I just returned from the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, where I met dozens of friends and acquaintances, hung out with Janiva Magness, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, Bnois King, Guitar Shorty and Rick Estrin, and saw much-deserved BMAs for Traditional Male Artist and Harmonica won by our own Charlie Musselwhite. His album The Well has earned rightful acclaim as one of the very best of his long career, especially for the depth of Charlie’s songwriting. If you’ve never been to the BMAs, it’s more than an awards show; it’s a once-a-year chance to witness some of your favorite artists deliver terrific mini-sets (over 20 sets in one night) in the company of 1000 devoted blues fans.
The Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection has turned into a “hit” for us (as much as the blues can have a hit). It seems like everyone I met in Memphis had heard my long, fun interview with Bill Wax on XM/Sirius. The Collection is riding the top of the Billboard Blues Chart and even selling very well in download form through Amazon, iTunes and the other online stores (maybe because it’s 38 tracks of our finest Genuine Houserockin’ Music for the price of a single album). Like many older blues fans, I still prefer owning a CD or vinyl LP, but downloads are probably the future of music no matter what we might wish for. Still, this gives me a good opportunity to remind you vinyl collectors that we recently reissued Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers (Alligator’s very first release), Showdown!, the classic summit meeting of Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland and Alone & Acoustic by Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, all on 180 gram vinyl. You can find them at www.alligator.com, and sign up for the Alligator email list at the same time, so you get the latest Alligator news and know when our artists are coming your way.
I just finished mixing 70 minutes of rip-roaring live tracks for a new CD entitled Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue—Live! It brings together some of the highest highlights from Tommy’s all-star shows with his friends from the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises. Besides four tunes featuring Tommy and his deservedly award-winning band, there are songs showcasing Michael “Iron Man” Burks, Janiva Magness, Rick Estrin, Joe Louis Walker, Debbie Davies, Trampled Under Foot and Theodis Ealey. From hard-edged blues to Southern soul, these are some truly houserockin’ performances. The new album will be released on June 7. It’s loads of high-energy fun.
Last time I was telling you about my amazement at discovering Little Charlie & The Nightcats, a world-class blues band playing at a little club in Sacramento. They featured the double-threat front line of Little Charlie Baty, an unpredictable wildman guitar player and Rick Estrin, an endlessly creative harp player/songwriter/vocalist. The band, with the meticulous Dobie Strange on drums and the solid understated veteran Jay Peterson on bass, clearly were more than ready to tear up the blues world. Back in the mid-1980s, there were enough clubs so that a great blues band with the will to make it could build an audience by driving from city to city playing five or six nights a week. If their music, showmanship and onstage charisma were good enough, they could build a loyal following. I knew that, with the right album, this band could make it.
I returned to Sacramento in December of 1986 and we went into rehearsal in a cold metal storage building with a gigantic, stinking kerosene space heater that roared like a jet engine. It was an awful place to rehearse. We were either freezing or unable to communicate because the heater was so loud. Luckily, a lot of the chosen songs were part of their live repertoire already, including three of Rick’s best originals and covers like Kent “Boogaloo” Harris’ Clothes Line (still a show-stopper for Rick), Travis Phillips’ Eyes Like A Cat (a great feature tune for Charlie’s swinging, jumping guitar) and the Five Royales’ lighting-tempo R&B classic Right Around The Corner. But Rick had written some strong words for which the music wasn’t ready yet, so we had to devise musical ideas that fit lyrics like Living Hand To Mouth and I’ll Take You Back. We only had three days in the studio, so I needed the band to be completely ready.
More next time,