Dear Friends,

2014 proved to be a banner year for Alligator. We presented albums by artists ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s, hailing from Virginia, Mississippi, New York, Florida, California and Texas. We featured guitarists, harmonica players, pianists, black and white, men and women. We released recordings by beloved artists who are at the peak of their powers. The Holmes Brothers’ showed off their glorious, thrilling vocal harmonies on Brotherhood. Tommy Castro and the Painkillers pumped up the raw, rocking energy on The Devil You Know. Joe Louis Walker delivered searing guitar and passionate singing on Hornet’s Nest. Rick Estrin & The Nightcats reminded us why they are one of the tightest, most unpredictable and original bands in blues with You Asked For It…Live! Elvin Bishop made Can’t Even Do Wrong Right into a memorable, good-time, guitar-driven romp. And Marcia Ball proved again why she’s the queen of Louisiana and Texas roadhouse piano boogie and swampy blues (and a great songwriter) with The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man. Along with these world-class veteran artists, we introduced two tremendously exciting, creative and charismatic young bluesmen. Selwyn Birchwood’s Don’t Call No Ambulance and Jarekus Singleton’s Refuse To Lose, both full of fresh, new songs, soulful vocals and red-hot guitar, announced the stars of the next generation of blues. As you can imagine, I’m immensely proud of our 2014 releases.

We’re very happy to announce that there’s a brand new way to hear a huge selection of Alligator music online, and it’s free! Working with a company called TuneIn, we’ve created Alligator Radio. All you have to do is click on to hear selections from over 250 Alligator albums. Enjoy!

I was telling you last time about the live concert recording of the reunited Siegel-Schwall Band that was offered to me in late 1987. I told you about Corky Siegel’s soaring harmonica virtuosity and Jim Schwall’s warm, semi-acoustic guitar playing, and their humor-filled lyrics, but I didn’t mention the other two reasons this band was so much fun. Rollo Radford’s quirky electric bass playing might remind you of a bluesy John Entwhistle, while his cracking, ragged vocals couldn’t help but make you smile. And on drums was a Chicago icon, Sam Lay. Sam played with virtually everyone in Chicago, but was best known for his tenures with Howlin’ Wolf (that’s Sam on Killing Floor) and with the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Sam’s drumming is truly old school; his style was much more common in the 1940s and 50s than now. He doesn’t follow the rules, and won’t play a song the same way twice. He’ll switch cymbals in the middle of a verse, or throw in spontaneous off-time accents or unexpected fills. Sam listens and plays as though he and the rest of the band are having an unrehearsed chat, not reading a script, and he’s interjecting his comments (and sometimes his jokes) when he feels the time is right. It’s what I call ‘conversation drumming.’ Very few drummers play conversation drums like Sam. Fred Below played that way, as did Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and the late, great Odie Payne (including on sessions by Carey Bell, Lovie Lee and Detroit Junior on our Living Chicago Blues series.) My favorite Chicago conversation drummers these days are Willie “The Touch” Hayes, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and Kelly Littleton of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. Sam Lay’s drumming sparked The Siegel-Schwall Band, and made their very happy music even happier.

So that’s the story of how my ears were opened to the joy of The Siegel-Schwall Band, and why we released The Siegel-Schwall Reunion Concert. The band still gets together from time to time and creates wonderful music. You owe it to yourself to hear them.

Speaking of great bands that get together occasionally–last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a reunion gig by The Paladins, the supercharged, sweat-soaked, dance floor-filling rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly/blues trio who cut two albums for us in the late 1980s. Dave Gonzalez’s fantastically energized guitar work, Thomas Yearsley’s slapping upright bass and Brian Fahey’s powerhouse drums sounded as good as they did 25 years ago. If you get a chance to catch one of their reunion shows, don’t miss it. Meanwhile, you can buy Years Since Yesterday or Let’s Buzz!, their two kickass Alligator releases.

More next time,

Bruce Iglauer