Alligator Night at the Chicago Blues Festival, celebrating the label’s 45th anniversary, was a huge success. The crowd of tens of thousands loved seeing Toronzo Cannon jamming with Tommy Castro & The Painkillers, Corky Siegel getting wild with Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, and Curtis Salgado joining Shemekia Copeland for some very soulful slow blues. During the afternoon, Curtis played his own set on another stage, and Moreland & Arbuckle, the newest members of the Alligator family, made their Chicago Blues Festival debut. I can’t tell you about the festival without mentioning the excellent and very moving tribute to Otis Rush, which was organized by our friend Dick Shurman and included, among many performers, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Ronnie Earl, Monster Mike Welch, Billy Flynn, Mike Wheeler and Mike Ledbetter. Otis, who suffered a stroke some years ago, was able to attend and thank the audience. He was clearly very moved, and all of the artists who performed in tribute to him did so with passion and love. Otis is one of the true giants of the blues; it was great to see him honored this way by his home town.
Speaking of our anniversary, the two-CD Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection (with almost 160 minutes of music for the price of one disc) has received a warm welcome from blues fans worldwide. It gives you a chance to hear 37 of our artists, including some ‘hidden gem’ tracks from over the years, and songs from our latest albums by Moreland & Arbuckle, Curtis Salgado, Toronzo Cannon, Tommy Castro and Shemekia Copeland. It’s an essential purchase for any blues lover.
I just spent three very happy days at Joyride Studios here in Chicago with my friends Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. In about 18 hours, they recorded 17 songs full of their trademark raw energy, driving grooves, stinging slide guitar and Ed’s rough and ready vocals. Almost all the songs were cut in one or two takes, which is all that’s necessary when a band has been together with the same personnel for 27 years. The new album, which we’re calling The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, should be out in September. Just like Ed’s amazing live shows, it will put a smile on your face and a glow in your soul.
As you know, technology keeps giving you different ways to hear our music. Streaming on demand has exploded worldwide over the last few years. Services like Apple Music allow you to listen to your favorite artists as often as you want. The services also post playlists of suggested songs that follow a theme or concept. Listeners can stream the songs on those playlists in one click; it’s like someone has prepared a radio show for you. Apple, in their wisdom, has made me a playlist ‘curator.’ I’ve created five playlists of some of my favorite blues tunes, both by Alligator artists and others, for your listening pleasure. Just go to applemusic.com/alligatorrecords and enjoy!
And now, back to some highlights of The Alligator Story. As I told you, as I was leaving for San Francisco in 1988 to scout Katie Webster, I got a call from Elvin Bishop’s road manager, who told me that Elvin was working on a new album. The night after seeing Katie, I drove down the coast to catch Elvin, whom I had never seen live. Meeting for the first time backstage before the show, I found him to be a totally unassuming guy, very warm and outgoing, like a good ol’ country boy. I was surprised to discover my old friend Nancy Wright playing terrific tenor sax in the band. I had met her when she used to sit in with Lonnie Mack in Covington, Kentucky, around 1971.
On stage, clad in his trademark overalls, Elvin was the same down-to-earth, modest person I met backstage. But his guitar playing was startlingly good, especially the twin guitar harmonies played with Steve Gurr. Elvin didn’t have a big vocal range, but his songs told stories that pulled you right in, full of humor and down-home personality that made me grin. The whole band was part of the show, with everyone taking vocals and solos and having a great time. It was wonderful musicianship and loads of fun. And it fit our motto –“Genuine Houserockin’ Music.”
More next time,