I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Belgium, England and Ireland with Alligator’s two young stars, Selwyn Birchwood and Jarekus Singleton. They played at the (Ge)Varenwinkel Blues Festival outside of Antwerp, Belgium, The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival in Colne, England (where Tommy Castro & The Painkillers joined them for an Alligator all-star night), and The Harvest Time Blues Festival in Monaghan, Ireland. I can’t tell you how excited I am to witness Jarekus’ and Selwyn’s ever-growing talent and live charisma. I knew they were going be to among the most exciting and visionary bluesmen of their generation, but I didn’t expect them to develop so quickly into the young lions they’ve become. I’m immensely proud to have them on Alligator (and expect that both will have new albums in 2016).
We’re getting a great response to Shemekia Copeland’s new album, Outskirts Of Love. NPR chose it for their very prestigious NPR Music “First Listen,” and it’s already been hailed with a four-star review in the pages of MOJO, who said “It is Copeland’s thrilling voice, part Koko Taylor, part Mavis Staples and capable of incredible expression, that makes Outskirts Of Love so super-special. Spectacular, stirring, sanctified and sassy…” You can listen for yourself on our jukebox at alligator.com.
When Tommy Castro & The Painkillers headlined in England, they were already performing some of the fired-up new songs from Tommy’s upcoming release, Method To My Madness, to be released on October 23. With the urgent, stripped-down sound of this four-piece band, Tommy has returned to the hard-edged, rocking blues of his youth. He’s written or co-written ten of the twelve songs on the new album, and delivers them with the soulful passion that he’s famous for. Recorded almost entirely “live in the studio,” Method To My Madness captures Tommy and his powerhouse band at their best. As Tommy says, “We kept everything raw, capturing the feeling of playing live. I’m not about being perfect; I’m about being real.”
Later this month, I’ll be going into the studio with the rising star of Chicago blues, Toronzo Cannon, to cut his Alligator debut. He’s written a dozen new songs that range from traditional Windy City sounds to contemporary funky rockers. Toronzo delivered a sensational performance at the Chicago Blues Festival in June, and soon you’ll hear what all the buzz is about.
I was telling you last time about signing Kenny Neal, and the 1988 release of his Alligator debut, Big News From Baton Rouge! As with Jarekus and Selwyn, I saw in Kenny the potential to become a major force in the blues. Although he never became quite as big a star as his undeniable talent deserved, he’s cut a career’s worth of excellent albums. If you’ve seen him live, you know he still gives thrilling performances.
On my way to Miami to scout Kenny Neal, I stopped in Atlanta to check out a young blues-rocking guitar slinger who had been leading a regional band called The Heartfixers. His name was Tinsley Ellis and he had a couple of albums out on the Landslide label, including Tore Up, where he and the Heartfixers backed the great 1940s/50s blues shouter Nappy Brown. I knew from those records that Tinsley could play some very exciting guitar, mixing blues and Southern rock, and that he had a tough, unvarnished vocal style, but I wasn’t prepared for the power and confidence of his show at the Little Five Points Pub.
Live, he was a sizzling, slashing guitarist (who didn’t overplay like so many guitar heroes) and a rugged, convincing vocalist. His version of Freddie King’s Double Eyed Whammy just floored me. Although he wasn’t doing a lot of original songs, his own tunes were distinctive and personal. I knew he was ready for the national spotlight. Tinsley had already cut tracks for a new release, including five original songs, and after being knocked out by his live show, I made a deal to sign him and release the new album, which we called Georgia Blue. It launched Tinsley’s touring career and he never looked back. Over the following years, we’ve proudly released seven more Tinsley Ellis albums, full of fiery guitar, gritty vocals and memorable original songs, as well as re-releasing Tore Up and Cool On It.
More next time,