I just had a great time at the first Bluestock Festival in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, in spite of the last day being rained out by Hurricane Irene. I heard outstanding sets, including ones by Trombone Shorty, Robert Cray, Bob Margolin, Lionel Young, Curtis Salgado, Ronnie Baker Brooks and our own Tommy Castro’s Legendary R&B Revue, with guests Joe Louis Walker, Rick Estrin and Deanna Bogart. If you haven’t heard Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue—Live!, you can check it out and listen to the music at our newly improved, better-than-ever www.alligator.com website. The album is loads of live blues and R&B fun, and includes appearances by Joe Louis, Rick, Janiva Magness, Michael “Iron Man” Burks, Debbie Davies, Trampled Under Foot, Theodis Ealey and Sista Monica Parker, as well as Tommy and his red hot band.
We’re just about to release Brighter Days by Alligator’s most popular artist, Florida roots rocker JJ Grey, and his terrific band Mofro. It’s our first-ever CD/DVD package. JJ would never describe himself as a bluesman, but he and his band have been performing his funky, original songs, with their rough-edged vocals, intense lyrics and swampy grooves, to wildly enthusiastic audiences at blues festivals all over the country. You can get a taste of JJ’s ‘front porch soul music’ and a preview of the DVD at www.youtube.com/user/AlligatorRecs. The DVD contains almost two hours of passionate live performance in 5.1 surround sound, plus fascinating and insightful interview and studio segments. The CD captures almost 80 minutes of music from the same night, beautifully recorded and mixed. I think JJ’s soulfulness speaks loud and clear to any fan of contemporary blues. Take a look and see for yourself.
Right now we’re in pre-production, honing songs and arrangements for the next releases by three of our best-loved artists, Chicago’s true blue Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, BMA Blues Entertainer Of The Year Janiva Magness and the Iron Man from Arkansas, Michael Burks. Hopefully all three will be ready for release early in 2012.
Speaking of Rick Estrin, after 25 years on the road, he’s earned his position as one of the blues’ best-loved artists. His memorable, slice-of-life songs, with their wry humor and insights, have been a favorite of blues fans worldwide for decades. More recently, Rick is finally being recognized as one of the very finest harp players on today’s scene, steeped in the tradition but making his own musical statement full of constant melodic surprises, huge tone and superb technique. But back in 1986, he was just the vocalist/harpist of the regionally popular Little Charlie & The Nightcats, best known in their home town of Sacramento and in the Bay Area. When we went into the Music Annex Studio south of San Francisco to cut their debut album, All The Way Crazy, Rick was pretty nervous, even though he had written most of the songs and the band had played almost all of them regularly in their gigs. We had only two and a half days to record the entire album, and luckily all our rehearsals paid off. The rhythm section of Dobie Strange and Jay Peterson laid a solid pocket, leaving plenty of space for both Little Charlie’s wildman guitar playing and Rick’s fat, swinging harmonica work that sometimes felt like he was channeling the spirit of (but not copying) Little Walter. In those days, Charlie hadn’t become quite as jazzy a player as in later years, but his blues playing was electrifying. His playing jumped like crazy on Right Around The Corner, the “5” Royales classic. The influence of the intense and unpredictable Chess-era Buddy Guy was obvious on Suicide Blues, and the driving West Side Chicago sound of Magic Sam dominated I’ll Take You Back. The album also introduced the definitive versions of the band’s classics, like Eyes Like A Cat (written by Rick’s pal, the obscure Travis “Wonder Boy” Phillips) and Leiber and Stoller’s epic tale of shopping, Clothes Line. All The Way Crazy launched Little Charlie & The Nightcats as nationally touring artists, and they never looked back. It stands as one of the of the finest (and most fun) blues debuts of the 1980s. And if you haven’t seen the current version of the band, now Rick Estrin & The Nightcats with Kid Andersen on guitar, you’re missing one of the most entertaining and hottest-playing groups on today’s blues scene.
More next time,