I’m still buzzing from the recent national TV appearance of one of the newest members of the Alligator family, Joe Louis Walker. Joe was on the CONAN TV show, performing Ride All Night from his Alligator debut, Hellfire. I’ve been hoping that this would be the album that would propel Joe to long-deserved recognition as one of today’s true blues giants. With the great critical and media reaction for the record, and now a national TV performance, it seems like my wishes are coming true. If you haven’t listened to Hellfire yet, you can hear tunes on the jukebox at alligator.com. I think you’ll agree that this is one of the most exciting albums Joe has ever recorded.
Speaking of alligator.com, you can go there now and see scintillating live performances of songs from Stronger For It, the brand new album by Blues Music Award winner Janiva Magness, plus a three-part interview with Janiva and her producer, Dave Darling. Three new Janiva-written songs are the centerpiece of this extraordinary recording. I’ve watched her over the last decade as she’s grown to be a deeper, more passionate singer. Her two previous Alligator albums showed her fiery intensity, and Stronger For It is even more emotional and moving than its predecessors. On this album she really bares her soul, and delivers the “healing feeling” that is the mark of real blues. I believe Stronger For It will hold up to years of repeated listening, and be recognized as a high point of her career.
By the time you read this, Soul Shot, the Alligator debut by vocalist/harmonica master Curtis Salgado, will also have been released. Like Janiva, Curtis is an artist who has continued to grow over the years, bringing more and more power, subtlety and soulfulness into his music. As the title tells you, this recording, produced by Tony Braunagel and Marlon McClain, is definitely on the R&B side of the blues. Curtis throws himself into the songs with huge energy, presenting three new originals and reinventing eight masterpieces from the golden era of soul music. The production is superb, with churning grooves and flashing horns inspiring what Curtis calls, “the solid best thing I’ve ever done.” Curtis has already won a Blues Music Award as Soul Blues Artist Of The Year, and Soul Shot will show you why he deserves every accolade he earns.
Later in the year, we’ll be releasing new albums from three of our most beloved and respected artists–Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Michael “Iron Man” Burks and Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, plus a new release from one of the most exploratory of blues-based musicians, Anders Osborne. But right now I want to tell you more about the recording of Live From Chicago—An Audience With The Queen, Koko Taylor’s live album from 1987. I told you last time about the special relationship that Koko had with her lead guitar player, Michael “Mr. Dynamite” Robinson and her drummer, Jerry Murphy, both of whom had become like sons to her. The rest of her Blues Machine were veteran Chicago guitarist Eddie King, who played with Koko on and off for many years, and young drummer Clyde Tyler, Jr. Neither played anything fancy, but their music was straight ahead, hard-edged Chicago blues. As I said, Koko was inspired by this band. She wrote a powerful new slow blues tune for the album called The Devil’s Gonna Have A Field Day that reminded everyone that you don’t mess with The Queen. She also picked a surprise cover tune, Going Back To Iuka, written by southern rocker Don Nix and previously cut by Albert King. Her other choices were among her most-requested songs, like Let The Good Times Roll, I’m A Woman and, of course, Wang Dang Doodle. For two nights, Koko poured her huge heart and soul into her singing, and we ended up with the raw, tough album we both wanted. Like so many of her records, it’s stood the test of time. Sadly, those key band members Michael Robinson and Jerry Murphy were, like so many others, casualties of the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ‘90s. Jerry disappeared; last I heard he was living on the streets. And Michael, who had survived being shot in a drug deal gone bad, was found dead in 2007 in Gary, Indiana. Tragic ends for two excellent bluesmen and nice guys. Koko was truly heartbroken about both of them.
More next time,