In late July I had the great pleasure of attending the PA Blues Festival, the successor to the Pocono Festival in the picturesque mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. Like the Pocono Festival, the PA Festival was booked by Michael Cloeren, who did his usual terrific job. Joe Louis Walker delivered soul-drenched versions of songs from Hellfire, his acclaimed new Alligator album. The Brooks Family Dynasty was a delight. Lonnie was clearly inspired by his sons’ rocking performances. He sounded and looked decades younger than his years, ripping into his classics like Two Headed Man. It was also great to see and hear other friends, like Corey Harris (who sings Delta blues better than just about anyone) and Teeny Tucker. I had a chance to catch both vocalist Earl Thomas and St. Louis’ young gun, Marquise Knox, for the very first time. Plus, I was reintroduced to the excellent Chicago-style harp and vocals of Cleveland’s Wallace Coleman. Michael Cloeren gave us another memorable festival. Don’t miss it next year!
Last week we released Michael “Iron Man” Burks’ final album, Show of Strength. It’s already being hailed as the best recording of his career by such respected sources as AllMusic Guide, which says “Burks is truly at the top of his game here…impassioned performances and superior songs from one of contemporary blues’ most magnetic, powerful artists.” I only wish that Michael could be with us to share the acclaim.
Those of you who love LPs will be happy to know that we’re issuing two more early Alligator titles on 180-gram vinyl. Buddy Guy’s electrifying Stone Crazy! and Professor Longhair’s immortal New Orleans classic Crawfish Fiesta will both be released before the end of October. Neither has been available on vinyl for 20 years. The Longhair album includes a bonus unreleased rehearsal track–-a version of Percy Mayfield’s haunting River’s Invitation. I personally supervised the remastering of these albums, and I believe you’ll find them to be even better sounding than the originals.
I’ve been writing for years about the recording of each Alligator release. As I’ve already covered two Roy Buchanan albums, I’m not going into detail about his third, Hot Wires. I’ll only mention how much fun Roy had performing his amazing pyrotechnic rockers, but even more how much he enjoyed creating his melodic solos on slow blues and ballads. His atmospheric, deeply blue playing on That Did It (sung by the soul veteran Johnny Sayles) and These Arms Of Mine (with vocals by Kanika Kress) are among the many high points of Hot Wires. The album proves again that Roy was a true guitar genius.
I want to tell you about another 1987 release, I’m In The Wrong Business!, by A.C. Reed, Chicago’s sax great and songwriter extraordinaire. It’s one of the hidden gems of the Alligator catalog, full of witty original songs, wry vocals and great playing by both Chicago veterans and surprise guests. This album was A.C.’s creation from start to finish, cut over a number of years in various studios around the country. I had known A.C. since I first came to Chicago, when he was anchoring the Buddy Guy/Junior Wells Band. He had been playing since the 1940s, and was a master of the ‘less is more’ school of blues, never overplaying or showing off. He blew fat-toned, stone blues tenor sax and opened their shows with his laid-back, drawling vocals. A.C. had earned his stage name because of the influence of Jimmy Reed on his sound, but A.C. was no imitator. In the ‘60s, he had recorded 45s, mostly of his own clever originals, for a number of local labels. Plus, he cut sessions as a sideman with Buddy and Junior, Earl Hooker, Bonnie Raitt and dozens more. A.C. had a dry, subtle sense of humor, with a great ability to laugh at himself and his fellow bluesmen and inject his down home humor into his songs. I’ll tell you more about I’m The Wrong Business! next time.Finally, I wanted to pay tribute to Larry Boehmer, who made his club, The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, into one of the country’s blues meccas. Larry loved the blues, and showed it with huge respect for every musician who played there. He was a true champion of the blues, and won the love of our whole community.
More next time,