Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection
Two CDs chock full with over 158 minutes of genuine houserockin’ music spanning the label’s 45-year history for the cost of a single CD! Features Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor, Luther Allison, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Albert Collins, James Cotton and many, many more! Housed in a beautiful 6-panel digipak with 24-page booklet featuring liner notes from head 'Gator Bruce Iglauer.
Compilation produced by Bruce Iglauer
Mastered by Collin Jordan and Bruce Iglauer at The Boiler Room, Chicago, IL
Packaging design by Kevin Niemiec
Alligator logo design by Michael Trossman
Alligator was a leap of faith, an underfinanced one-man operation run out of an efficiency apartment. It was launched with an album by a band virtually unknown outside the local bars where they played. The album captured the band’s glorious racket and the vibrant, rocking spirit of the South and West Side Chicago blues clubs—simple neighborhood taverns in the city’s black community where mostly Southern-born, working class people bonded together and sloughed off the frustrations of their day-to-day hard lives by listening and dancing to the honest, rhythmic, joyful and cathartic music they had grown up with—the blues. Two of the three members of the band—Hound Dog, a fifty-five-year-old former sharecropper and factory worker, and Brewer Phillips, a part-time construction worker, had come to Chicago from Mississippi looking for decent jobs. The third member, drummer Ted Harvey, a loading dock worker, came from the Windy City. They had no reputation, no booking agent or manager, and they were not creating music that sounded much like anything getting played on any form of commercial radio. Yet their unbridled energy, unfettered joy and raw soulfulness of their music somehow communicated to people all over the world, making them blues legends and making their debut recording a classic that continues to be discovered by legions of new fans.
Forty-five years later, Alligator Records, now with a catalog of almost three hundred albums, continues to be bound by the same philosophy that led to that first recording—that direct, unvarnished, straight-from-the-soul blues and blues-rooted music, the music we call “Genuine Houserockin’ Music,” speaks to some primal, necessary place in people’s consciousness. We believe that our music, if delivered by charismatic, soul-stirring artists, and if publicized, promoted and marketed with unwavering energy, will find a worldwide audience, stand the test of time, and keep the label moving forward for years to come.
The first years of Alligator were dedicated to recording artists from Chicago’s deep well of blues talent. Besides Hound Dog Taylor, the label released albums by Big Walter Horton, the then-unknown Son Seals, Fenton Robinson, Koko Taylor and Lonnie Brooks. In an effort to expose the wealth of Windy City artists, in 1978 and 1980 we released the six-LP (now four-CD) Living Chicago Blues set (and followed it with a single-album collection called The New Bluebloods in 1985 to introduce some of the newly-arisen Chicago talent).
Starting in 1978, Alligator began recording blues musicians from across the country. Established blues stars like Albert Collins, James Cotton, Gatemouth Brown, blues-rock guitar heroes like Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan and Lonnie Mack, and ‘next generation’ artists like Kenny Neal, Tinsley Ellis and Little Charlie & The Nightcats all joined the Alligator family.
As the blues grew further from its Deep South roots, and the African-American audience turned to other forms of music, the large pool of musicians who had grown up in the blues tradition began to dry up. At the same time, a new generation of musicians, inspired by the blues but not part of the historic flow of blues, began to reshape the traditional elements to speak to contemporary audiences. Artists like JJ Grey, Anders Osborne, Jarekus Singleton, Selwyn Birchwood, and the newest Alligator family members, Toronzo Cannon and Moreland & Arbuckle, are defining blues and roots music for future decades.
The previous Alligator Anniversary Collections have been aimed at showing the complete span of the music we’ve recorded. For this collection, we have chosen to shine the spotlight somewhat more on the current artist roster and on those artists who are showing some of the directions Alligator will be heading in the future.
Over the last five years, since the release of Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection, we’ve lost too many members of the extended Alligator family, not only artists on the roster and those who had previously recorded for us, but also those who made memorable guest appearances on our releases. We will always miss Michael “Iron Man” Burks, Otis Clay, Michael Coleman, Popsy Dixon of the Holmes Brothers, Lacy Gibson, Wendell Holmes, Long John Hunter, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, Magic Slim, Sista Monica Parker, Pinetop Perkins, Ann Rabson, Pete Special of Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows and Johnny Winter. We also pay special homage to The King Of The Blues, B.B. King, who graced us with a guest appearance on Alligator. This collection is dedicated to all of them.
No band epitomizes Alligator’s rough and ready Genuine Houserockin’ Music spirit more than Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. Ed Williams and his half brother James “Pookie” Young learned to play and sing the blues under the tutelage of their uncle, Chicago slide guitar legend J.B. Hutto. Growing up on the city’s West Side, they played music for fun while working day jobs—Ed in a car wash and Pookie driving a school bus. In the early 1980s, they formed the first incarnation of the Blues Imperials and began gigging in the West Side blues clubs. In 1986, they were picked to record a single song for our anthology of up-and-coming artists entitled The New Bluebloods. In a historic three-hour session, instead of recording one song, they cut thirty songs and earned a contract with the label. Over twenty-seven years ago, guitarist Michael Garrett and drummer Kelly Littleton joined the band, and they’ve stayed together as a unit ever since. Their wild live performances and raw Chicago blues sound have made them a world-touring blues institution and winners of a Blues Music Award as Band Of The Year. They’ve cut eight Alligator albums. Hold That Train is from their 2008 release, Full Tilt.
Son Seals literally grew up in a juke joint, his father’s Dipsy Doodle Club in Osceola, Arkansas. After drumming behind the legendary Robert Nighthawk, he switched to guitar as a teenager, developing his own sound and style, and eventually touring with Albert King and Earl Hooker. He had only been in Chicago a couple years when I first heard him filling in for Hound Dog Taylor at the Expressway Lounge, a little bar on the South Side. Totally unknown and unproven, he became Alligator’s third signing, and in 1973 recorded his debut album, simply called The Son Seals Blues Band, which included Cotton Picking Blues. The album launched his career, and over the years his relentless guitar attack earned him the nickname “The Bad Axe.” Son cut eight albums for Alligator before his death in 2004, each filled with his trademark no-holds-barred intensity. In 2009, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Shemekia Copeland grew up immersed in the blues. Born in Harlem, she is the daughter of legendary Texas bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland. By her early teens, she was opening shows for her father, traveling nationwide during her high school summer vacations and thrilling audiences with her powerhouse, soul-soaked voice. She signed with Alligator in 1998, when she was just eighteen. Since cutting her debut album, Shemekia’s become the most honored female blues singer of her generation, a three-time Grammy nominee and winner of eight Blues Music Awards. Her latest album, 2015’s Outskirts Of Love, includes her Afrobeat-flavored rendering of her father’s composition, Devil’s Hand.
Elvin Bishop fell in love with the blues as a teenager in Oklahoma. He earned a scholarship to the University of Chicago, but once he discovered the South Side blues scene, his college career evaporated and instead he spent his nights backing bluesmen like Little Smokey Smothers, Junior Wells and Hound Dog Taylor. He joined the The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who became the first group to bring unadulterated Chicago blues to the young, white rock audience in the mid-1960s. Emigrating to the Bay Area, Elvin cut a series of good-time albums with his own band, mixing blues with country rock and his own off-kilter sense of humor. With his all-star bands and his happy-go-lucky presence, he’s been a major name on the roots music scene for almost five decades. “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” is the title track from his 2015 album, his sixth Alligator release, which won a Blues Music Award as Album Of The Year.
Toronzo Cannon, one of the brightest lights on the current Chicago blues scene, is one of Alligator’s most recent signings. Growing up a few blocks from the famed Theresa’s Lounge, he was first exposed to the blues while hanging out outside the club, listening to Junior Wells and Buddy Guy’s music drift out the door. Toronzo’s intense vocals and searing guitar sounds were forged in the crucible of the ultra-competitive local clubs, where some of the best blues musicians in the world compete for gigs. After several years as a sideman, he’s been leading his own band for almost fifteen years, performing his memorable original songs. He’s played the Chicago Blues Festival nine times, and performed as far away as South Africa and Armenia. Bad Contract is from his 2016 label debut, The Chicago Way.
Grammy-winning Charlie Musselwhite is a venerated icon of blues harmonica. With a recording career beginning in the 1960s, he’s developed an instantly recognizable, impossible-to-imitate harmonica sound, along with his personal conversational vocal style. Charlie grew up in a small town in Mississippi and then honed his sound in Memphis under the tutelage of Will Shade, harmonica player with the legendary Memphis Jug Band of the 1930s. Moving to Chicago in search of a good job, Charlie fell under the spell of undisputed harmonica master Big Walter Horton (the second artist to record for Alligator) and became a full-time bluesman. Within a few years, he cut his debut album and launched a career that’s included recording over twenty-five albums, four released on Alligator. “The Well,” a true story, was the title track of his 2010 album.
With her marvelous piano playing, her buoyant vocals and her warm stage presence, Marcia Ball had already won thousands of fans and cut eight albums before she joined the Alligator family in 2001. First gaining fame on the Austin, Texas music scene, Marcia created her signature Texas-Louisiana style under the influence of two New Orleans musical giants, Professor Longhair, the one-of-a-kind “rhumba blues” piano player (who recorded the last album of his career for Alligator) and vocalist Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans. Marcia tours constantly, and has played everywhere from Texas hole-in-the-wall clubs to the White House, while earning five Grammy nominations. Although Marcia was already an accomplished songwriter, after coming to Alligator she blossomed as a composer, eventually writing or co-writing every song on her albums. Her songs range from serious soul ballads to lighthearted, rollicking tunes like the title track of her 2014 release, The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man.
Tommy Castro is the ultimate road warrior. He’s carried his blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll from his Bay Area home all across the U.S., Canada and Europe, logging hundreds of thousands of highway miles. His dynamic live shows, catchy original songs, R&B-tinged voice and fiery guitar playing have earned him a huge and intensely loyal fan base. Starting as a sideman in local San Francisco bands, Tommy eventually earned a berth in The Dynatones, a hard-touring blues/rock party band. Forming the first version of the Tommy Castro Band in 1991, he became a Bay Area hero, releasing his first album in 1994. Since then, he’s gone on to cut fourteen more albums, win six Blues Music Awards, and become the unofficial president of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises. A few years ago, he formed The Painkillers, a stripped-down, four-piece band that puts the spotlight squarely on his voice, guitar and songwriting. Common Ground is the rocking everyman anthem from Tommy Castro & The Painkillers’ 2015 album, Method To My Madness.
Carey Bell was one of the true greats of blues harmonica, with a recording career that began in 1968 and lasted up to his death in 2007. His son Lurrie is a beloved and iconic Chicago blues guitarist and singer. Carey moved to Chicago in 1956 from Mississippi at the age of twenty, along with his adopted godfather, pianist Lovie Lee (who recorded on Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series). Carey was tutored by two of the giants of blues harp, Little Walter and Big Walter Horton, and soon forged his own sound and style. He played around the city with Eddie Taylor and Earl Hooker before cutting the first of his many solo albums. In 1972, he joined his mentor Big Walter Horton for Alligator’s second release, Big Walter Horton With Carey Bell. In 1978, we brought Carey back into the studio for our Living Chicago Blues series, and he brought his teenage prodigy son Lurrie to play guitar. Lurrie was already immersed in the blues, and playing with the young Sons Of The Blues band, who also recorded on Living Chicago Blues. He’s gone on to be recognized as one of the giants of contemporary Chicago blues. Carey and Lurrie Bell cut Second Nature, which includes The Road Is So Long, during a tour of Finland and we released it in 2004.
The undisputed Queen Of The Blues, Koko Taylor joined the Alligator family in 1974, the start of a wonderful thirty-five-year-long relationship. She was already well known for her raucous 1966 Chess Records hit, Wang Dang Doodle. After coming to Alligator, Koko cut nine classic Chicago blues albums, surrounding her huge, rough-edged voice with the cream of the world’s blues elite. Voodoo Woman is from her 1975 Alligator debut, I Got What It Takes, and features her friend Mighty Joe Young on guitar. Her award-winning albums and overwhelming live shows took her around the world, headlining every major blues festival, appearing on national television, and winning her twenty-nine Blues Music Awards (more than any other female artist), a Grammy and eight more Grammy nominations. With her death in 2009, the blues world lost its most famous and beloved female artist.
Young Selwyn Birchwood found his way to the blues through first listening to rock guitarists, then discovering Jimi Hendrix, and through Hendrix hearing Buddy Guy, who ignited Selwyn’s commitment to the blues. He burst on the national and international blues scene after defeating one hundred and twenty-five other artists to win the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Signing with Alligator shortly after, he released Don’t Call No Ambulance, an album of fresh original songs, fiery guitar playing and gritty vocals. The album won a Blues Music Award as Best New Artist Album and Living Blues magazine’s award for Best Debut Album. Since joining the Alligator family, he’s toured across the U.S. and Europe, igniting stages and winning acclaim as one of the most exciting and original of the next generation of blues artists.
Led by one of the world’s finest harmonica players and most original blues songwriters, and boasting three other world-class musicians, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats are one of the tightest, freshest and most entertaining bands in the blues. For almost thirty years, Rick was the vocalist, songwriter and harp player for the wildly popular Little Charlie & The Nightcats, a band led by the unpredictable guitar genius Little Charlie Baty. They cut eight albums for Alligator and toured worldwide. When Baty retired from the road, Rick took over the band, inviting six-string wizard Chris “Kid” Andersen to take over the guitarist role. With Lorenzo Farrell on keyboards and bass and J. Hansen on drums and occasional vocals, they’ve recorded three albums for Alligator, packed with Estrin’s streetwise songwriting and the whole band’s near-telepathic interplay. Callin’ All Fools is from their second album, One Wrong Turn.
One of the most honored bluesmen of his generation, fiery guitarist and soul-drenched singer Joe Louis Walker has cut twenty-three solo albums and appeared as a guest on recordings by iconic artists like B.B. King and James Cotton. Beginning his career as a teenage guitarist in San Francisco, he backed legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. Signed by Hightone Records in 1986, Joe began a distinguished recording career. His albums, full of his striking original songs, boast guest appearances by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Steve Cropper, Gatemouth Brown and Branford Marsalis. Joe’s two Alligator releases, 2012’s Hellfire (which includes Too Drunk To Drive Drunk) and 2014’s Hornet’s Nest, were both produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge. In 2013, Joe was deservedly inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall Of Fame.
Lee Rocker leaped into the public eye as one-third of the Stray Cats. That was the band who sparked the rockabilly revival of the 1980s, bringing thick, hollow-body guitars, the whammy bar and the standup bass back into fashion. When the Stray Cats split up, Lee embarked on a solo career, mixing blues, rockabilly and old school rock ‘n’ roll, assembling groups of outstanding musicians and cutting a dozen high-energy albums full of memorable songs. Crazy When She Drinks is from one of his two Alligator releases, 2007’s Black Cat Bone.
Moreland & Arbuckle, the dynamic, blues-infused rock trio from Wichita, Kansas, are Alligator’s latest signing. Beginning their careers as interpreters of Mississippi Hill Country blues, Aaron Moreland (guitar and cigar box guitar) and Dustin Arbuckle (harmonica and vocals), along with drummer Kendall Newby, have created a series of albums full of memorable original songs. With a wild, high-energy live show and a powerful, raw “roots rock from the heartland” sound, they are perfectly in the tradition of Alligator’s slogan—Genuine Houserockin’ Music. Take Me With You (When You Go) is from their 2016 Alligator debut, Promised Land Or Bust.
Jimmy Johnson was the very first artist chosen for our six-LP Living Chicago Blues series. Although Jimmy was already fifty years old, he had only recently made his mark as a Windy City bandleader, after years as a sideman. With his soaring, gospel-tinged voice and stinging guitar work, it was clear that he was a major talent just waiting to step into the spotlight. This Alligator session was the first recording by Jimmy released in the U.S. (except for a 45). He went on to record a dozen albums, all showcasing his instantly-recognizable sound. At the age of eighty-seven, Jimmy Johnson is still performing actively and sounding just as good as he did when he cut Your Turn To Cry for Living Chicago Blues, Volume I in 1977.
Delbert McClinton has been creating his personal brand of Texas roadhouse rock for over fifty years. He began as a harmonica-playing sideman in his hometown of Fort Worth, but his distinctive raspy voice and brilliant songwriting launched his solo career in the early ‘70s. Since then, he’s been on the road almost constantly, and cut twenty-five albums. In 1989, after his impassioned guest appearance on Roy Buchanan’s second Alligator album, Dancing On The Edge, Delbert reached out to us about releasing a live recording from the Austin City Limits TV show. Filled with some of his best-loved songs, including Givin’ It Up For Your Love, Live From Austin became one of Alligator’s most popular albums.
Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers were the very first band to record for Alligator, and the source of our “Genuine Houserockin’ Music” slogan. With only two guitars and a drum set, they created some of the most gloriously ragged, infectious blues ever to come out of Chicago’s South Side. Led by Taylor’s ruthlessly distorted slide guitar and tough vocals, they burst out of Chicago with their 1971 self-titled debut album, playing clubs and concerts around the U.S. and traveling as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Everywhere they went, they left exhausted, boogied-out fans in their wake. Up until Taylor’s 1975 death, they followed his often-repeated on-stage credo—“Let’s have some fun!” Take Five is from their second album, 1974’s Natural Boogie.
Anders Osborne is one of New Orleans’ best-loved musicians, with a recording career that stretches over twenty-five years. A prolific songwriter, passionate singer and astounding guitarist, Anders is equally at home performing scorching blues-infused hard rock, or gentle acoustic ballads, with occasional infusions of psychedelia. He joined Alligator in 2010 after recovering from a particularly dark period in his life. Over the course of three albums, his songs revealed some of his deepest personal angst and his greatest joy, sung with undeniable fervor, all accompanied by his startling guitar playing. Let It Go, from his 2013 album, Peace, is a cry of help to his friends who are still in dark places.
Mavis Staples possesses one of the most recognizable and soulful voices in American music. As the lead singer for the Staple Singers, she became a revered gospel vocalist and socially-conscious soul star with songs like Respect Yourself and I’ll Take You There. After the 2000 death of her father Pops Staples, founder of the Staple Singers, Mavis had decided to retire from music. However, the events of 9/11 led her back into the studio to record an inspirational song with producer Jim Tullio. The one session blossomed into a full album, Have A Little Faith, which Alligator released in 2004. This recording, including a new version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken, launched a new phase in Mavis’ career; she’s gone on to record four more albums, win a Grammy and perform worldwide. In 2016, HBO aired a documentary on the life of this music legend and civil rights icon.
With his massive tone and overwhelming power, James Cotton is universally recognized as one of the greatest blues harmonica players of all time. Born in Mississippi, he learned from a master, Sonny Boy Williamson II. Cotton cut his first records at Sun Studios in Memphis in the 1950s, then was recruited by Muddy Waters to move to Chicago and take over the coveted harp slot in Muddy’s band. He spent ten years there before founding his own group in the mid-1960s and becoming one of the most popular and prolific blues recording artists. Although he lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1990s, Cotton has continued to tour, still delivering his signature licks, backed by his all-star bands, including Darrell Nulisch on vocals. “Cotton Mouth Man” was the title track of his fourth Alligator album. It features his friend Joe Bonamassa guesting on guitar.
Albert Collins, “The Master of the Telecaster,” was already an internationally renowned blues guitar hero when he signed with Alligator in 1978. With his unorthodox minor key tuning, icy reverb, ultra-aggressive bare-fingered picking and conversational Texan vocals, Albert’s sound was instantly identifiable, and like no other in blues. Albert recorded seven albums for Alligator, including the Grammy-winning Showdown!, recorded with his friends Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland. In 1983, Albert and his crack band, The Icebreakers (featuring A.C. Reed on tenor sax), toured Japan and cut their Live In Japan album, including his original If Trouble Was Money, recently covered by Gary Clark Jr.
JJ Grey & Mofro have recorded some of the freshest and most compelling roots rock of the last fifteen years. Starting as a bar band soul singer, JJ began writing his own songs and formed the first incarnation of Mofro in 2000 to perform and record them. Inspired by his backwoods Florida home, JJ writes enduring, insightful songs about the colorful people of his region as well as his love for the rivers, lakes and swamps of his homeland. Playing guitar, harmonica and keyboards, he’s shaped a funky, multilayered band sound around his laid-back vocals. His charismatic live performances have won him an audience across the U.S. and Europe, playing at rock, blues and jam band festivals. Between 2007 and 2013, JJ Grey & Mofro cut five albums for Alligator full of JJ’s striking original songs. 99 Shades of Crazy was featured on This River, his 2013 release.
Jarekus Singleton is one of the visionary young artists reshaping the blues for the new millennium. He began playing bass in church in Jackson, Mississippi at the age of nine, switching to guitar as a teenager. It wasn’t until he was fifteen that he first heard the blues, and immediately fell in love. He was already rapping, and began melding his rap lyrics with blues guitar. He was heading for a career as a professional basketball player when a devastating injury ended his plans. It was then that he turned to music full time and formed his own band in 2009. After releasing an album on his own, Jarekus signed with Alligator in 2014 and recorded his self-penned label debut, Refuse To Lose. Since then, Jarekus and his crack band have been crisscrossing the U.S., playing hundreds of clubs and festivals, and establishing him as one of the most exciting and innovative new generation blues artists.
Michael “Iron Man” Burks, a third generation bluesman, grew up playing guitar in his family’s juke joint in Camden, Arkansas. A child prodigy, he began performing professionally at the age of five! After working mostly as a sideman through his teens, Michael put down his guitar in his early twenties to raise his daughter. He worked a day job for twenty years before he returned to the blues, releasing a small-label album in 1997 and beginning to tour around the South. His electrifying performance at the 2000 Chicago Blues Festival led to his signing by Alligator. His debut album, Make It Rain, announced the emergence of a major new bluesman. He barnstormed across the U.S. and Europe, playing electrifying live shows and recording three more albums for Alligator before his sudden death in 2012 at the age of fifty-four as he was returning from a European tour. Empty Promises is an original song from his third album, 2008’s Iron Man.
Roomful of Blues, known as “the world’s best little big band,” bring the horn-driven, hard-swinging jump blues and R&B of the 1940s and 1950s into the 21st century. Formed forty-eight years ago, Roomful’s personnel has changed over the years, but their big, brassy sound and danceable grooves are one of the most recognizable sounds in blues. Their albums have earned the band five Grammy nominations. These days, the band features Chris Vachon’s wildfire guitar, band veteran Rich Lataille’s sax leading the powerhouse horn section, and Phil Pemberton’s big-voiced vocals. Turn It On, Turn It Up is from 45 Live, the 2013 recording that celebrated the band’s 45th anniversary.
Lazy Lester began his recording career in the 1950s as a session player on dozens of Louisiana blues and rock ‘n’ roll records for the Excello label. He played excellent guitar and percussion, but it was his warbling harmonica sound that became his trademark. Soon he began recording under his own name, with classic swamp blues songs like Sugar Coated Love and I’m A Lover, Not A Fighter. His languid, behind-the-beat vocals perfectly fit his stage name. Although he drifted out of music for a few years, he began actively performing again in the early 1970s, and is still going strong today at the age of eighty-three. Raining In My Heart was a huge hit for Lester’s pal Slim Harpo, and when producer Bob Greenlee brought Lester into the studio in 1988, Lester cut his own version, which appears on the Alligator album Harp And Soul.
Johnny Winter was a legendary figure in blues and rock music. After immersing himself in the blues while growing up in Texas, he sprang onto the national music scene in the late 1960s, playing incendiary blues licks at a rock energy level. He quickly became one of the biggest-drawing arena rock acts in the world. But Johnny never forgot his roots, and in the 1980s, he came to Alligator to make real blues albums. We paired him with some of the best Chicago bluesmen and other guests, and he cut three classic Alligator albums. For a few songs, including Shake Your Moneymaker on 1986’s 3rd Degree, Johnny reunited with his original Texas trio of Uncle John Turner on drums and Tommy Shannon on bass. Johnny recorded more albums before his death in 2014, but none bluesier than his Alligator titles.
Curtis Salgado has been honored as one of the great soul singers of his generation. The winner of multiple Blues Music Awards as Soul Blues Male Artist Of The Year, Curtis has toured nationwide from his home base in Portland, Oregon. Curtis’ voice breathes honesty and passion; it’s the voice of a two-time cancer survivor who has come back stronger than ever. Early in his career, Curtis co-led The Robert Cray Band and toured with Steve Miller and Santana, as well as motivating John Belushi to create the character of “Joliet” Jake Blues for Saturday Night Live and a hit movie. More recently, he’s cut nine solo albums (his two most recent for Alligator), including 2016’s The Beautiful Lowdown, which includes Walk A Mile In My Blues. Although he emphasizes his vocals on his current recordings, Curtis is also a world-class blues harmonica player.
The Kentucky Headhunters gained their fame as country rockers, but at their roots they’ve always been roadhouse bluesmen. When the Headhunters met Johnnie Johnson, the legendary two-fisted piano player on Chuck Berry’s early hits, an instant personal and musical friendship began. Johnnie and the Headhunters cut their first album together in 1993, then hit the road, putting Johnnie into the spotlight in front of tens of thousands of rock fans. The band became like Johnnie’s extended family. In 2003, the Headhunters brought Johnnie to their home studio in rural Kentucky, and together they created a rollicking, joyful record of country-tinged blues and old school rock ‘n’ roll. Johnnie died in 2005, and ten years later the Headhunters went back to mix the tapes and create an album called Meet Me In Bluesland, which they brought to Alligator. Stumblin’ is a perfect example of the warm musical friendship of a great band and a brilliant keyboard player.
Billy Boy Arnold made his recording debut in 1952 at the age of seventeen, and he’s still performing regularly today at the age of eighty! Following the model of his idol, the first Sonny Boy Williamson (John Lee Williamson), Billy Boy developed his signature harp style as a teenager. He recorded as a sideman on Bo Diddley’s first sessions. He became a Chicago blues star at the age of twenty, when he cut I Wish You Would in 1955. A year later, he recorded the original version of I Ain’t Got You, one of the most-covered songs from the golden era of Chicago blues. The version here was cut in 1995 for his Alligator album Eldorado Cadillac, with Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin (who has three Alligator albums of his own) on guitar.
Ann Rabson was a two-fisted piano player and a sensitive and subtle acoustic guitarist. She immersed herself in the blues from her teenage years, performing for years as a solo artist. In her forties, while living in Virginia, she teamed with singer/guitarist Gaye Adegbalola and later added multi-instrumentalist Andra Faye to form Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women, an acoustic band that became one of Alligator’s most popular groups. Each of the members also pursued solo projects. With her larger-than-life personality and wonderful musicianship, Ann became a beloved member of the blues community, jamming with older veterans and encouraging up-and-comers. In 1997, Ann cut Gonna Stop You From Giving Me The Blues for her solo album Music Makin’ Mama. She died in 2013, only a couple months after her last live appearances.
Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King created some of the most exciting Texas blues of the last twenty-five years. Joe’s imaginative, pyrotechnic guitar playing (like Freddie King on amphetamines) melded with Bnois’ rich chords, down-home vocals and worldly-wise lyrics to create seventeen memorable albums. They toured nationwide, delivering scintillating live performances. Off stage, Joe was outgoing, warm and friendly, but onstage he rarely said a word, letting his guitar do all the talking. When Joe died suddenly in 2015, the blues world lost a thrilling musician. Joe and Bnois recorded two albums for Alligator, including 2010’s Blood Brothers. Although they cut few instrumentals, Freezer Burn (a nod to Albert Collins’ “cool sound” guitar sound and style) gave them a chance to blend their guitars in near-telepathic interplay.
Guitar Shorty’s career as a wildy inventive, no-holds-barred guitarist, flamboyant showman and a pioneer of melding blues and rock, goes all the way back to the 1950s. He’s spent sixty years on the road, electrifying audiences and influencing players from Buddy Guy to Jimi Hendrix. Through the years, Shorty has performed with blues and R&B luminaries like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, B.B. King, Guitar Slim and T-Bone Walker. He began recording in 1957, with a session for Chicago’s Cobra label produced by the legendary Willie Dixon. From there, he cut singles for a whole slew of labels and even appeared on The Gong Show (and won) playing guitar while standing on his head. He didn’t record his first album until 1985, and burst into the blues spotlight with a 1991 British release. Shorty released the first of his three Alligator albums, Watch Your Back, which included I’m Gonna Leave You, in 2004.
A.C. Reed was one of Chicago’s best-loved blues musicians. His warm, fat-toned saxophone sound, witty songwriting and laid-back, drawling vocals won him a featured sideman position with artists like Earl Hooker, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins. On his own, A.C. recorded 45s for a number of Chicago labels. In the 1980s, he began to produce his own albums, filled with original songs laced with slice-of-life humor. He recruited guests to join him on various tracks, including the then-unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan and his old friend Bonnie Raitt. One of those albums, I’m In Wrong Business!, was released by Alligator in 1987. Bonnie’s slide guitar and voice are heard on his original song She’s Fine, along with A.C.’s “less is more” tenor sax playing.
Luther Allison was one of the most charismatic bluesmen of his generation. Growing up on Chicago’s West Side in the 1950s, he was inspired by guitar giants like Freddie King, Otis Rush and Magic Sam. He honed his own sound, with searing guitar solos and raw, soul-tinged vocals. Luther devastated the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969, just before the release of his debut album on the Delmark label. He earned a reputation as a thrilling live performer, and won a huge fan following in both the U.S. and Europe. At the end of the 1970s, Luther decided to relocate to France, and became an iconic figure at European blues festivals. In 1994, he cut Soul Fixin’ Man, the first of three albums recorded in Memphis, produced by the famed Jim Gaines and packed with striking original songs. Released on the Ruf label in Europe and on Alligator in the U.S., they became among our most popular albums. Luther began touring the U.S. for months at a time, delivering jaw-dropping three-hour shows (with hour-long encores) across the country. His amazing set at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival evoked multiple standing ovations. He was soaring to the top of the blues world when diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1997, and died soon after. His Chicago Blues Festival set and other stunning live recordings, including Will It Ever Change? were released on 1999’s Live In Chicago, which also appeared in Europe on the Ruf label.
The Holmes Brothers—Wendell Holmes, Sherman Holmes and brother-in-spirit Popsy Dixon—were true treasures of American roots music. For thirty-five years, their joyous and moving blend of blues, gospel, soul, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and country captivated audiences around the world. Their spine-tingling three-part harmony singing brought the spirit of gospel-inflected deep soul music into every song they performed. Equally gripping was the rhythmic foundation laid down by Sherman’s bass playing and Popsy’s drumming, perfectly complementing Wendell’s blues-soaked guitar solos and church-infused piano playing. The band expertly blended Saturday night’s roadhouse rock and blues with the gospel passion of Sunday morning’s church service. The deaths of Popsy Dixon and Wendell Holmes in early 2015 robbed the world of two of the most soulful musicians ever. The Holmes Brothers would open every show with their personal arrangement of Amazing Grace, which they memorialized on their Brotherhood album in 2013. Their statement of faith seemed a fitting way to close this collection.
Thanks to the producers and co-producers of the tracks on this collection: Kid Andersen, Matt Bayles, Selwyn Birchwood, Elvin Bishop, Tony Braunagel, Brian Brinkerhoff, Rocky Brown, Chris Bruce, Michael “Iron Man” Burks, Hector Castilla, Tommy Castro, Chip Covington, Scott Dirks, Rick Estrin, Jim Gaines, Bob Greenlee, JJ Grey, Chris Goldsmith, Tom Hambridge, Jesse Harms, Martti Heikkinen, The Kentucky Headhunters, Marlon McClain, Richard McLeese, Anders Osborne, Glenn Patscha, Dan Prothero, Ann Rabson, Wesley Race, A.C. Reed, Warren Riker, Lee Rocker, Thomas Ruf, Curtis Salgado, Steve Savage, Dick Shurman, Jim Tullio, Chris Vachon, Bob Welsh and Oliver Wood.
Thanks to the Alligator staff who do so much and get so little public recognition: Lynn Coleman, Bob De Pugh, Jill Dollinger, Bill Giardini, Tim Kolleth, Matt LaFollette, Chris Levick, Marc Lipkin, Josh Lindner, Eli Martinez, Kevin Niemiec, Kerry Peace, Luisa Rosales, Mark Steffen and Bill Wokersin.
In choosing the songs for this collection, the hardest decisions were which of the many terrific musicians and fine people who have recorded for Alligator would not make the final cut. I would be proud to have every one of these artists included. Those who recorded or shared full albums are: Gaye Adegbalola, Big Twist & The Mellow Fellows, Billy Branch, Lonnie Brooks, Charles Brown, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Nappy Brown, Roy Buchanan, Buckwheat Zydeco, Henry Butler, Cephas & Wiggins, Clifton Chenier, C.J. Chenier, W.C. Clark, William Clarke, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Johnny Copeland, Robert Cray, Jesse Dee, Floyd Dixon, Tinsley Ellis, Buddy Guy, Corey Harris, Johnny Heartsman, Michael Hill’s Blues Mob, Dave Hole, Big Walter Horton, Long John Hunter, John Jackson, Johnny Jones, The Kinsey Report, Eric Lindell, Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Lonnie Mack, Magic Slim, Janiva Magness, Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin, Coco Montoya, Kenny Neal, Raful Neal, Johnny Otis, The Paladins, Lucky Peterson, Professor Longhair, Fenton Robinson, Otis Rush, Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women, Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, The Siegel-Schwall Band, Little Smokey Smothers, Sugar Blue, Sonny Terry, Rufus Thomas, Maurice John Vaughn, Phillip Walker, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, Katie Webster, Junior Wells, and Rusty Zinn. Those who appeared on our anthologies are: Big Leon Brooks, Andrew Brown, Michael Coleman, Left Hand Frank Craig, Debbie Davies, Detroit Junior, Theodis Ealey, Ronnie Earl, Queen Sylvia Embry, Lacy Gibson, Gov’t Mule, Sonny Landreth, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Cub Koda, Lovie Lee, Sista Monica Parker, Dion Payton, Pinetop Perkins, Professor’s Blues Review featuring Gloria Hardiman, Vernon Reid, Scotty & The Rib Tips, Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang, The Sons Of Blues, Melvin Taylor, George Thorogood, Trampled Under Foot, Johnny “Big Moose” Walker, John Watkins, and Valerie Wellington.
–Bruce Iglauer, 2016