I just returned from the 35th Annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis where I always have a wonderful time. Over 1000 blues fans and artists come together for the awards show, for gigs and jams in the Beale Street clubs and to just hang out together in the hotel lobby. I had a chance to spend some quality time with a bunch of Alligator artists, including our new young hotshots, Florida’s Selwyn Birchwood and Mississippi’s Jarekus Singleton, as well as longtime Alligator family members like Rick Estrin, James Cotton (a BMA winner!) and old friend Elvin Bishop. There were some great mini-sets at the awards show, including James Cotton and members of his band performing with Elvin as guest guitarist. Although they are not Alligator artists, both Ronnie Earl and Frank Bey with the Anthony Paule Band delivered very special and intense sets that deserved the ovations they received. Also, my dear friend and producer or co-producer of 11 Alligator albums, Dick Shurman, was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame for his work as a producer, writer and champion of the blues.
Our brand new Jarekus Singleton album, Refuse To Lose, is getting some very strong radio and press response. He’s been booked for NPR’s World Café radio show and for an in-studio performance on SiriusXM’s Bluesville channel. He and Selwyn Birchwood will be featured in an upcoming article on the next generation of blues in the Washington Post. Plus, both Selwyn and Jarekus are booked for major summer blues festivals. (You can check On Tour at alligator.com for all our artists’ tour schedules.)
By the time you read this, we will have released Selwyn’s Alligator debut, Don’t Call No Ambulance. It’s full of fresh, original tunes, tough vocals and exciting guitar. The songs range from roaring hill country-styled stomps to intense slow blues to subtle ballads, all delivered with Selwyn’s combination of youthful energy and ‘old soul’ maturity. You probably know that Selwyn was the deserving winner of the 2013 International Blues Challenge, as well as that year’s Albert King Guitar Award. He had first attracted my attention at the 2012 IBC competition, when he delivered an outstanding high-energy set that featured both his regular guitar and his lap steel. On top of that, he and his band had a spontaneous, playful interaction, including some hot guitar-sax trading with reedman Regi Oliver. I sought Selwyn out after his 2012 performance and we began to correspond. I found him to be a smart, intense and very focused young bluesman, as well as a just plain nice guy. He began sending his new songs to me, both demos and full-fledged, professionally recorded tracks that he was producing in Florida. When he returned for the 2013 IBC, he came with fire in his eye. He was super-confident on stage, with searing guitar and seasoned, soulful vocals. I was a finals judge, and Selwyn was the obvious victor. A few weeks later, I flew down to Sarasota, FL, to spend some time getting to know him better and to see him work a whole evening at the Blue Rooster, a very friendly local club. With no time limit, he could really stretch out, extending his solos, having fun with his kickass band, interacting with the audience, playing while walking the top of the bar (without knocking over a drink!) and eventually kicking off his shoes and playing the rest of the night barefoot. It was a great show full of memorable modern blues. It confirmed what I was already thinking–I wanted Selwyn Birchwood to become an Alligator artist.
Over the next few months, Selwyn sent me more new songs (not all about standard blues topics) and then headed into his local studio to cut them. In late January, he flew to Chicago with the tracks so we could mix with the blues-savvy engineer Blaise Barton. As I listened, it was clear that Selwyn had fulfilled the great promise I saw in him. We wracked our brains for a title, and the lyric of Selwyn’s infectious tribute to all-night partying jumped out — “Don’t you call no ambulance, I’ll find my own way home.”
I believe that in Selwyn Birchwood and Jarekus Singleton, I’ve found two of the most exciting, passionate and creative young bluesmen in the country. I urge you to check out their music at alligator.com and see them live. You won’t be disappointed.
More next time,