Dear Friends,

Elvin Bishop just played here in Chicago, and, as always, left everyone both blown away and grinning. Blown away because Elvin is such a terrific guitar player, delivering gritty slide solos over his signature chunky grooves, all while making it look incredibly easy. Grinning, because Elvin and his deceptively loose-sounding band have such a wonderful time making music together. Elvin sings his original songs in his Oklahoma storyteller’s voice with totally unpretentious good humor, and that sense of fun communicates to his audience whether it’s live or on record. It’s that combination of great playing and uninhibited fun that Ken Tucker described in his rave review of Elvin’s new Alligator release, Can’t Even Do Wrong Right, on NPR’s Fresh Air radio show–“Few young whippersnappers feature the stuff that makes Elvin Bishop such a continuing gas–the raspy chuckle in his singing and the sharp sting of his guitar. He invites you to contradict the title of this album, to insist that he can do wrong right–just right.” This review inspired lots of people to visit to listen to tracks from the album on our online jukebox and buy the CD, and you can, too. Or visit your best local record store, or Amazon, iTunes, or favorite online retailer.

Speaking of memorable and smile-inducing records, we’re about to release our sixth album by the queen of Texas and Louisiana piano, Marcia Ball. It’s called The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man, and it’s chocked full of brand new Marcia-composed songs, featuring her two-fisted piano and melodic, soulful vocals. For this album, she joined forces with award-winning producer Tom Hambridge, who’s made stellar albums with Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, James Cotton and others. They recorded in Austin, Marcia’s home town, with her crack road band and guests like Terrance Simien and Delbert McClinton. Whether it’s a party rocker or a straight-from-the-heart ballad, there’s no one who delivers Gulf Coast blues, boogie and R&B like Marcia Ball. There’s a reason why she’s won all those Blues Music Awards and become one of the most popular blues and roots artists in the world. It’s because no one does it better than Marcia.

Before I turn back the hands of time and continue telling you about earlier Alligator releases, I wanted to mention a sad event–the death of Peter Amft, an extraordinary photographer and graphic designer, and a great friend of the blues. Peter shot hundreds of classic photos of bluesmen and women. You probably know him for his famous shots of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, and for the striking covers of Alligator’s first three albums, by Hound Dog Taylor (shot and designed for free, as a favor for a brand new and underfunded label), Big Walter Horton and Son Seals. Later on, Peter created memorable Alligator covers for albums by Big Twist, Lonnie Brooks, Lonnie Mack, Tinsley Ellis, Katie Webster, The Kinsey Report and many more. Peter’s photos had a way of getting deep inside the personalities of the musicians, becoming iconic images of bluesmen and women whose music he loved. Peter was a marvelously talented man, and I’ll miss him.

I was telling you about the winter of 1987 and (almost literally) running into my neighbor Corky Siegel of the much-beloved Siegel-Schwall Band, one of the pioneering white blues bands from the 1960s blues explosion. Corky told me that the band had just reunited for a performance at the city’s Vic Theatre which had been recorded as a radio concert for WXRT, a local station that was a strong supporter of the blues. He thought it would make a great album release. I admit I had never paid a lot of attention to Siegel-Schwall. When I came to Chicago in 1970, I was devoted almost entirely to the hard blues of the West Side and South Sides. But when I listened to the concert, I found Siegel-Schwall’s music was wildly infectious and loads of fun. They didn’t play with the typical tough Chicago blues attack; their sound was more acoustic-based. Corky used less amplification and his melodic harmonica runs soared into the upper end of the harp. Jim Schwall favored an amplified acoustic guitar with less distortion and grit than the guitarists I was used to. Neither tried to sing in a black-influenced voice. Corky told me that jug band music had been a key influence on Siegel-Schwall, which made perfect sense. Once I realized they weren’t trying to be authentic Chicago bluesmen but had created a joyful, fresh style of their own, it all worked for me.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer