I just returned from the 34th annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis. It was a great night, over seven music-filled hours, packed with over a thousand blues fans and artists, and featuring showcase sets by more than twenty of the nominees. There were lots of deserving winners, including four Alligator artists. Curtis Salgado scored the most, winning B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Soul Blues Artist of the Year and Soul Blues Album of the Year for Soul Shot. Janiva Magness received the awards for Contemporary Blues Female Artist and for co-writing Song of the Year, I Won’t Cry from her Stronger For It album. Rick Estrin was appropriately named as Harmonica Instrumentalist of the Year. And our dear friend, the late Michael “Iron Man” Burks, was awarded both Contemporary Blues Album and Album of the Year for his final release, Show of Strength. Michael’s wife Bobbie and the members of his band–Chuck “Popcorn” Louden, Wayne Sharp and Terry Grayson–were on hand to accept his awards.
Our brand new James Cotton album, Cotton Mouth Man, has already earned accolades as one of the best recordings, and the most personal, of his storied career. Besides the in-depth cover story in the last issue of Living Blues, the album has been hailed by Rolling Stone and The Chicago Tribune (who said it’s “gritty, gutsy, ferociously uninhibited…you’re hearing what great blues harp work is all about”). James was just interviewed on NPR along with Keb Mo, one of many fellow blues artists who honored him by guesting on Cotton Mouth Man. (Keb Mo sings and plays on two of the album’s tracks.) Of course you can hear songs from Cotton Mouth Man on our online jukebox at alligator.com, and even download a free song from our “Free Stuff” page. This album is simply an essential purchase for any true blues fan.
I just finished mastering the tracks for a terrific new live Roomful of Blues record. It’s entitled 45 Live, celebrating the 45th anniversary of this wonderful, jumping “little big band.” The songs were carefully chosen from Roomful’s entire recording career by the band’s co-leaders, guitarist Chris Vachon and saxman Rich Lataille. 45 Live will be out in early August. The album is full of great musicianship, plus Phil Pemberton’s larger-than-life vocals. It’s over an hour of swinging, rocking, horn-driven fun.
I was telling you last time about the making of Edge of the City, our 1987 release by one of the most exciting and visionary young blues bands of the era, The Kinsey Report.
The three Kinsey brothers had been schooled by their father, the Delta-born godfather of the Gary, Indiana blues scene, Big Daddy Kinsey. Their blues roots were deep, but they also had a real love for rock, funk and reggae, and played all these with swaggering attitude and real authority. Because of their immersion in reggae (including Donald’s years with Bob Marley’s band), their grooves weren’t always the standard blues rhythms. Ralph Kinsey on drums and Kenneth Kinsey on bass had their own unique “lock” that sometimes emphasized reggae upbeats instead of blues downbeats. The interplay between Donald Kinsey’s lead guitar and Ron Prince’s rhythm guitar was unusual, too. Usually a blues rhythm player will play darker, rounder chords underneath the lead player’s brighter, edgier sound. But in The Kinsey Report, things were reversed. Ron’s rhythms emphasized the treble bite of his Fender Telecaster while Donald delivered burning, inventive solos with a darker, fatter tone that would have been more normal for a rhythm player. Along with their unusual grooves and guitar blend, the Kinseys created a whole batch of newly written songs for Edge of the City. We cut eight of their originals for the album, all brimming with the gritty, urban energy of their home town of Gary and their father’s true Delta blues passion. I presented a couple of tunes that they liked, including Full Moon On Main Street, which became one of their signature songs. It was the first song recorded on Alligator which was written by the prolific and talented Fred James (well, co-written actually, with Lonnie Mack’s pal Bucky Lindsey). Fred went on to write songs for and with Koko Taylor, C.J. Chenier, Son Seals and Michael Burks. He’s become one of my favorite contemporary blues composers.
More next time,