at the end of September.
Along with Charlie’s new CD, in August we’ll be releasing our fifth album by Florida’s JJ Grey & Mofro, entitled Georgia Warhorse (named for a tough-as-hell southern grasshopper). JJ isn’t a bluesman, but the blues audience has embraced his funky, swampy roots rock, Deep South storytelling and passionate, blue-eyed soul vocals. Georgia Warhorse is filled with the down-home lyrics and intense performances that have made JJ our most popular artist. You can hear samples of almost every Alligator album on our jukebox at www.alligator.com and get free downloads on our “Goodies” page. And it’s ok if you buy something!
Now to continue the story of cutting Albert Collins’ 1986 album, Cold Snap. With our song list set, I arranged to fly in the great organist Jimmy McGriff. Like an idiot, I misread Jimmy’s arrival time and wasn’t at the airport to pick him up. He called me, furious, and all I could do was ask him to grab a cab. By the time we met at his hotel he was seething, and I couldn’t blame him. Jimmy had been recording since I was a kid, was one of the finest organists ever, and was doing us a favor to appear as a sideman–and I had managed to disrespect him. Through the rehearsals Jimmy was totally cold to me. But he was inspired by Albert’s icy-hot guitar playing and appeased by Albert’s hero-worshipping attitude. By the time we got to the studio, Jimmy was focused on creating the best support he could give to Albert, calling on his vast knowledge of organ tones and funky grooves to support and energize each song. We recorded fast, trying to capture the magic. After achieving near-perfect takes of all five rehearsed songs, my co-producer Dick Shurman approached Jimmy about leading off an instrumental, providing a “head” that Jimmy, Albert and Mel Brown could use to launch their solos (with Jimmy sharing songwriter royalties). Jimmy led off a hot shuffle. When Dick thanked him for coming up with the song’s signature “head,” Jimmy patiently explained that what he had played wasn’t a “head,” it was an “I.D.” And then he insisted that Albert get the full composing credit. Thus, the instrumental that Dick named Fake ID.
More next time,