As you can imagine, it’s a bittersweet time here at Alligator as we prepare to release Show Of Strength, what has turned out to be the final recording by our dear friend Michael “Iron Man” Burks. Michael and I produced it together, and we had finished just before his sudden death in May. Michael was immensely proud of the album. We both were certain that it would place this gentle giant firmly in the top ranks of today’s blues world, recognized as one of the greatest bluesmen of his generation. Michael had been earning his way to that position, gig after gig, since he emerged from his home town of Camden, Arkansas in the late 1990s and began barnstorming his way across the country and around the world. His searing, hours-long performances, tearing up club and festival stages with his live charisma, soulful singing and fiery guitar, had won him thousands of fans. Michael would want Show Of Strength to be heard not as a tribute to a fallen blues hero, but as the powerful, cathartic, energy-filled slice of contemporary blues that he intended. Show Of Strength will be released on August 21st.
We’ve just released the second album from California’s tightest (and most fun) blues band, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats. One Wrong Turn, as the title implies, includes some unexpected (but definitely not wrong) twists to the “regular” blues. Of course Rick’s masterful harp playing will always be proudly rooted in the tradition of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II. But his wildly imaginative original songs, and those of his bandmates Kid Andersen, Lorenzo Farrell and J. Hansen, will take you in some fresh new blues directions, with lyrics that will keep you smiling and playing that never ceases to amaze. Kid Andersen is truly one of the most exciting, unpredictable guitarists on the scene today. The whole band brings some great musicianship, including Lorenzo’s recorded debut on keyboards and a sparkling new song from J. And you have to see the video that goes with their epic composition (I Met Her On The) Blues Cruise. Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/user/AlligatorRecs and try to stop laughing.
Now I want to tell you a little about one of Alligator’s best live albums, Live From Chicago—Bigger Than Life!!, by a band that had a huge following in the Windy City but never gained the level of national visibility they deserved–Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows. The band was born downstate in Carbondale, Illinois, when a pair of college students, guitarist Pete Special and tenor saxman Terry Ogolini, fell under the spell of the massive voice and presence of a local roadhouse legend, Larry “Big Twist” Nolan. Together they formed a band that merged the R&B feel of the 1960s golden era of soul with rocking blues. The first incarnation of the band became immensely popular around Southern Illinois University, and the three core members eventually moved to Chicago, building a rabidly loyal fan base in the local clubs with their rollicking live shows.
With Twist up front in his trademark fedora, and the band supporting him with strutting riffs and brassy horn solos, they packed the dance floors of Chicago clubs, mixing catchy original songs with blues and soul classics. As befit Twist’s huge frame, Too Much Barbeque and their version of 300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy became their signature songs. (In those early days of music video, before the giant media companies took over everything, we actually managed to get videos of both songs aired on the very new MTV.) The band’s secret weapon was their mentor/arranger/producer, one of my great heroes, Gene “Daddy G” Barge. Gene is an amazing, huge-toned tenor player whose career stretches back to the 1940s, includes playing on Gary U.S. Bonds’ hits and recording and (brilliantly) arranging for Chess Records. Gene is still gigging at the age of 86!
Live From Chicago—Bigger Than Life!! is one of the older Alligator titles no longer out in CD form. As record stores have disappeared and sales continue to shrink, some of our albums are now available only as downloads. As much as we may love CDs (and vinyl), to hear this terrific album, you’re going to have to go shopping at iTunes, Amazon’s download service, or at another digital retailer. Welcome to the new world!
More next time,