Issue 12-32 August 9, 2018

Cover photo © 2018 Chris Monaghan

 In This Issue 

Mike Stephenson has our feature interview with Alligator Records CEO, Bruce Iglauer. We have 11 Blues reviews for you this week including a DVD about the career of Leo “Bud” Welch plus new music from Keith Johnson, Al Basile, Brother Dege, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, The Lucky Losers, Little Freddie King, Crystal Shawanda, Spencer Mackenzie, Jörg Danielsen and Leon Redbone.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

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2018 Blues Blast Music Award Tickets On Sale Now

This years awards are being held at the Tebala Event Center in Rockford, IL on September 29th, 2018 beginning at 6:00pm. (Doors open at 5:00pm) Confirmed appearances so far include Karen Lovely, Benny Turner, Shaun Murphy, Ghost Town Blues Band, Markey Blue and Ric Latina Project, Casey Hensley Band, Ben Levin, Ivy Ford Band, Heather Newman, Orphan Jon & The Abandoned, Partick Recob, Ilya Portnov and Joyann Parker.

Advance tickets are $35. Tickets will be $40 at the door.
Tables for ten are only $250. To get your tickets now click HERE!

Information on travel, lodging, tickets and sponsorships is available on the Blues Blast Music Awards website at


WHERE TO STAY – We have chosen La Quinta in Rockford as the host hotel for fans and artists. La Quitna is about a mile from the venue. La Quinta is offering a special rate of only $89 for those attending the Blues Blast Awards. Simply call them at (815) 227-1300 and ask for the “Blues Blast Fan Rate”. First come first served.

Please note that there are a limited number of rooms available, so get your tickets and rooms booked now!

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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 11 

keith johnson cd imageKeith Johnson – Come To Mississippi

Twice As Nice Entertainment

13 Tracks/54:25

Looking quite dapper in a light-colored suit and a bow tie, the smile on guitarist Keith Johnson’s face on the cover expresses his excitement over his debut recording. The twenty-five year old blues man handles the lead vocals, lead & slide guitar, and harmonica in addition to serving as the Executive producer. Backing musicians include Travis Calvin and Caleb Armstrong on rhythm guitar, Chris Parks on bass, Charles Ross on keyboards, and George Mumford on drums & percussion.

Johnson wastes no time in describing his introduction to the music on ”The Blues Chose Me,” his easy-on-the-ears vocal style combining with his smooth guitar work for a strong opener. “Fire” picks up the tempo as the singer uses the flames as a metaphor for his lovemaking abilities. The mood is far more somber on “Best I Ever Had,” chronicling the end of a bad relationship. The distorted slide guitar and harmonica parts serve as distractions rather than enhancements. The following cut, “Forgive Me Baby,” gives Johnson space to plead his case over sympathetic instrumental backing, making this slow blues one of the album’s gems.

Several tracks have a contemporary sheen, with “Juke Joint Blues” driven by a popping bass line that should fill the dance floor at live shows, while the title cut is the requisite “travel” song, this time extolling Mississippi as the home of the blues, with multiple references to legendary artists. “Taxi” is a funky shuffle with Johnson taking a different approach to the object of his affections, then offers smooth, energetic encouragement on “Let’s Dance,” punctuate by melodic guitar fills.

On “Gamblin’ Man,” Johnson is at his best on a slow blues tune that focuses on the bad luck in his love life. Ross adds some swirling electronic keyboard renderings. A cover of Willie Dixon’s “Same Thing” is strong vocally while “Another Wish” falls in the filler category with weak lyrics and a rhythm that seems to be a bit out of sync. For the final track, “3 O’Clock,” Johnson slips into the southern soul sound favored by artists like Johnny Rawls. His pleading voice soars over a repetitive keyboard cluster that is the heart of the arrangement.

While it might be a bit early for Johnson to refer to himself as the “Prince of the Delta Blues,” as stated on the cover of the disc, he certainly shows plenty of promise throughout his initial effort. But then again, he is the great nephew of Muddy Waters. Keeping the instrumental solos short and sweet, Johnson scores in the vocal and songwriting categories. A contemporary blues release that is grounded in the traditions, from an artist who warrants attention now, and in his future endeavors.

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 11 

al basile cd imageAl Basile – Me & The Originator

Sweetspot – 2018

25 tracks; 73 minutes

Poet, writer, performer, singer, cornet player – Al Basile has been producing outstanding albums for many years. In fact it is 20 years since he founded his own label Sweetspot and decided to mark that anniversary with something a little different. Me & The Originator could be called a concept album, combining words and music to tell the imaginary story of a musician who found a trunk full of handwritten stories and poems, set them to music and never admitted his plagiarism to anyone, the public or his band mates. Al wrote all this material and alternates between narration and the songs, all linked to the core theme.

As on his last two albums, 2016’s Mid-Century Modern and 2017’s Quiet Money, Al used Duke Robillard as producer and guitarist, Duke in turn bringing his own band to the sessions: Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums and Doug James on tenor sax; Jeff ‘Doc’ Chanonhouse’s trumpet complements Doug’s sax and Al’s cornet in the horn section. The playing throughout is stellar, just listen to Duke’s closing solo on “My J-O-B” as one example. Duke also plays some short intros to each of the spoken narratives.

The words start with the discovery of the trunk and then go back to the narrator’s early life, through the years as a struggling musician to the days of success (after the discovery of the trunk which enabled the band to create original material, as desired by the record company). Along the way Al describes a gig when the entire band deserted him and he had to play a solo show in order to get paid (reluctantly by the owner!) to a fallout with a long-term friend who had been fiddling gate receipts for years. In “Who Owns It?”the narrator runs into a super-fan who asks him all about the lyrics, yet he did not write them! However, our protagonist finds that what occurs in the words often comes to pass in his life. Bad relationships, excesses, addictions, all are on the end of Al’s acerbic wit and commentary until the poignant end when the narrator finally gets to the end of the papers in the trunk as well as his own life.

The songs range across blues shuffles, some with jazzy touches, even moving into Americana territory, as in “Lefty’s Nine Lessons” and “A Go Of It”, both of which bring to mind The Band. We get back to the blues in “All Right” the tune of which sounds a little like “Sitting On Top Of The World”, Duke’s solo a model of conciseness, and Duke’s intro to the slow blues “She Made Me Believe It” is terrific as the horns growl behind Al’s vocal, both excellent tracks. “Here Come Your Trouble”, on the other hand, has a definite jazz undercurrent courtesy of Bruce’s piano work and Al’s cornet solo. “First One To Go” is a beautiful melody with emotional lyrics about the end of a relationship which Al conveys well in his vocal as the horns and Bruce’s understated piano create a superb backdrop for Duke’s plucked guitar and Al’s Mexican-flavored solo. Towards the end of the album “So Wrong For So Long” acts as a confession for the narrator’s actions with an achingly beautiful solo from Al and in the closing “If It Goes, It Goes” he seems to have accepted whatever the fates have conspired to bring him at the end of his time.

This is a really thoughtful project that combines Al’s abilities as poet, songwriter and music arranger. The combination of spoken word and songs is unusual but works well and the quality of the musicians involved makes the music just as good as on Al’s previous albums, so this is a definite winner for this reviewer.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 11 

brother dege cd imageBrother Dege – Farmer’s Almanac

Self-Produced/Dege Legg Music Publishing

CD: 11 Songs, 41:59 Minutes

Styles: Country Blues, Swamp Blues, Acoustic Blues, All Original Songs

The first thing one sees when one looks at the cover art of Farmer’s Almanac, by Brother Dege Legg, is a scarecrow. Not the straw-stuffed, cheerful one that Old MacDonald might have used, but a specter made of sticks. Its shredded coat, warped black hat, and gnarled-branch fingers bear witness at sunset to a land that’s seen better days. So does Dege, a Southern singer/songwriter whose talents were Grammy-nominated for Django Unchained. Sounding like a young, unpolished Tom Petty, his every note is raw and full of passion: the kind that means suffering as well as intense love. If a Crime and Punishment adaptation had been set in present-day America, in the Deep South, several songs on Almanac would have been on the soundtrack – with Dege singing in the role of the axe-murderer protagonist. The CD’s only flaw is that its first half, five of eleven original songs, is clearly better than the second half, which verges on the esoteric.

According to his promo info, Brother D.’s worked a series of odd jobs (dishwasher, day laborer, cabdriver, homeless-shelter employee, and a stint as an embedded journalist). He nearly dove into the Mississippi to find his final answers – and fate – there, but had an instant change of heart once he realized what lay at stake. Despite his lack of money and plethora of demons, including drugs, he drove himself to rehab in a stolen Camaro and rededicated his life to his cause: music.

Performing along with Brother Dege (on lead vocals, various guitars and percussion) are the Brethren: Kent Beatty and Michael Juan Nunez on bass; Greg Travasos, Doug Belote, Eric Heigle, and Hawley Joe Gary on drums; Josh Leblanc on flugelhorn, and Laura Huval on background vocals for track three.

Of the selections on the album, which four* reveal the most? These:

Tracks 01 and 11*: “Partial to the Bitters, Parts I and II” – You know how an ace is worth either one point or eleven, depending on which card game you’re playing? So it is with this CD’s opener and closer. Are they too short or just right? Appetizing or not filling enough? Your call.

Track 02: “Country Come to Town” – As any farmer knows, country people work hard – but some folks don’t care one way or the other. “Ain’t it a pity when your rooster crows at the top of the day, lays a whip down to your bones? Either way, here I come, from the smallest town on the lowest rung.” Legg plays superior slide guitar here, and the stomping beat will make crowds go gaga whether they’re at home or in an outdoor throng.

Track 05: “Bastard’s Blues” – Talk about haunting; track five will chill one’s very marrow. With an intro that could’ve come straight out of Stephen King’s The Stand miniseries, this is the tale of a condemned man. Experiment: Flip the CD cover over for a second. This song’s title is listed above the symbol for Virgo, but it should have been bound to Libra: the Scales (of Justice). It possesses a perfect three-part balance of guitar, vocals and percussion by all the drummers listed above. The best part, however: is these lyrics: “One step to the holy chair. Down the hall to the guard and stair. Tie him up and I’m on the tier. In and out the door, yeah.”

“I shall be reborn to something better,” Dostoevsky said. Brother Dege, thankfully, found his way home to compose a spectacular Farmer’s Almanac!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 11 

elvin bishop cd imageElvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio – Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here

Alligator Records ALCD 4983

10 songs – 36 minutes

The blues world planted its first seeds with songs of protest about racial injustice, and artists have reaped the fruits of those political statements ever since. But few folks who’ve come before have made their statements as eloquently and whimsically as Elvin Bishop does in the title song of this intimate and entertaining CD.

A follow-up to 2017’s eponymous Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio CD, it’s an intelligent, whimsical offering that, like the first disc, weaves together into one cohesive package four new songs with tunes from Elvin’s extensive catalog along with a few surprising covers.

Bishop founded the group a few years ago after inviting his longtime keyboard and second guitar player Bob Welsh and percussionist Willy Jordan, who’s worked with Joe Louis Walker, Angela Strehli and John Lee Hooker, for an informal jam at his San Francisco Bay-area studio. Jordan left his kit at home that day, bringing along a cajon, a Peruvian percussion instrument capable of producing a range of sounds that mimic bass and snare drums and more, instead.

While the debut album featured contributions from a trio of superstar harp players, this one is more bare bones. Produced by Steve Savage at Bishop’s Hog Heaven Studio in Lagunitas, Calif., it comes across with a distinct laid-back feel, almost as if it were produced in your living room, and only includes a one-song guest appearance from Andre Thierry, the native Californian of French Creole descent who’s proven to be a master zydeco accordion player.

Penned by all three members, the title tune “Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here” romps out of the gate at a medium shuffle. It’s quickly evident that it’s not a good odor, either, as Elvin sings: “I’m not talkin’ ‘bout funky like a groove/Really funky…like pee-uuuuh!” The stench, it seems, is coming from Washington, D.C., and it’s “funky like some old politicians.” Bishop goes on to deliver a personal State Of The Union address that complains about “unlimited ignorance in high places/Stirrin’ up dust between the races” and more.

Once that political statement is out of the way, the big fun kicks in with a sweet cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher.” Jordan handles the vocals on this one and three more to follow, and demonstrates range from rich baritone to strong falsettos in the process. “Right Now Is The Hour,” which first appeared on Elvin’s 1978 LP, Hog Heaven, follows and features fretwork from Elvin and Mike before an unhurried take on Dave Bartholomew’s “Another Mule” with Bishop singing about the realization that his woman’s cheating.

Two originals — “That’s The Way Willy Likes It” and “Bob’s Boogie” – are up next and give Jordan and Welsh space to shine. The former’s a mid-tempo funk that describes the percussionist’s taste in women. The latter is a sprightly instrumental that gives Bob plenty of space to rip and run. “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” a huge hit for Ann Peebles in 1973, features Willy at the mike before the band delivers a fresh take on “Stomp,” a redo that first appeared on Bishop’s 1972 LP, Rock My Soul.

“Lookin’ Good,” the final new tune in the set, is another sardonic pleaser — basically spoken words delivered atop Welsh’s work at the 88s. Elvin notes that there are three stages to life: youth, middle age and “you’re looking good” then proceeds to recount a conversation with a friend of 50 years who tells him he ought to be glad about all the gray hair and wrinkles because a lot of their other associates are long gone. It gets Bishop to think about how fortunate he really is. “I never got hit by a truck,” he says. “And I never got that bad batch of dope like some of them do.” And he delivers a treatise on having quit drinking – although, he admits, it took him 25 years to do so…and hasn’t been to jail since he did.

The album concludes with an accordion-driven version of “My Soul,” a gospel-tinged pleaser penned by rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins under the title “It’s My Soul.”

Available wherever fine music is sold, Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here will leave you with a smile. Like Big Fun Trio’s previous offering, this one will be under consideration for honors when next year’s awards season comes around. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 11 

lucky losers cd imageThe Lucky Losers – Blind Spot

Dirty Cat Records

11 tracks | 51 minutes

The Lucky Losers, Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz, are delivering the goods on their third CD, Blind Spot, recorded at Greaseland Studios, San Jose, CA. This San Francisco based band has brought back the art of the vocal duet in style. This all original album composed by the two and their songwriting partner Danny Caron runs the gamut from swamp boogie to jump swing with an emphasis on blues but they are no one trick pony. Phil’s harp playing is spot on and never without being necessary. The slide guitar on “The River” is Lowell George reincarnated and the two together on this song show the band at its most relaxed and naturally appealing.

“Supernatural Blues” opens with a searing guitar lead of special guest Laura Chavez who is eerily reminiscent of Carlos Santana along with the rhythm section blazing right along with a groove worthy of Benny Goodman’s urban jungle jazz of “Sing Sing Sing” played by Jon Otis, son of none other than THE Johnny Otis. Also in the main band, is guitarist Ian Lamson, who toured with Elvin Bishop, and Robby Yamilov’s on bass who is never in the way but flawless, playing pulsating period piece appropriate bass parts. They and the others featured throughout are a large part of the overall show such as six-time Blues Music Award nominated guitarist Kid Andersen. From a technical standpoint everything here is phenomenally executed. The Bay Area has known many top notch bands over the years and this outfit is no exception.

The real selling point is how well these two relate to each other musically, and how tunefully they play off each others strengths. Whether solo vocals backed by the other, or duets, they are match made in heaven. Like Cathy’s (if Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt had a baby) soulful solo on “Take The Long Road” backed by Phil’s tasty harp, or Phil’s blues radio hit “Alligator Baptism”, a vintage Fabulous Thunderbirds meets Curtis Mayfield romp with Cathy helping out on the chorus, they each more than hold their own. But when they get together on tunes like “Make A Right Turn” it’s Dan Hick’s and the Hot Licks time. The fiddle on that tune by Annie Staninec is a main stream hit for sure. This is the high point of the album with the lyric “I can’t take it anymore, I swear by God I ain’t gonna get it, not one more hour, not one more minute…” captures the current nervousness of our time replete with a heart pounding car crash at the end. They sing with sure footedness a dual flat blue-toned note stretched out finally resolving upwards. This matches the ominous but jaunty jalopy ride, the aural equivalent of the visual they create lyrically of the instability of a bumpy ride on an old familiar dirt road.

As Cathy Lemon states “Phil and I have travelled some of the loneliest highways in America to bring our music to the people and in those travels, what we’ve seen is a kind of distraction everywhere — almost to the point of madness. I feel so overwhelmed by all this information pouring in from my phone, from the news, from tragic headlines. Now that can be funny or it can be deadly…this is an album about this separation from real experience — seeing life through a screen.” Blind Spot is the modern-day blues album.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 11 

little freddie kingLittle Freddie King – Fired Rice & Chicken

Orleans Records

11 tracks | 38 minutes

The best of his New Orleans recordings for the label’s two records recorded in 1994 Swamp Boogie (studio) and 1998 Sing Sang Sung (live) on one CD. It starts off with Jr. Walker & The Allstars classic “Cleo’s Back” which was featured in a big Tom Hanks’ Hollywood soundtrack for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and track two “Mean Little Woman” featured in HBO’s Treme. Little Freddie, born Fread Eugene Martin, probably made himself and the label some nice sync license pocket change on those two placements and even some performance royalties on the latter which he also wrote. Always good to see a label get an artist paid. Beyond the first two tracks this album makes a lot of sense. Pairing down the two albums into one may seem strange especially when a CD could easily contain both holding up to 80 minutes. But here it’s the quality of the program that showcases the many styles Freddie has distilled into his very own brew. A get the party started nice variety of sounds and tempos mixing instrumentals with vocals without overdoing it.

He got his name from the late great Freddie King but only from sounding like the early Hide Away era not the louder harder Shelter years of “Going Down”. He sounds more like Jimmy Reed and his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins and Lightnin’s other cousin Albert Collins. Welcome to family! His approach is original although there is a Jimmy Reed classic on there too, “Honest I Do”, as pretty an 8 bar ditty as there ever was and Freddie shines it up nicely. There is a lot to say about these tunes, all classics in the sense that this is the familiar blues that is digging down deep and in the pocket. Never a solid ending, always taking the necessary risks that make it real, this is the sound that fans yearn for, but the new players seem to avoid.

He was born in McComb Mississippi and moved to New Orleans in 1940 at 17. He has played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually for 42 straight years. He toured Europe with both Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker and it shows. Freddie has synthesized those two as well. On his “You Don’t Love Me” inspired “Does She Ever Think of Me?” the original version being Bo’s “She’s Fine, She’s Mine” he goes all the way into uncountable but extremely danceable blues with half bars and the riff is a permutation of the Willie Cobb cum Jr. Wells into the Allman Brothers’s most known Filmore East version. But where those are just unique and everlastingly memorable Freddie goes off the rails and does it all simultaneously. “Bad Chicken” ends the album with a Albert Collins chicken pickin’ intro into a Rolling Stone “Memo From Turner” (Metamorphosis version-possibly Jimmy Page nobody knows) churning grind and then settle into an instrumental Bo Diddley beat fest and then goes plum crazy with his intermittent chicken squawks. Great drumming and side men are on both halves.

Dirty riffs abound but never too far from Freddie being the life of the party. This is as good a primer as any artist could have. Kudos to the label for risking criticism and taking their time making one great record that is two distinct halves. A full meal but nothing bad here and when it’s over if you’re not too full just start it from that first octave drop in what some might say is the best combination of R&B and blues ever written. Cleo’s Back! So is Freddie. Of course for those collectors who want the full enchilada just buy both records I’m sure the label won’t mind.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.

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 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 11 

LEO BUD WELCH dvd imageLate Blossom Blues – The Journey of Leo “Bud” Welch

City Hall Records / Let’s make this happen / Red Monster Films

DVD | 90 minutes

Director Wolfgang Pfoser-Almer’s award winning documentary about Welch whose recording career began at 81, is a pastoral and moving movie about the last years of his life. The story line follows the steps Leo takes to finally become known in blues circles as one of the last of the Mississippi greats. It hooks the viewer in the first frames and keeps the interest going throughout. The only archival footage is during the final credits where his younger self is leading his gospel group. He’s lead singing in a clear voice while playing his trademark rhythm/lead guitar combination on “Praise his Name” (1985). This is worth the wait and it shows how extremely talented and worthy he is of this documentary.

The long journey details the few years of his blues career from 2014-2017. He is indeed infirm and yet he still drinks and smokes. He demonstrates how he picked cotton as a youth and that when the massive combines took that over, he moved on to logging. Either way he spent most of his life doing strenuous manual labor from dawn to dusk. “Late in the evening and the sun is going down (2x) I’ll feel so glad when I can go home.” The visual imagery showing the poor southern rural life is stunning. None of his unlikely rise to notoriety could have happened without his manager Venice Lawrence Varnado who first knew of him at twelve years old when Leo was to play his family’s juke joint. When no one came, Leo didn’t play but his presence left a lasting impression. When Venice got back from his stint in the Gulf War, he invited Leo to play his birthday party, secretly videoed him and sent it to Fat Possum Records. They liked it and recommended that Leo record for distributed label Big Legal Mess Records. The result was Sabougla Voices, a gospel-blues record. The label thought that because Leo was so well rehearsed on the gospel material it seemed the best approach for an unknown artist to get recognized. It worked. NPR called and put them on the air which the ball rolling in a big way. The movie shows the arc of Leo’s rise from nowhere Bruce, Mississippi, to being one of the most successfully marketed original blues artists of which only a handful still exist.

Venice is seen as a loving, patient caretaker and effective manager saying “I will not allow Leo to get exploited…He’ll play as long as he is enjoying it and not a day longer.” A second album I Don’t Prefer No Blues came out a year later. The title refers to what a preacher said about Leo’s other career. The single most incredible and unique attribute of Leo’s life as an artist is the fact that he could play gospel music (The Lord’s music) and blues (the Devil’s music) both with success simultaneously. He never saw that as a conflict as he was raised in the church and the church was the main place where he would play his music. As some say: one goes to church Sunday to absolve themselves of the sins from Saturday night. Leo never plays the blues on or near church property.

The movie shows a side of the music business rarely seen, where the only goal of the manager is solely to do the music and the artist justice. Money is never the issue. Leo still delivers boxes of food and supplies to local people for money and we accompany him on one of his runs. Everyone genuinely loves him and his wily ways. He’s got the spark and is a true entertainer day and night. The audiences at shows are seen enjoying themselves to the fullest. Smiling and dancing throughout at blues joints like Gip’s Place and Ground Zero (Clarksdale) and at various Blues Fests like Crescent City, New Orleans and other out of the way lawn chair fests. The movie culminates with a European tour. Venice is always there and involved: waking Leo up, getting him dressed and ready, discussing health issues/medication, hauling gear, driving to the gigs, setting up the equipment, talking to the sound people, getting Leo hooked up to his microphone headset, and he is always the first one out there dancing too.

Leo’s triple threat finger-strummed, single note riff-based, thumbed-bass/claw-chorded electric country blues is all his own. Leo “Bud” Welch playing his pink sparkle Daisy Rock Guitar’s Debutante Rock Candy special with the letters of his name on it is classic. He also plays a sweet black telecaster with a white pick guard and uses a Fender Deluxe amp. He is all high style on his first go round while nearly on his last legs. This slice of his life captured on film is nothing short of Herculean. Leo’s voice is raspy at times but when he’s on his game he can sing like a bird and is like no one else except maybe a J.B. Lenoir or a John Mayall. Smooth vocals that are clear most of the time give way to the few moments of almost not being able to clear his throat which gives the movie a certain tension of will he or won’t he? A: He’s always able as he can be and never falters. Leo embraces the performer’s life with a seriousness of purpose not often seen.

There is a stubborn cantankerousness that Venice and his eventual permanent drummer, Dixie Street, are able to regulate through their patient loving guidance throughout the rough touring life. Dixie is a joy to watch. She beams good vibes and somehow manages to regulate the untamable Leo without stepping on his toes. We see her often in the film and the film is all the better for it. Venice wanted to insert a drummer from the get go to make sure the audience got the best possible show given Leo’s octogenarian ways and being somewhat hard of hearing.

When we get to see Leo dance to his own master in the recording studio with a relieved and smiling producer Bruce Watson watching after it had been added, edited and mixed, we see a man who has made it to the mountain top all the way from the delta. This movie has such great music that repeated viewing is mandatory for any serious student of the blues. As a documentary it can stand alone as a singularly poignant account of great second acts and proof that it’s never too late to start over and live life to the fullest.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.

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 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 11 

crystal shawanda cd imageCrystal Shawanda – Voodoo Woman

True North Records – 2018

10 tracks; 42 minutes

Crystal Shawanda grew up in Ontario but since the age of 13 has been in and around the Nashville music scene. As a Native American she found herself confronting prejudice when she started out in country music but persevered and forged a singing career, initially in country before she discovered her blues roots. Voodoo Woman is her third blues album and combines three originals with seven covers. The album was produced by Crystal and her husband Dewayne Strobel who also plays guitar throughout. Joining the couple in the Nashville studio were Dave Roe and Michael Dearing on bass, Louis Winfield and Darren James on bass, Peter Keys on B3, Stephen Hanner on harmonica, Dana Robbins on sax and Vickie Hampton and Quisha Wint on harmony vocals.

Crystal has a strong voice with plenty of grit, bringing to mind blues belters like Koko Taylor, even Janis Joplin. Perhaps looking to pay homage to her influences the album opens with five songs which are all, in this reviewer’s mind, too frequently covered. The title track and “Wang Dang Doodle” are both from Koko’s repertoire, “Hound Dog” and “Ball And Chain” from Big Mama Thornton (or Janis in the latter case) and “I’d Rather Go Blind” from Etta James – all big shoes to fill. How does Crystal compare? Well, she does OK but the originals will always take some beating though Dana Robbins’ sax on “Ball And Chain” is excellent. Perhaps because it is less often heard, the cover of Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue” fares better with a luscious sax intro and a passionate vocal performance from Crystal. Larry Grisham and Tommy Stilwell (The Beat Daddys) provide the ballad “I’ll Always Love You” and it works well for Crystal who sings this one with conviction but in a less full-throated style, Dewayne contributing a nicely poised solo.

The originals include the very repetitive “Trouble”, “Cry Out For More” which is a blues grinder with slide, harp and piano to the fore and “Bluetrain” which is something of a departure with an ominous feel and lyrical references to hellhounds and crossroads – classic blues material and the pick of the originals.

Fans of strong voiced singers should find much to enjoy in Crystal’s performances here but it would be good to hear more original material and fewer over-familiar covers next time round.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

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 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 11 

spencer mackenzie cd imageSpencer Mackenzie – Cold November


CD: 10 Songs, 45:17 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues

Blues fans, remember TV detective Perry Mason? I don’t – he was a bit before my time – but I do recall my father saying his famous catchphrase: “Just the facts.” When it comes to this mag’s favorite music, what are the facts? What makes it blues as opposed to, say, rock, soul or jazz? Yours truly posits three key features: traditional blues rhythms (lump-de-lump, eight-bar, twelve-bar, etc.), repetition of lyrics, and simple, perennial subjects (love, drinking, being broke, et al.) The blues is not about complexity; leave that for the jazz artists and their improvisations. Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot of emoting going on, either, except when lead vocalists let loose. Now consider Canada’s Spencer Mackenzie, an 18-year-old New Artist of the Year (2017) in his home country. Traditional blues may be all about the “facts,” but Mackenzie is all about feelings.

On his new album, Cold November, he aims to warm people’s hearts instead of their libidos. He’d give crooner Sam Smith some stiff competition if the two ever performed together. His voice takes getting used to, being clear but also clearly accented. Once it seeps into your soul, however, it’ll envelop it like a warm pair of socks in the month he describes. On ten tracks (eight originals and two covers), he goes for smooth, melodic tunes. Mackenzie also runs the gamut of subjects, from one’s first ‘close encounter’ (“A Fine Place to Start”) to the state of today’s world (the title track) to environmentalist preaching (“Your Mama’s Crying”). Edgy, this CD is not, but who says all blues releases have to be?

According to his promotional biography, “His debut album, Infected with the Blues, released in May 2016, earned rave reviews and consistently had international airplay, hitting the Top 50 Roots Music Report Blues/Rock Charts…Spencer and his original song ‘Devil Under her Skin’ took a third-place win in the Blues Category at the 2016 International Songwriting Competition. [On Cold November,] he had the opportunity to work with Dean Malton, Jeremy Darby, Charles Carvalho, Clifton Broadbridge and Eddie Krammer.”

Performing alongside Spencer Mackenzie (guitar and lead vocals) are Miles Evans on piano, Hammond organ, and keyboard; Al Duffy on bass; Sean O’Grady on drums; Brant Parker on guitar and lead guitar for tracks one, two and ten; Dave Dunlop on trumpet; Peter Hysen on trombone; Jay Davidson on sax and horn arrangements for track one, and Sharon Riley, Rochelle Harrison, and Camille Harrison on background vocals.

The following selection blends the best of blues and the best of soul for a hypnotic effect.

Track 06: “Haunt Me” – As any horror fan will tell you, ghosts are supposed to scare people, but some specters are wholly welcome. “You haunt me, baby, and I admit I was wrong,” our narrator confesses. “You haunt me, sugar. You’re even in this song!” Sing along with the chorus of femme fatales (Sharon Riley and the two Harrisons), and play “air organ” while Miles Evans struts his stuff in semi-gothic fashion. If this song doesn’t haunt Sirius XM soon, I’m a dead woman.

Don’t let the title fool you: Cold November will prove a cozy, comforting CD in your casa!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 38 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 11 

jorg danielsen cd imageJörg Danielsen – Live Aus Dem Jazzland

Styx Records – 2018

9 tracks; 39 minutes

Jörg Danielsen is an Austrian guitarist and singer who became a full-time musician in 2014. Since then he has toured solo, as a duo and with his band The Vienna Blues Association. The band released a debut album in 2016 and recorded this folow-up, a live album, on home turf in Vienna. Jörg handles guitar and vocals, Walter Walterson is on bass and Christoph Karas on drums with guest Al Passegger adding harp to three tracks. The album blends five of Jörg’s originals with four covers and seems to give a fair representation of how the band will sound live. Jörg sings reasonably well with some trace of accent but all the lyrics can be understood and the band sounds fine.

The album opens with two of the best known covers imaginable, Little Walter’s “My Babe” and Freddie King’s “Hideaway”. Both are played quite well but it is difficult for the band to add anything new to such frequently covered tunes. “Want To Meet My Darling” is the first original and Jörg struggles to sing the lyrics against the sheer pace of the rhythm section, his solo echoing some aspects of the previous tune “Hideaway”. The band drops the pace for the country-inflected ballad “Chase Your Troubles Away” which does rather expose Jörg’s vocal limitations though his guitar solo is excellent. We then get two covers which are less familiar: John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man” barrels along impressively with Al adding a few harp accents, Jörg sticking to playing some fast-paced riffs rather than the slide that is usually associated with the tune; Magic Slim’s “Black Tornado” provides a second instrumental feature for Jörg’s twangy style as the rhythm section sets a mighty pace behind him.

Three originals close the set, starting with “Backwoodsman Blues”, a rocking tune which was the pick of the album for this reviewer with its Magic Slim style riffing and well-organised stop-start work by the rhythm section. Jörg’s “Good Old Beer” rather outstays its welcome at over eight minutes, the rhythm section featured throughout and Jörg bringing some funky guitar into the mix as he praises the national drink of choice, despite the problems it can cause! In complete contrast the disc closes with an acoustic guitar/harp duo performance which celebrates Jorg’s passion for “Jelly Beans”.

The album is mostly a decent listen; a blend of covers and originals is a pleasing way to organize a live gig and fans of the band will want this souvenir of the evening but it may struggle to gain a much wider audience.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.

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 Featured Blues Review – 11 of 11 

leon redbone cd imageLeon Redbone – Strings and Jokes / Live in Bremen 1977

Radiobremen / MIG (Made in Germany Music)

16 tracks | 71 minutes

Leon Redbone was seemingly spit out onto the scene fully developed around 1972. Somehow he missed the 60’s or not? A folkster? A ragtimer? He was a Tin Pan Alley advocate that was certainly resurrecting songs that were old. He went back further than even Bob Dylan and his lauded Basement Tapes did. One thing for sure is he was a sort of lazy virtuoso guitar finger picker never letting the fast runs outshine their musical purpose, something newer players should take notice of. He was a flim flam story peddler of the finest vintage. He could play the harmonica and sing a muted trumpet with his specific soul shining through, no amplification needed other than to project it out into the unsuspecting world. He’s retired now but he has left a whole lot of back catalog filled with wonders. This live recording of two concerts on one disc is of him in his prime in front of adoring audiences in Bremen Germany. He mumbles like a drunk on his last binge. He teases the audience into believing they’re seeing a ghost from the distant musical past with his trademark sunglasses and wide brimmed fedora, white suit and string tie. Was he from Philly? Greece? Canada? Nobody knows and nobody cares.

On this disc he’s with his band (just Tuba player Jonathan Dorn) for the first 8 tracks recorded on January 12, 1977 at the concert hall Die Glocke. He’s amply accompanied by himself October 3 of the same year at Post-Aula. The mostly repeated set is for the fan who wants it all and why not? No tune is ever played the same, so being all inclusive leaves no stone unturned.

No joke is ever delivered simply as a punch line but more a dry spit take. Is he joking all the time? We’ll never know but when he plays the music he really blows like the wind through the material effortlessly and that is the point. He never lets the music get in the way of the entertaining. There are so many lessons to be learned from him. One being that when he plays the harmonica you hear the man’s soul not his technique. His technique, played on a rack no less, is flawless and expressive. Yeah he sounds drunk with his vocals but that’s by design. Surely he’s sober when playing the guitar parts. There is a bit of rat packer Dean Martin’s slight slurring along with a dash of dandy and a hint of sultry vixen. Fine wine that he is but apparently he enjoyed the German’s Schnapp’s they introduced him to for after the show somewhat more. It’s all an act more or less, an act he perfected by doing various spots on famous US TV shows like Saturday Night Live.

The first song on the CD “Champagne Charlie” starts things off on the right foot. “Rogueing and a stealing is my game.” This fanciful marginal type of character that doesn’t exist anymore or never did in the first place is brought to life. A traditional song, it could be a child’s tune except for the bad living the guy does. The wheels on the bus go round and round…such fun! “I Ain’t Got Nobody”, a Roger A. Graham song (music by Spencer Williams), widely known as part of the Louis Prima medley “Just a Gigolo”, adapted from a 1928 Austrian tango called “Schőner Gigalo, amer Gigalo” (Ah the German connection!), but here it’s simply the old original, no gigolos required.

Leon goes on to do all the hits you’ve never missed like “Ain’t Misbehavin’”; “Has Anybody Seen My Gal”; “When I Take My Sugar To Tea”. There’s also the nonsensical funny “Diddie Wa Diddie” and “Polly Wolly Doodle” which are both ultimately songs that need no explanation, just there for their ability to please all. If you love pure artistry recorded impeccably in its natural environment, then this disc is for you. This is probably the best introduction to his oeuvre.

For a career as varied and as prolific as Leon’s, this is as good a place to start your love affair as any. If you ain’t misbehavin’, get this disc and pop the cork. You’ll be misbehaving in no time.

Reviewer Reviewer Steve Gabe is a musician, writer, actor, comedian and lawyer.

 Featured Interview – Bruce Iglauer 

iglauer story photo 1Q) Could you say where you were born a little about your early formative years and what was is that caused you to get interested in the blues?

I loved music all my life but I wasn’t exposed to the blues until I was 18. I had gotten caught up in the folk music ‘revival’ of the 1960s and had an acoustic guitar and a harmonica in a rack and I was actively bad at trying to copy the music of commercial folk singers who were popular at that time. (I knew almost nothing about the traditional music that had inspired a lot of them).

In January of 1966, I traveled by bus to Chicago from Appleton, Wisconsin, where I was a freshman at Lawrence University. I knew the University of Chicago had a folk festival and my sister went to school there, so I decided to attend the festival and stay with her. I didn’t realize that this was a festival of traditional folk music, not the kind of commercial folk that was popular then. At that festival, I heard Mississippi Fred McDowell, and it changed my life. I felt like he was reaching out across 20 rows of seats and grabbing me by the collar and shaking me and saying “Wake up! This is for you!”

Of course I was a middle class kid from a comfortable, well-educated family living in the suburbs of Cincinnati and Fred was a Southern black man with little formal education who had grown up in poverty. But somehow the raw honesty of his music, the completely unvarnished quality, the songs that clearly came from his real life, all spoke to me. It made all the music I had been listening to up until that time–the Broadway show tunes my mother loved, the Top 40 rock on the radio, the commercial folk music–begin to seem fake and phony.

I went back to Appleton and ordered the Fred McDowell album on a tiny label called Arhoolie. It took the record store nine months to locate a copy. Meanwhile, hearing the Paul Butterfield Band led me to electric Chicago blues and I bought albums by Muddy and Little Walter. I also found recordings by the country bluesmen who had been rediscovered in the 60s–Skip James, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt. Blues records were hard to find and I bought the few I stumbled across.

That summer, still interested in folk music as well as blues, I went to Canada to the Mariposa Folk Festival. There I heard Johnny Young, Big Walter Horton and Sunnyland Slim. I also picked up a Canadian folk music magazine called “Hoot” and at the end of some blues album reviews, the writer gave me life-changing advice. He said something like “If you ever go to Chicago and want to hear blues in the clubs on the South and West Sides, go to the Jazz Record Mart at 7 W. Grand and Bob Koester, the owner of Delmark Records, may take you out to hear some real Chicago Blues.”

Q) You moved to Chicago when and what was the reason for you moving to the city and when first in Chicago what did you do?

In 1969 I convinced my university to bring a blues band for a fall concert, and to allow me to book the band. Armed only with the knowledge that Bob Koester and Jazz Record Mart existed, I took the bus to Chicago and headed to 7 W. Grand. I met Bob and immediately fell under his spell–he was a charismatic, very smart man who seemed to know everything about blues and jazz. And Bob took me to Theresa’s and the Blue Flame and other clubs.

I began coming down every weekend that I could and eventually booked Howlin’ Wolf to play at my school. The concert was great but poorly promoted and not very well attended. I decided that with good promotion, a lot more people would come out to hear the blues, even in Appleton Wisconsin. I scraped together $600 and booked an almost-unknown artist named Luther Allison who had an album about to be released on Delmark. With a lot of promotion (including using my radio show on the college station), the concert sold out. Luther’s performance was absolutely thrilling. He played for three hours and then we invited in all the people who hadn’t been able to fit in and were still waiting, and he played for another hour, ending up with only three unbroken strings on his guitar.

Right after that was the first draft lottery, and because I had a lucky birth date, I was relieved of the threat of getting sent to Vietnam. I came down to see Bob the following week, armed with my posters from my sold-out show, and talked him into offering me a job as the Delmark shipping clerk (supposedly part time) for $30 a week. I intended to stay on the Chicago blues scene for a year, and I’m still here.

Q) You worked at Jazz Record Mart for awhile from when to when and you were also part of the early Living Blues editorial team and how did that come about?

When I moved to Chicago, there was a group of blues fans who congregated at Jazz Record Mart (Delmark was in the basement). They included Jim O’Neal, his future wife Amy van Singel, photographer Diane Allmen, Tim Zorn, Paul Garon (collector of pre-war blues 78s) and myself. Of all of them, I almost certainly knew the least about blues.

We all had seen copies of the UK blues magazines–Blues Unlimited and Blues World. From time to time we’d complain about the fact that there was no American blues magazine. So in February of 1970, about six weeks after I moved to Chicago, I called a meeting at my one-room apartment for those who wanted to get serious about an American blues magazine, Jim, Amy, Diane, Tim and Paul showed up. We plotted out the first issue at that time.

We decided to call it Living Blues as we wanted to chronicle the current blues scene, primarily in the black community (at that time, for example, there were perhaps 40 clubs in Chicago that had blues on the weekend. Most big cities had blues clubs, but they were neighborhood clubs in heavily black areas, and got almost no mainstream media recognition.) We didn’t want Living Blues to be a magazine about old records and historical research, or about white blues-rockers.

Although I organized the first meeting (and typed a lot of the first issues), Jim emerged as the person who should be editor, and Amy took over production. I was in charge of advertising and the (very limited) distribution. It was Jim and Amy who guided the content and made the magazine vital. Eventually Jim sold it to the University of Mississippi, who still publish it after 48 years, with the very good Brett Bonner now acting as editor.

iglauer story photo 2Q) We all know you started Alligator so as to record Hound Dog Taylor. What was it like to expand the label beyond that initial release. Were you / the label living from release to release and what was it that caused you to record other Chicago blues acts beyond Hound Dog?

When I recorded Hound Dog (in two evening sessions), I was still working for Delmark (though now we had agreed it was a full time job and I was being paid something like $70 a week). I was living in an efficiency apartment and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I had managed to initially press 1000 copies of the Hound Dog album (at least half for radio and press) and quickly began selling enough to manufacture more. Of course I had to collect money from my distributors to be able to do so! For at least the first six or seven years of Alligator, each record had to pay for the next one.

Q) When was it that you thought the label was on a sound financial footing which would enable you to expand the artists/ recording roster?

It was at least eight or nine years. I ran the company by myself until 1975 when I got a part time employee. I think my first full time employee was hired in 1977, by which time I had bought a small house (where I still live) and was running the label from there (in a residential neighborhood where you can’t legally run a business out of a house).

After Hound Dog died in 1975, I didn’t really have a good-selling artist or album and Alligator was existing mostly on sales of his three records. Koko had not yet become a blues icon, Son Seals was just emerging and I struggled to sell Fenton Robinson records. Every dollar that came in was going to pay the pressing plant or the royalties. I think I was taking $100 a week for myself. I often got discouraged and sometimes thought of quitting, but I was too stubborn….and too inspired by the music that I was hearing that absolutely had to be recorded.

Q) I believe it was 1978 that you got Albert Collins onto your label how did that happen and I assume that the label was doing well at that time?

Actually Alligator was still struggling, though not as much as it had been. Koko Taylor’s second album, The Earthshaker, was much better received than her first one, I Got What It Takes. Son Seals’ reputation was building. The label, with one employee and myself, was a pretty modest undertaking.

It was my friend Dick Shurman who brought Albert to Alligator. He and Albert had become friends when Dick lived in Seattle in the late 1960s. Dick had an opportunity to send a bluesman to Europe to play with a Dutch band, and he contacted Albert. Albert flew into Chicago before the tour, and we arranged two gigs for him. As Albert didn’t have his own band at the time, he did one show with Lonnie Brooks’ band and one with Jimmy Johnson’s.

I had been an Albert fan for years, but had only seen him live once; I mostly knew his records, which weren’t nearly as good as the live show I had seen. When I heard him live again, it was thrilling. He was one of the most exciting and intense guitar players I had ever seen. He played in a weird minor key tuning and as loud as hell, but he could be subtle and melodic too. Plus I liked his conversational, low-key singing style. I wanted him on Alligator, but Albert wanted an advance of $1000, and I had never paid that much up front to an artist (though I had paid a lot more in royalties after sales were made).

Albert’s career was at a low point; as I said, he had no band, and his last album was on a label called Tumbleweed that had quickly folded. I wasn’t sure if there was an audience out there for Albert. But I went ahead, producing Ice Pickin‘ with Dick.

It turned out to be one of the most popular Alligator releases ever. I began managing and booking Albert. He liked the band that Dick and I had chosen for him, co-led by singing drummer Casey Jones and singing bass player Aron Burton, that he adopted them as his touring band. Aron named them The Icebreakers. Ice Pickin’ was the first of seven albums that Albert cut for Alligator, including the Grammy-winning Showdown! that paired him with Johnny Copeland and young Robert Cray. Albert was the first non-Chicago artist that Alligator recorded, and he changed our image from being a Chicago blues label to being a national blues label based in Chicago.

Q) The Living Chicago Blues series came out around the same time which was a huge step for the label. How did this six album series come about and what was the artist selection process?

When I was discovering electric blues, my ears were opened by Chicago – The Blues – Today!! on Vanguard Records. This three-LP set, produced by Sam Charters, was released on a label primarily known for acoustic folk  music. I loved the format–three bands per album, each performing 3-5 songs.

When I moved to Chicago and discovered the wealth of unrecorded and under-recorded blues musicians, the idea for a new series with the same format seemed obvious. After I started Alligator, I dreamed of recording some of the talent I was hearing every night in the South and West side clubs. I knew I couldn’t make albums with each, but three albums in the multi-artist format seemed possible. I wrote a list of potential artists, and there were over 40 that easily came to mind. But this was a big financial risk (three sessions per album, three bands to pay, and mostly unknown artists) as well as a test for me as a producer.

Luckily, I had recently made a licensing deal for the UK and Europe with the Swedish-based Sonet Records, a very successful company whose owner, Dag Haeggqvist, liked being “patron” to jazz and blues labels, though he had made his fortune on pop and rock releases. I asked him for some financial help and he was happy to give it. So, armed with $11,000 from Sonet plus all the Alligator money I could scrape up, I approached my ‘hit list’ of nine artists. As these artists–Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang, Lonnie Brooks, Pinetop Perkins, Carey Bell (who did have an album on Delmark), Johnny “Big Moose” Walker, the young Billy Branch & Sons Of Blues, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson and Left Hand Frank–didn’t have a lot of other recording opportunities, and I wasn’t asking for exclusive contracts, all of them said ‘yes.’

iglauer story photo 3The first three albums, cut in 1978, did so well that I produced three more. All the tracks are now available on four CDs. I’m very proud of this series as it announced the depth of blues talent in my adopted home town, as well as making me a better producer by working with eighteen more artists. I still feel bad about the other 22 artists I didn’t get a chance to record, though quite a few made albums after that.

Q) You dabbled in reggae for a short time. Could you expand on this please?

I became interested in reggae in the early 70s, drawn to it like so many of my friends were by the urgency of the music, the socially conscious lyrics, and the raw, direct feel. As an African-rooted music, reggae seemed to have a lot in common with blues. Like blues, it had two audiences–the new young fans who had discovered it in the late 60s and early 70s, and roots audience who had grown up with the music (in the South for blues, in Jamaica for reggae).  It seemed a logical extension for me to add reggae to Alligator. Between 1980 and 1985, I released 13 reggae albums and an EP.

I helped arrange and promote tours for Mutabaruka, the dub poet, and for Pablo Moses and the Revolutionary Dream Band. I didn’t produce any of our reggae albums–they were recorded in Jamaica and England. I’m very proud of them, especially the albums by the UK band Black Slate, Mutabaruka, The Abyssinians, Augustus Pablo, Joe Higgs and Pablo Moses. But I had a tough time operating in the reggae world.

Often artists were not signed to any one label, and recorded for anyone who would pay them. There was no sense of label loyalty and I found myself competing with other records by the same artists. Arranging tours was very hard, with visa problems and logistics issues. I didn’t always have the stamina for shows that started at midnight. The artists needed a lot of help, and I found much of my time consumed by taking care of their problems, problems American blues musicians could have solved on their own. Plus, I much preferred alcohol to marijuana, so the blues world seemed more hospitable to me. Basically, the business of reggae wore me out, though the music could be great. But we released some damn fine reggae albums.

Q) The label then went onto  great success with a variety of artists. How do you select what artist may appear on the label?

I keep a very small active artist roster–about 15 artists or bands. We can’t pay attention to more artists than that at a time, because we promote and publicize every single gig that our artists play. This is one way that Alligator is different from pretty much every other label in any genre of music. And lots of our artists have been with us for a long time–Marcia Ball, Shemekia Copeland (with a short vacation at another label), Tinsley Ellis (who also took a vacation from Alligator), Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, Tommy Castro, Elvin Bishop, Roomful of Blues and our senior artists, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials.

A number of artists have been with us for two or more albums–Selwyn Birchwood, Coco Montoya, and the recently returned Eric Lindell. In the last year, we’ve signed The Cash Box Kings, The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling and Lindsay Beaver.

So, what do I look for? First, passion.

I want artists who lay it all out there, bringing honest emotion to every performance, live or in the studio. Very few Alligator artists are “cool” performers. They don’t hold back.

Second, originality. I want artists who either create outstanding original material or are very moving interpreters of other writers’ songs.

Third, roots. I want artists who are firmly rooted in the blues tradition, but who are taking the music in a new or personal direction so they don’t sound just like the artists who came before them. This can range from more traditional blues artists like Lil’ Ed, who learned from his uncle, the great J.B. Hutto, to Eric Lindell, a roots rocker who was inspired by Junior Wells and the way Buddy Guy played on Hoodoo Man Blues, but also brings elements of roots rock, country and R&B to his music.

I also want to know that the artist can take care of business–can lead a band, can be reliable, will be available for the dozens of interviews we ask our artists to do, doesn’t have significant problems that will derail his or her career, and has a great work ethic. But the ultimate test is–does the music move me? Do they make music that will move other people too? Will their music stand the test of time and sound good in 10 or 20 or 50 years?

Q) Son Seals/ Lonnie Mack/ Johnny Winter/ Michael Burks and so the artist list goes on and on. You must on reflection be very proud of your labels achievements over the decades?

I’m extremely proud of what Alligator has come to mean in the blues world. I hope we are the mark of quality for any blues fan. On the other hand, I wish there were more competing labels, so more qualified artists would have conduits for getting their music to the world other than self-releasing or hoping to attract the attention of one of the labels still dedicated to this music.

With Blind Pig having been sold a couple years ago and presently being virtually inactive, the future of Delta Groove being in question since the death of its owner, and Delmark just having been sold to two jazz musicians (so we don’t know what its future as a blues label will be), Alligator is one of the “last men standing” in the blues.

iglauer story photo 4Meanwhile, the overall blues fan base is not growing. Individual artists like Joe Bonamassa and Gary Clark Jr. have large fan followings, but their popularity doesn’t seem to do much to create fans for the blues as an overall genre of music (as much as both of them would like it to). Younger listeners are hardly being exposed to blues within the mainstream media. They have to seek it out on specialty radio shows, smaller publications and online. No longer do contemporary rock stations play a much blues-based music. The mainstream of popular music has become, to a great extent, either dance-pop or hip-hop.

The blues may be the roots of rock ‘n’ roll, but blues is not so much the roots of Taylor Swift or Childish Gambino. So there are very few ‘bridge’ artists to lead people to the blues. For these reasons, I’m very concerned about the future of blues recording and blues in general. We need visionary younger artists who can define blues for current and future audiences, and we need audiences with ears big to accept something other than traditional Delta or Chicago-style blues and blues-rock guitar heroes.

I love twelve bars and three chords and can listen to it all night long, but for most young listeners blues is repetitive and often the lyrics don’t speak to them. This has got to change or blues will become a museum piece. So my proudest achievements for the future will be to locate and record more of those visionary artists and help connect them with their potential fans.

Q) What has been the labels best selling releases?

Finally, an easy question–Showdown! by Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland. After that, some of the best sellers are the first Hound Dog Taylor album, Johnny Winter’s Guitar Slinger and 3rd Degree, our first Marcia Ball album, most of the Albert Collins catalog, and Country Ghetto and the other releases by JJ Grey & Mofro.

Q) You employ a number of people for your label currently how many and when was that employment at its highest?

Right now there are 15 including me. At the highest point, in 1999, there were 21 plus me. Some of the shrinkage was due to jobs we didn’t need any more, like stuffing envelopes to mail out tens of thousands of press releases, which we do by email now.

Some was due to attrition. As people left, I combined some jobs. So right now we have: a sales manager (covering both national and international distribution), two radio promotion people, two press promotion people (one national/international and one for tour dates), a new media promotion person, a financial controller, an inventory manager (whose job it is to make sure we have exactly enough CDs in our warehouse and manufacture more as needed, but just the right number) a graphic designer, a head of mail order and two warehouse staff. And me to do everything else.

Q) You/ the record business has gone through various formats such as albums/ CD’s? cassettes now downloads and streaming. How do you adapt to such never ending changes and how do you stay ahead of all of this?

I don’t have much choice….I have to respond to the way people are experiencing music.  I grew up on LPs and 45s, and for the first 15 years of Alligator we made LPs (and a few 45s that made no market impact). And we actually made a few 8-tracks (which also had no market impact). For a while, our entire catalog was also available on cassettes.

In 1985, I made a big gamble and bet the future of the company on compact discs. We had a hell of a time getting them manufactured (we made most of them in Europe and Korea) but it turned out to be a smart move and for a couple years the blues bins in most stores were full of our blue-boxed CDs. I like CDs–they’re hard to break and, if made with care, they sound like the producer intended them to sound.

With LPs, you have to distort the music to get it onto vinyl (I know lots of people love vinyl–I like the packaging and heft of it but I know enough about how you get music into the grooves to know that a carefully-produced and well-mastered CD will sound  more like the producer’s or artist’s intent than an LP will.)

Still, to meet consumer demand we’ve released some key titles on LP over the last few years. The market for LPs isn’t as big as the publicity, but we like making our customers happy. It appears the future will be streaming, with people not owning music at all. This is hard for me to accept, and it’s hard for a lot of older consumers, but with cars and computers now coming without disc players, the market is definitely heading that way. So we’re dealing with all the key streaming services, even though they pay so little that it’s hard for a specialized label like Alligator to survive.

My hope is that as China and India open up to streaming services (it’s already happening) that we’ll make an additional number of fractions of a penny for millions more streams. So I think the future is not more money per stream but more people worldwide listening to streams. Of course, eventually we will have chips planted in our heads and just have to think about the song or artist or style we want to hear and it will play directly into our brains.

Q) What is the process for you/ Alligator finding new and young talent for your label such as Selwyn BIrchwood etc?

I am constantly watching and listening, and also hearing from friends around the country. I found Selwyn at the International Blues Challenge, where I also heard Jarekus Singleton (with whom we did a single album and has now chosen to go in some other musical directions). Lindsay Beaver, our latest signing, I saw with her old band, The 24th Street Wailers, at the Canada Blues Summit a few years ago. I still listen to demos as I can. Of course we maintain a small roster and I often have to pass on artists (young or older) if I don’t feel I can effectively promote them because I have too many commitments. This is one reason I wish I had more competitors, to open the door for young artists I can’t fit on our roster.

iglauer story photo 5Q) How have you as an individual survived within the music industry over so many years?

A few ways–

1) I am committed to one genre of music, and one where I feel my ears are good enough so that I can choose top quality artists and help them make top quality records. Blues is the only music where I feel confident that I can make good artistic choices. If I tried jazz or pop or hip-hop I’d have to rely on someone else’s ears. (But–I usually consult with my staff before making signing decisions. They have good ears too).

2) We’re very media-centric. We service more radio, more press, more online media, etc. than any other than label in our genre, and we follow up on that servicing with emails and phone calls to make sure our artists and recordings get coverage. That’s been the philosophy of Alligator from day one.

3) We don’t live in the past. I loved it when there were good record stores in every city. I loved it when Progressive Rock and Adult Album Alternative radio played more blues and roots music. I loved it when a Stevie Ray could turn on many thousands of new blues fans. Those things aren’t going to happen again. I can bemoan the changes or deal with the new realities in how people experience music and how music can make money (if it can).

4) I’m surrounded by a great team of 14 people very dedicated to the label and our artists–people who know their jobs, are motivated and put in a tremendous amount of work. I get all the glory, but these amazing people (some who have been at Alligator 30 years or more) are essential to our success and survival.

iglauer story photo 6Q) With the ever changing music industry and what seems to be the premise of the younger audience not valuing music monetarily as past generations have done, an example being folks wanting and getting music for nearly next to nothing via certain media outlets, how do you see the future of your label?

I think the future of all record labels is in doubt. All of us, from the multinational conglomerates to the one-person labels, invest a lot of money as well as a lot of energy into making a commercial recording and making the public aware of it. With the services like Spotify paying so little per stream, it’s very hard to make even a tiny profit. (Their payments vary somewhat, but typically we have to have a song streamed over 200 times to make as much money as if someone bought that one song from iTunes once). As I said, my hope is for the world market. Soon our music will be available to stream in China, and some of it is available in India. So I think there are a lot of potential blues fans and Alligator fans out there in the 2nd and 3rd worlds who just haven’t discovered our music yet…but hopefully they will. The emotional impact of the blues seems to work even when the listener can’t understand the words. But right now things are very, very tough for blues recording as a business.

Q) You have a book due out soon which I assume details out your music career and that of the labels?

Yes, it’s called Bitten By The Blues and is co-written with Patrick Roberts. It’s been a labor of love for over seven years. It tells stories of the artists and sessions and quite a bit about building Alligator as a business. I think most blues fans will really enjoy it and hopefully I’ve painted the pictures of the musicians, clubs and studios well. It will be out October 30 but is available for pre-order right now at Amazon and other sites. Also it’s available with a 20% discount on the pre-order with the code PRBITTEN20 at Patrick and I will be doing some question-and-answer sessions with book signings, one at the Logan Center Blues Festival on October 20 and another at SPACE in Evanston, IL on October 30 (along with a performance by Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials).  Writing this book has reminded me again of what a blessed life I’ve had, being in the presence of blues greats and helping them reach a wider audience, and sometimes helping them make records that I believe will stand the test of time. Hound Dog, Son Seals, Fenton Robinson, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, Johnny Otis, Professor Longhair, Michael Burks, James Cotton, Shemekia Copeland, Marcia Ball, Katie Webster, and the list goes on and on. How lucky can one guy be?

Visit Alligator Records’s website at:

Interviewer Mike Stephenson is a UK based blues journalist and photographer who has been a blues fan all his life. He has written articles on and interviewed blues artists and reviewed blues events in Europe and the US primarily for Blues & Rhythm but also for other blues publications.

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Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society is pleased to present these upcoming shows.

Fri., Aug 17 7:30pm Too Slim & The Taildraggers Harley Corin’s Bett. $12, $10 for MVBS members, Sunday, Aug. 26 6:00pm David Gerald Viking Club Moline IL $12, $10 for MVBS members, Fri., Sept. 7, 6:00pm Tas Cru on the Celebration Belle Riverboat Moline, IL (“Blues Cruise”) Cost $25, Sunday, Oct. 7, 6:00pm Orphan Jon and The Abandoned Viking Club Moline IL $12, $10 for MVBS members.

The Sacramento Blues Society – Sacramento, CA

On the 10th Anniversary of the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame Awards, we are proud to announce our 2018 Hall of Fame Inductees: AJ Joyce, Andy Santana, Jimmy Morello, RW Grigsby and a special posthumous Induction of Frankie Lee.

Join us for a very special two part Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Sunday, September 30, 2018 at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, 2708 J Street, Sacramento, from 1-5 p.m. ,with special appearance by musical guest, The Daniel Castro Band.

Following the Induction Ceremony, there will be a Hall of Fame Showcase with the new Inductees and many previous Inductees at the nationally known Torch Club, 904 15t St., Sacramento, from 6-8 pm. Additional information at

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

The 1st Prairie Crossroads Blues Fest happens Saturday, August 11, 2pm – 10pm @Champaign County Fairgrounds, 1302 N Coler Ave, Urbana, IL. Gates open at 1pm. Performances by Melvin Knight & Amber Sky, The Painkillers, Keith Harden Band, The Blues Deacons w/Jeff Kerr & Grizz Stevens, Mary Jo Curry Blues, Candy Foster & Shades of Blue and Robert Kimbrough Sr. $10 admissions, bring lawn chairs. Food trucks and beverages also available.

An after-fest party is scheduled starting at 10pm with the Kilborn Alley Blues Band and special guests @ The Iron Post, 120 S. Race St, Urbana. Then there is also a Blues Jam on Sunday, August 12, 4pm, hosted by Robert Kimbrough Sr. at Pipa’s Pub, 604 S. Country Fair Dr., Champaign, IL. Bring your instruments and join the jam. More information is available at:

Charlotte Blues Society – Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte Blues Society announces its upcoming IBC competitions. The Solo/Duo Challenge is September 2nd from 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. The Winner receives $500 and represents CBS at the IBC Competition in Memphis in January, 2019. Free to members with valid cards; $5 to others.

The Band Challenge is October 7th from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. at the Rabbit Hole, 1801 Commonwealth Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205. The Winner receives $1,000 and represents CBS at the IBC Competition in Memphis in January, 2019. Free to members with valid cards; $5 to others. Remember to bring donations for Loaves and Fishes.

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for Blue Monday live performances held every Monday night at e Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request.

8/20 – The Scott Ellison Band, 8/27 – The Chris O’Leary Band, 9/3 – The Drifter Kings, 9/10 – Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones, 9/17/ – Laura Rain and the Caesars, 9/24 – Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Alter Boys featuring Westside Andy, 10/1 – Levee Town, 10/8 – Orphan Jon and The Abandoned, 10/15 – Jeff Jensen, 10/22 – Lindsay Beaver & The 24th St. Wailers, 10/29 – Murray Kinsley & Wicked Grin. For more information visit

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

Lyran Society’s monthly Friday fish fry – August 17 – New Savages, Shows free, run 7 to 10 PM.

The Ninth Annual Crossroads Blues Festival at Lyran Park is Saturday, August 25th. Noon to 10 PM, gates open at 11 AM. $5 advanced tickets,$10 at the gate. Free parking. Primitive camping $20 per night, available Friday and/or Saturday  or has all the info!

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

Shows start at 7 pm, and are open to the public. Food and Beverages available at all Friends of the Blues shows. Aug 23 – Albert Castiglia, L’Erable IL, Tues, Sept 11 – Frank Bang & Cook County Kings, Venue TBA, Tues, Sept 25, Ivy Ford Band, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Thur, Nov 29 – Reverend Raven & CSAB, Kankakee Valley Boat Club. More Info at:

The Long Beach Blues Society – Long Beach, CA

The Long Beach Blues Society presents the “6 String Showdown,” a head-to-head series of regional blues guitar competitions to crown Southern California’s best blues guitar player, the winner getting to perform on the Main Stage of this year’s New Blues Festival V. Ewen Williams and Jesse Godoy emerged victorious from the OC Regionals at Campus Jax. Twenty-two guitarists go head-to-head at the Arcadia Blues Club, Saturday, August 4, 6 PM to midnight. Tickets at semi-finalists face off on the Golden Groove Stage at New Blues Festival V Saturday, September 1. Two finalists go head-to-head on the NBF Main Stage, Sunday, September 2. More info at

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