Dear Friends,

We’re starting off an exciting year for Alligator with the release of Tommy Castro & The Painkillers’ brand new album The Devil You Know. This is Tommy’s first studio album in five years, and the recorded debut of his new, stripped-down and hard-driving band. The music is steaming hot, the energy level is intense, and you can hear Tommy and the Painkillers (and guests Marcia Ball, Tab Benoit, Magic Dick, Joe Bonamassa, The Holmes Brothers, Tasha Taylor and Samantha Fish) having loads of fun on these songs, including seven brand new ones. Tommy has won the devotion of fans worldwide the old fashioned way–by delivering thousands of good-time, soulful performances for over 30 years. The Devil You Know brings Tommy Castro’s music back to its original rough-and-ready, rocking essence.

On February 25, we’ll present the second Alligator album by one of the giants of contemporary blues, Joe Louis Walker. It’s called Hornet’s Nest, and it’s filled with Joe’s masterful, stinging guitar attack and equally formidable vocals. Joe was just honored with induction into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame, and no living musician is any more deserving. With a career that spans more than three decades, Joe Louis Walker has recorded more than 20 albums of definitive, visionary recordings, and brought his music to live audiences all around the world. For Hornet’s Nest, Joe reunited with the acclaimed producer Tom Hambridge, who worked with Joe on his 2012 Alligator debut, Hellfire, as well as James Cotton’s Grammy-nominated Cotton Mouth Man and Buddy Guy’s celebrated recent releases. Backed by a crack band, Joe delivers nine brand new songs ranging from electrifying guitar-driven rock to dark, deep after-hours blues (featuring his legendary slide guitar playing). Hornet’s Nest is essential listening for any Living Blues reader.

Later in the spring, we’ll be bringing you Brotherhood, a stirring new release by The Holmes Brothers, followed by a couple of big surprises that I hope will help to mark the future of blues and the future of Alligator.

I was telling you about cutting Lonnie Brooks’ classic live album, Live From Chicago—-Bayou Lightning Strikes at BLUES Etc. on the city’s north side. We had rehearsed the band well. They hit the stage with fire in their eyes, ready to rip it up. The club was packed. Lonnie was very hot to use his fancy new amp, which offered eight choices of tube combinations plus dozens of knobs. But no matter how many adjustments he made, Lonnie was never quite satisfied with his sound. You could tell from his constant resetting of knobs and tube combos that he was distracted and not relaxing. On the first and second of the three nights, we got a few truly excellent song performances, but mostly the shows were very good without reaching those special peaks that you strive for in a live recording. Lonnie was upset with himself and getting tied up in knots inside, though he kept his huge smile and happy manner onstage.

On the third night, we still hadn’t nailed the best possible performances of many of the songs. I was amazed and pleased when Lonnie appeared with his Fender Twin Reverb amp and the battered Gibson SG guitar on which we had cut his Living Chicago Blues session and his first two full Alligator albums. With his old standby gear in hand, Lonnie started bearing down into the songs with all his normal confidence and ferocity. When it came time for Born With The Blues, one of his new originals, he assumed the persona of a fire-and-brimstone preacher in a storefront church. “I was born with the blues,” he proclaimed. “All my life I’ve been abused!” “I was born with the blues!” “All my life I’ve been used!” The audience became his congregation, shouting back to him like an amen choir. He launched into the song with all the energy and swagger of the Lonnie Brooks I used to see in the West Side clubs. In one blistering set, he laid down half the final takes for the album, delivering song after song with fire and feeling. When I asked him later what had inspired him, he laughed and said simply, “I forgot we were recording.” And that’s how you make a great live album.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer