2016 will be a banner year for Alligator. It’s the 45th anniversary of the label and we’ll be bringing you an outstanding series of new releases as well as some exciting live events. For a start, we’re proud to announce that on Friday, June 10, the Chicago Blues Festival will celebrate our anniversary with an Alligator night on the Petrillo Bandshell. The lineup will be: Tommy Castro with special guest Toronzo Cannon, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials with special guest Corky Siegel and Shemekia Copeland with special guest Curtis Salgado. Should be quite a night! For more information on the 2016 Chicago Blues Festival, go to chicagobluesfestival.us.
Toronzo Cannon’s Alligator debut will be released on February 26th. Because Toronzo grew up on Chicago’s South Side and won his reputation as a dynamic musician and inspired showman on the Windy City’s ultra-competitive club scene, we’re calling the album The Chicago Way. Accompanied by some of the city’s best players, Toronzo delivers eleven fresh, memorable new original songs, ranging from rollicking shuffles and intense slow blues to up-to-the-minute socially conscious rockers that are just as tough as his home town. Every song features Toronzo’s soulful vocals and searing guitar. With The Chicago Way, Toronzo Cannon, proud inheritor of the Chicago tradition, steps up into the first rank of bluesmen.
I’m also very proud to announce the February 26 release of an amazing album: God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson. Eleven songs originally recorded by the immortal “gospel blues” singer and slide guitar player are delivered in startling and genre-bending interpretations by Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Cowboy Junkies, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Sinead O’Connor, Luther Dickinson featuring The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, Maria McKee and Rickie Lee Jones. Inspired by Johnson’s brilliant recordings from 1929 and 1930, these artists have created passionate, daring new versions. The entire project was helmed by Jeffrey Gaskill, who hand-picked these visionary artists. This is not another “tribute” album; these performances are extraordinary and deserving of many repeated listens.
Later this spring, look for The Beautiful Lowdown, Alligator’s second release by blues and soul man Curtis Salgado and Promised Land Or Bust, the Alligator debut by heartland blues/roots/rockers Moreland & Arbuckle.
As I was writing this, I got word of the passing of Long John Hunter, the iconic Texas blues guitarist, singer and songwriter whose career began in Beaumont in the early 1950s. When John was ‘rediscovered’ in the mid-1990s, he cut three terrific albums that his producers brought to Alligator –Ride With Me, Border Town Legend and Swingin’ From The Rafters. They’re full of great songs, John’s stinging guitar and dry West Texas vocals. In 1999, John joined his old Beaumont pals and friendly rivals, Lonnie Brooks and Phillip Walker to cut Lone Star Shootout. It’s one of the hidden gems of the Alligator catalog, and a fine introduction to the wonderful music of Long John Hunter.
I was telling you last time about the gig that convinced me to sign Katie Webster, the two-fisted Gulf Coast piano player and singer. Early in 1988, Katie and her band, The Silent Partners, went into Streeterville Studios in Chicago to record her Alligator debut. Her manager Ice Cube Slim and I were acting as producers, but it was Katie who set the mood, with her larger-than-life personality, constant playful flirting, and challenging her band to rise to her unparalleled energy level.
In three evenings, we cut 13 songs, ranging from Louisiana swamp ballads to Memphis soul to rollicking boogie woogie to Texas blues, all fused together by Katie’s rambunctious vocals and brilliant keyboard playing. But we weren’t done yet. Katie and Ice Cube Slim had made a lot of friends over the years, and some blues celebrities wanted to contribute to Katie’s first Alligator release. Shortly after the Chicago session, we flew with the master tapes to Los Angeles, where both Robert Cray and Bonnie Raitt laid down guitar tracks, and Bonnie joined in a vocal duet on Katie’s version of Ann Peebles’ hit, “Somebody’s On Your Case.” And there were most guest appearances to follow.
More next time,