Hometown blues hero Toronzo Cannon launched his Alligator debut, The Chicago Way, with three scintillating performances in the Chicago area in one week, plus appearances on multiple local TV shows. You can see WGN-TV’s excellent Toronzo story. The new album has won a ton of praise, especially for Toronzo’s fresh, streetwise songwriting and natural storyteller’s vocals (and of course for his fiery guitar work.) Songs like Midlife Crisis, Bad Contract, The Pain Around Me, Fine Seasoned Woman and Strength To Survive were inspired by Toronzo’s South Side upbringing and his wry observations of the world around him as he drives a CTA bus (his day job). Toronzo is already booked for some major blues festivals this year, including the Chicago, W.C. Handy, Utah, Ft. Smith, North Atlantic and Pennsylvania fests. You owe it to yourself to hear this charismatic Windy City bluesman.
We’re about to release Curtis Salgado’s second Alligator album, The Beautiful Lowdown. As with his much-praised Soul Shot, Curtis blends deep soul and blues, delivering each song (almost all written or co-written by Curtis) with his unmistakable, impassioned voice, charged with honesty and emotion. The songs range from joyful uptempo shoutouts to intense ballads. He’s surrounded by an array of funky musical textures, from raw slide guitar to swaggering horns. If you enjoyed Soul Shot (which won a Blues Music Award as Soul Blues Album Of The Year), you’ll love The Beautiful Lowdown. Curtis will be on the road all summer, crisscrossing the country, delivering these soulful new songs in person. You can find his tour dates on alligator.com, where you can also hear songs from every Alligator release on our online jukebox.
We’ve been winning amazing critical response for God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson. Publications around the world, ranging from Rolling Stone to The London Times (who called the album “mesmerizing”) to The Australian (who called it “thoroughly compelling”) have raved about the passionate performances of Johnson’s ‘gospel blues’ songs 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, as well as about the beautiful packaging and in-depth liner notes. And it’s available on vinyl, too.
In May we’ll be bringing you the Alligator debut by the gritty heartland roots rockers Moreland & Arbuckle, entitled Promised Land Or Bust, and in June a jam-packed two-CD set (for the price of one), The Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection.
I was telling you last time about the making of the 1988 Alligator debut by the incomparable two-fisted pianist and soul-stirring vocalist, Texas-born, Louisiana-bred Katie Webster. After Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray added guitar and vocal contributions to three tracks in Los Angeles, it was on to Austin for Kim Wilson to duet with Katie on Johnnie Taylor’s Who’s Making Love? and add some harp to her original song On The Run. Finally, I headed to Memphis where The Memphis Horns added their signature touch to the two Otis Redding songs that Katie had recorded in tribute to her friend and former boss. I returned to Chicago to mix these performances into a marvelous album. We decided to name it after Katie’s professional moniker, The Swamp Boogie Queen. It turned out to be one of Alligator’s most popular releases, revitalized Katie’s career and launched her as a festival headliner.
My trip to San Francisco to scout Katie turned out to have more benefits than I ever expected. On the day I was to fly to California to see her live for the first time, I got a call from Elvin Bishop’s road manager, whom I had never met. He told me that Elvin had been working on a new album that I might want to hear. I knew Elvin’s music, from the tough Chicago blues that he played with the original Paul Butterfield Blues Band to the rollicking country-tinged rock that he had cut in the 1970s for the famed Capricorn label, but I had never seen him in live performance. Elvin also lived in the Bay Area, and had a gig the night after I was scouting Katie. It seemed like fate was trying to tell me something, so I rescheduled my return to catch Elvin’s live show.
More next time,