The Chicago Blues Festival, June 12-14, was one of the best in recent memory. Three days of blues, ten hours a day, with five stages –what more could a blues fan ask for? Saturday was a special day for Alligator. In the afternoon, Jarekus Singleton captivated a huge audience at the Crossroads stage, delivering a charismatic high-energy set of his own songs from Refuse To Lose, his Alligator debut.
On the Petrillo Bandshell, one of Chicago’s most popular younger bluesmen, guitarist/vocalist/song-writer Toronzo Cannon, opened the evening with a searing performance featuring his soulful original compositions. We were proud that he chose that night to announce that he had just signed with Alligator. (His new release is in rehearsal; it should be our first album of 2016).
Toronzo was followed by the wildly popular Shemekia Copeland, who has just returned home to Alligator after a two-album ‘vacation’ on another label. Shemekia’s amazing voice and presence fueled every song, from subtle ballads and raw blues to hard R&B and powerhouse rockers.
Shemekia’s visionary new Alligator release, Outskirts Of Love, has just been completed. It reunites her with producer/guitarist/songwriter Oliver Wood, who produced her last two albums. With four outstanding new originals, plus tunes first cut by her father, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Albert King, Solomon Burke, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jessie Mae Hemphill, John Fogerty and ZZ Top, and guest appearances by Robert Randolph, Billy F Gibbons, Will Kimbrough and Alvin Youngblood Hart, Outskirts of Love is a tour-de-force of blues, soul and Americana. Living Blues has described Shemekia as a “limitless talent” who sings with “sizzling, simmering soul,” with a voice that is “pure, beautifully unaffected and powerful.” Outskirts Of Love will be released on September 11, but available for pre-order from www.alligator.com, iTunes and Amazon.
We’ve had a terrific public reaction to Meet Me In Bluesland, the previously-unreleased sessions that paired the legendary rock ‘n’ roll and blues pianist Johnnie Johnson with his friends, the rough and rollicking Southern blues-rockers, The Kentucky Headhunters. Combining Johnnie’s world-class keyboards with the outstanding songwriting and playing of the Headhunters, this album is full of memorable performances, and you can hear how much fun they had recording it in every track. Take a listen on our online jukebox at www.alligator.com.
Later this summer, I will again be exercising my roadie skills as I accompany Selwyn Birchwood and Jarekus Singleton to the (Ge)Varenwinkel Blues & Roots Festival in Herselt, Belgium on August 29, the Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival in Colne, UK on August 30 (where Tommy Castro will join us for an all-Alligator show) and the Harvest Time Blues Festival in Ireland on September 4 and 5. This is a great opportunity for Belgian, British and Irish fans to see two of the most exciting ‘young guns’ in the blues. Jarekus, Selwyn and I will also be traveling to Katowice, Poland on October 3 for the Rawa Blues Festival, the world’s largest indoor blues fest.
Return with me now to 1988, when I traveled with producer Bob Greenlee to Miami to see Kenny Neal live for the first time. I was knocked out by his charisma, gritty vocals, intense guitar and “has to be from Louisiana” harmonica playing. I knew he was a future blues star, and of course wanted him for Alligator. Bob Greenlee had already released Kenny’s debut, Bio On The Bayou, but he told me there were a few unreleased songs that I should hear. He brought the masters to Chicago, where we remixed the album in a better studio than Bob’s modest above-his-garage Kingsnake studio in Florida, and mixed three additional songs to round out the album, including two tracks that Kenny had cut while living in Toronto.
Because Kenny was so proud of his Louisiana heritage and home town, and his sound was inspired by his father, harmonica player Raful Neal, as well as by Kenny’s years playing bass with fellow Louisianan Buddy Guy, we called the album Big News From Baton Rouge!! It was the first of Kenny’s six Alligator albums (plus his Deluxe Edition collection). We’ve always been proud to introduce ‘next generation’ bluesmen and women like Kenny Neal who are true to the tradition but bring their own personal vision to the blues.
More next time,