Author Profile: John The Rock Doctor Kereiff

The Rock Doc is in the Cyber House to tell you how it is! (or at least my own opinion) :/

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As a blues fan, my chat back in March with Alligator Records’ honcho Bruce Iglauer is a highlight of my radio and writing careers.  The occasion for my phone call from the studios of Newcap Broadcasting in Lloydminster was to talk about the then new “40th Anniversary Collection”, and talk we did.  Bruce is a passionate advocate of the blues, as I was soon to find out…Read more...

Bruce_IglauerHi Bruce how ya doin’ today?

Great!

I must say, before we get started, you guys have the coolest hold music I’ve ever heard in my life!

Well thank you- it’s all ours!  (both laugh)

Excellent- who was that, by the way?

I have no idea- but they put it on downstairs, it’s just one of our CD’s.  If you tell me what it sounded like, I’ll tell you who it was.

Well it sounded like the blues! (both laugh)

Unfortunately, that’s not a real big giveaway at this label (more laughter)

No it isn’t!  Thank you very much for taking my call and finding some time in the afternoon for this…

Sure!

I’ve set this up through Bill and that was really awesome. The reason I’m calling is I host a blues show called “How Blue Can You Get” for a station I used to work at.  I got this terrific two disc 40th anniversary collection from Bill in the mail just the other day.  So I got on the horn and said “Do you think Bruce will want to talk about this?” And he said “Sure!”  So here we are…

Good! Well, the 40th collection has been a real labor of love for me, because I was trying to somehow encapsulate the 40 years that I’ve been doing this, night and day (both laugh)   for every day of my life!  Try to give both a vision of where the label has come from, some nods to our founding artists, but also to give some hints as to what we’re doing now and the directions we may be going.  So… trying to summarize 40 years of your life in 158 minutes can be pretty hard to do! (John laughs)

That’s for sure!  The coolest thing I noticed right off is that you didn’t go chronologically, which is the way most people would tend to approach a project like this.  But rather it’s almost like you were putting together a really cool mix of road songs for a friend, that’s how it strikes me. 

Well that was a lot of the idea.  I spent about 2 months working on choosing the songs and getting them in a working order.  Back in the old days of LP’s, when we had 10 or 12 songs, or maybe even 9, programming a side was pretty much fun.  But programming two discs of 79 plus minutes of music each so that they flow well is very hard.  I knew what I wanted to start with on each disc, and I knew the artists that I wanted to feature, but I had no sense of how to put them together.  So all I could do was sit at my computer with my headphones and do it by trail and error.  A lot of the decisions as to both the order of songs and the final choice of songs were made by gut, by what felt right. 

And that’s exactly the right way to approach it too.  The thing I miss about making compilations, at least for myself nowadays, is I’ll burn CD’s for the car for when my wife and I take a nice, long trip, but unlike the days when you were making a cassette, you can’t … in the days when I’d be making a cassette, I’d be listening to a song I was laying down and go “Oh!  I know what would be perfect after this!” but you don’t have that luxury with CD’s, so it is kind of trial and error, isn’t it?

Well yeah, but it was a lot of fun and it brought back a lot of memories .  More than half of the records that have come out on Alligator have been ones that I’ve been producer or co-producer or somehow involved in the creative process.  So I’ve been in the studio with the musicians, or I’ve been in the rehearsals, or I helped to find some songs if the artists were not doing a lot of their own songwriting.  It’s been a very exciting part of my career.  I certainly never got into this with any desire to be a businessman! (both laugh)  I can guarantee you that was the last thing on my mind!  But as far as listening to these, some of them literally made me cry.  You, 40 years… we have a lot of artists who are with us musically but who are not with us in body anymore…

Right…

… who have joined the ‘giant band in the sky’ or whatever it is (both laugh) And, you know, remembering people who were pretty dear friends in many cases, could be some rough going.  And a lot of interesting dreams while I was doing this (both chuckle) a lot of musicians came back to me in my dreams.

VERY interesting!  Now in the bio that Bill sent me, it said that the way Alligator Records works is pretty unusual as far as record companies go.  You have close personal relationships with your artists, don’t you?

You know, it started out that way kind of by accident.  The artists that I was working with, I keep… first of all I should say that I came to Chicago, I’m not a native, I came to Chicago for the blues.  And, originally to work for another record label, Delmark, then pretty quickly after that to start my own.

Tell us the story of how Alligator Records came to be- I understand you’re a Hound Dog Taylor fan…

Well, was and am!  Yeah, I was working at Delmark Records as a shipping clerk, but I was hanging out every night on the Southside and in the Westside, in the black neighborhoods, at the blues bars.  And in January of 1970, I heard about a Sunday afternoon gig in a little club called Florence’s Lounge on the Southside.  Just a neighborhood bar, not even a stage or a PA system, they’d just move a table or two and put a band in.  And I went down to see… I’d met Hound Dog Taylor and I knew he was a funny lookin’ and jovial guy, but I didn’t think he was a very serious musician. 

Right…

He seemed to be more one of the people that every body liked because he was a fun gut to hang around with.  And I walked into this club, packed with people at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and the music just kind of swept over me.  It was the most physical, the most rhythmic, the most fun music that I had ever heard in my life. I can’t dance, and even I could dance to Hound Dog Taylor! (both laugh)  These three musicians were just having the time of their lives, doing what they did every other Sunday afternoon, and during the week nights as well, just playing on cheap guitars through crummy amplifiers, and making what they would happily call ‘a racket’.  The music was so raw … you know, Hound Dog played a $50 guitar, and he played through a Sears & Roebuck department store amplifier, turned to “10” as was the guitar.  So it was just sheets of distortion, and it was the most wonderful sound.  I went back to my boss at Delmark Records and said “You’ve gotta record these guys!”  And he had heard Hound Dog sitting in… and Hound Dog sitting in was pretty much of a disaster.  People couldn’t follow him, only with his own band did the music make sense.  So my boss didn’t think that this was a band worthy of recording, and I’ve got to admit that part of the way I presented the idea was “and you should let me produce them” (John laughs) which was pretty pretentious!

Well you were a 23 year old kid just out of college, weren’t you?

Right.  And I’d been in the studio a few times watching Bob, but I certainly had no other production experience.  I probably had more balls than I should have! (both laugh)

More enthusiasm than anything else!

Well… and knowing what the band sounded like and what they ought to sound like on records.

Uh-huh…

…which was an important part of the way I was thinking, trying to capture this live vibe in the studio, which has been a lot of my goal as a producer over the years, because I enjoy hearing music live so much.  I want records that don’t feel like records, I want records that feel like gigs.

Yeah, exactly.

So eventually, when I couldn’t talk my boss into it, I scraped together… I had a little inheritance, I had $2,500 – and with $2,500 I went and recorded this band for two evenings, direct to 2-track.  We mixed it as we went, there was no coming back and mixing it later.  We just laid it down as it was being played… and hopefully well enough because there was no going back, I paid the band and I pressed up a thousand albums.  And that’s how I started the company- in a one room apartment in kind of a seedy neighborhood of Chicago.  And actually the thing I did next was hit the road and start visiting radio stations…

Right…

…often sleeping in my car, just to try to create some excitement.  It was a very good time for radio,  loosest time for radio, really, in US history.  And I was there at the right time with the right record.  Then I began booking the band, and managing the band, and publicizing the band, and publishing their music- basically doing everything for them.  And you asked about the personal relationships…

Yeah…

Well the personal relationships came out of the fact that the earliest bands I recorded had nobody representing them, so I stepped up to be in all the different roles.  And this meant that I was constantly back and forth in musician’s homes, I was very aware of what was going no with their families, I was aware of people’s health problems, I was aware of people’s financial issues, I got to know everybody personally.  And since all my first artists were here in town, I would see them all the time. And this meant going to… you know, nobody ever really had any money, so this meant going to some pretty bad neighborhoods- places that, frankly, not a lot of white people went to, and I am a white person- um, and seeing how people were living, knowing their families, knowing their spouses.  I remember one of the musicians I was recording was diabetic- in fact I’ve had to deal with that on a number of occasions- had a seizure while I was at his home, and I was the one who rushed him to the hospital.  I’ve bailed musicians out of jail, I’ve helped musicians deal with legal issues, I’ve kept people from getting thrown out of their apartments because they couldn’t pay the rent, I’ve counseled people during their divorces.  In one case I had a musician who was battling with a drug problem who felt that if he could stay away from his neighborhood and his associates, he could win.  I had him move into my house, and he lived with me for a couple of months. 

WOW…

And this doesn’t seem the least bit unusual to me, this is the way Alligator works.  Originally as I said I was in a one room apartment, then eventually I moved to a small house, where I still live, and I was running the company illegally out of the house.  It was LP time, and there was LP warehousing in my basement, I had cassettes, 7,000 cassettes in my kitchen, and eventually had six people coming to my house to work, you know, in a residential neighborhood. Well, everybody, every one of my musicians, knew how to reach my 24 hours a day, and if somebody was in trouble, be it they’re out on the road and their playing a gig and the money is coming up funny, or the vehicle breaks down, or somebody doesn’t show up… whatever kind of problem, you know, call Bruce at 2 o’clock in the morning.  And of course since the advent of cell phones, now they can call me at 2 o’clock in the morning even if I’m not home!  (both chuckle) So we’re sort of a full service record label, savings and loan, psychological counseling service, and apparently drug rehab as well!

That’s one of the things I find quite remarkable about Alligator Records, the more I find out, is the relationship with the artists, as opposed to, say, the major labels which treat everything as a ‘product’, it’s all assembly line… there’s definitely a more personal, say, home made touch going on here.

Well we certainly have a business relationship in that I have regular contracts, and we’re not… You know, a lot of record labels from the old days, from the 50’s and 60’s, especially in the blues and R&B area, were run a little bit like plantations.  If the musicians wanted some royalties they would show up and the boss would write them a cheque for a hundred bucks, or pull some cash out of his pocket.  We run it in a much more business-like way in that regard.  In fact I am sitting right now in my office surrounded by royalty statements, which I’ve been working on for the last two weeks, and which are getting sorted to be sent out along with cheques.  So we’re very business-like in that way, we’re business-like in having professional contracts with people, and professional expectations, but it’s a lot more than that.  And the relationships are very much a part of the style of the company.  Now that also means that there can be heat.  There’s an important artist right now who is just furious with me because we had a battle over cover art on a new CD.  I’m a man of very strong opinions, and the artist was a person of very strong opinions, and we were at each other’s throats.  And right now we’re sort of not talking to each other, you know, like a grumpy married couple or something  (John laughs) but we both know that we’re gonna have to get over that. 

Yeah… and I’m sure whoever this artist is…

You don’t need to know either!

Yeah, you probably don’t care to mention names!

No… even though I am right, of course! (both laugh)

Of course!  Surely he must know that you have his best interests at heart, whether or not you agree with what he has to say.

Well exactly, but…. Artists tend to have very strong emotional attachments to things that they’ve created or images of themselves, and sometimes they don’t understand that it’s our job to present them to the public.  So how they may appear to themselves is one thing, but how they appear to the public is something else.  And we want to make sure that the images we present and the music we present are accessible to people.  We don’t just say to artists “Go in and make the record you want to make and hand it to us.” We’ll work with them from beginning to end on song choices, on arrangements, on producers, on mixes, on packaging, all aspects of the recording, because it’s our job to bring their careers forward, and we do that by selling as many CD’s as we can, or as many downloads as we can. 

Of course.  Now, how do artists come to Alligator?  Do you get a lot of people coming to you saying “Hey I think you might be interested in me” or are you out, still, combing the clubs, or how does that process work for you guys?

There’s all of those things.  Right now in a part of my office that’s not occupied by royalty statements, and I should explain that these statements are now spread out on the floor because I have to put them in little stacks and I don’t have enough table space!  So in one corner there are post office bins, these plastic bins that we get at the post office, and they’re full of unsolicited recordings that people have sent to us.  I hesitate to say “demos” because in the old days they would be demos. But now very often they are fully produced, fully manufactured studio recordings, because studio technology has come to be available to a lot of people, like Pro Tools, so people can work at home.  So sometimes people will send full albums to us.  And I try over a period of time to listen to every single thing that’s sent to me, and respond to it.  And I know that if I mention this on the radio that I’ll just get a bunch more!  (both laugh) For the most part what I hear is ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’- or sometimes not okay at all!  (laughs)

And you’re looking for great but yeah, sometimes that’s just how it goes…

Of course I’m looking for ‘great’, so I say “no” 99.9% of the time. I also still go to clubs, but I tend to follow the leads of  hearing about artists from various people I somewhat trust, since I ultimately only trust my own ears.  But I will go check out a band, and if I hear of something of real interest, I’ll get on a plane and go check out a band.  The scene on the Southside and the Westside in Chicago is not what it was, and I think that’s true for all kinds of traditional music.  You know, if I went to the Southwest side in the Polish neighborhoods, I doubt I’d be able to walk in to many polka bars. If I went to the nearest side in the Mexican neighborhoods, I don’t know how many Mexican bands I would hear.  And I know there’s one place in uptown which is the Appalachian neighborhood where I can hear some kind of raw country music.  But there aren’t a lot of these places anymore, there are not 40 blues bars on the Southside and the Westside.  You know, the blues has become an old form of music, especially amongst African American people, it’s not very chic right now.  So those bars that I used to go to, literally 40 years ago, are not for the most part having music, if indeed they exist.  But I’ll go out to a bar to hear a band in a second.   If I’ve heard something good or it’s intriguing, somebody sent any kind of recording to me, or I’ve just gotten a good recommendation  from a fan.

That leads me, sort of, to my next question.  I realize that blues, for lack of a better term, is considered ‘ghetto music’ amongst African Americans and whatnot.  What do you think the appeal is… there are so many white listeners, so many white performers now- Stevie Ray, Tommy Castro and on and on.  The appeal of the music has clearly shifted.  Do you have any ideas as to what that might be?

Well… as to why the music isn’t as popular among African Americans as it used to be, I think the answer would be the same reason that the country music of, say. The early 1950’s isn’t popular amongst white country fans right now.  It seems dated to those people.  The world of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, is not the world of contemporary country music radio. In the same way, tastes among younger black people have shifted a lot.  You can’t expect that people are going to like their parent’s music or their grandparents’ music.  As far as why other people, be it white people in the United States or in Europe, or in many, many Asian people- I’ve been on tour in Japan a number of times and hopefully will be going on tour in China in the next year or so- why they like this music so much is the directness, the rawness, the fact that it is so honest.  Structurally it’s very simple, you can feel the emotions- it’s extremely unpretentious music.  And it comes from real roots.  Even if you can’t understand the words, you can feel the fact that there’s a tradition behind it.  So you’ve got people who are really pouring their souls into the music that they perform, and doing so in a very spontaneous way.  You won’t see blues artists up there with a big set list, they’re not choreographed for the next lighting cue like any major concert you’ll see at this point, you know, which is all pre-set up- ‘okay, on the 2nd note of the 3rd bar of the 12th song, you’ll be standing right there where the spotlight hits you. 

Yeah, and you have like 10 dancers on stage trying to distract everyone from the fact that there’s really not much going on in the music. 

Or people are performing pre-recorded music tracks and lip synching to them.  It’s pretty darn hard to sing and dance at the same time!  And so a lot of the artists now, it’s all about the visuals.  And the music, they’re literally faking the singing, we’ve seen this on TV from time to time.  This happens in major concerts a lot.  In the world of blues, it never happens!  (chuckles) You’re up there and you’re naked!  You’d better deliver, because it’s the only… you don’t have anything to fall back on, and the song comes out as it does.  You know, the famous line where people say “Here’s a little song that goes something like this”?  Well no- here’s a little song that goes exactly like this!  (both laugh) Whether we intend it to or not, it’s going to go exactly like this!  And this means that each time the song is performed, the artist really has to step up. Beyond that, one of the wonderful things about blues is, blues is so responsive to the emotional needs of the audience and the best blues artists, like the best preachers, feels what the audience’s needs are by listening, by seeing if somebody hollers during a song, or stands up, or kind of makes eye contact with the band, saying ‘that story hit me really hard, those lyrics really meant something to me’.  That cues the musicians as to what the next song should be, or sometimes how to interpret the song they’re doing right then. 

Right…

So the music is all about soul soothing.  And in order to sooth somebody’s soul, you’ve got to have some comprehension of their soul, and blues musicians are extraordinarily good at that. 

I couldn’t agree with you more, those are the many reasons that attracted me to the music.  I acknowledged myself as a blues fan probably in the 80’s much earlier than that, I’m about 10 years younger than you…

Uh-huh…

But when I look back on the kind of rock & roll I grew up on in the  70’s like Foghat and things like that, the bands that I tended to like were the blues based bands, really just high octane blues. 

Oh yeah, absolutely.

And just really quickly, my first admission that I was a huge blues fan… I had just gone through a divorce, both of my parents had just passed away, I had all my belongings in  a station wagon with my bed strapped to the top, driving to a radio station in the middles of nowhere (Quesnel, BC) for a new job, and I bought some new tapes at probably Woolco or something then… And one of them was “The Best Of BB King”.  The song that I named my show after, “How Blue Can You Get” came on, and I believe the track was from “Live At Cook County Jail”…

Right- I know that album well…

As that song was playing I was thinking “Why am I not listening to this music all the time?!?”  It really nailed me to the wall!  And I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a lot of people who are into the blues have had a similar experience in that they’re sort of aware of the music, but there just comes that one moment.  I guess for you that was in ’66, wasn’t it?

Right.  I heard Mississippi Fred McDowell, all by himself, at a folk festival actually, playing with a steel slide on his finger, and as anybody who knows much about me would know, I’m kind of a slide guitar geek- not a player, just a fan.  I just love that metal on metal sound.  And he was singing songs of his real life.  Here’s a guy who was, at that time, over 60 years old, probably functionally illiterate, originally from a small town in Tennessee then a small town in Mississippi, and it’s as though the music was designed to reach inside of me.  It was like he reached out over 20 rows of seats, and grabbed me, and slapped me upside the head and said “Wake up, this is for you!” 

And that’s what BB King did for me from that cassette tape too.

And a fine choice, sir, that you made!  I’ve seen BB live any number of times, and it’s a little more difficult now, because of his age.  When I first saw BB it was probably the later part of the sixties and he was late 30’s, early 40’s, and what a dynamic performance!  And I remember- it’s funny, I was talking about no set lists?  I went to a series of performances at the same place, back in my old home town of Cincinnati, and I managed to get backstage, and I got to know the bass player at the time.  And he said “One of the things about working with BB is we never know what song he’s gonna do.”  The bass player had been in the band less than a year, he said “He’ll call a song I’ve never heard before and just launch right into it, and he’ll assume we’ll figure out how to follow it.” 

That’s what I was saying about meeting the emotional needs of the audience.  And remember seeing 4 sets of BB in a row over two nights, and I was the only person who was there for all four sets.   So he perfectly well could’ve done the same songs for all four sets and nobody but me would’ve known.  Instead, he… the first couple of songs were the same, set up and planned, and the he would close with “The Thrill Is Gone” of course but in the middle, every set was different.  One set was almost entirely up-tempo and people were dancing, one set was almost entirely slow blues, one set I remember was heavily instrumental, and this is because he was feeling what he was feeling and what the audience was feeling, and creating the music right there, on the spot, in that moment.  And that’s one of the great things about the blues, and of course BB is a master at that. 

Now if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to speak about a few of the specific tracks on the 40th Anniversary collection for the radio show I’m going to do, so I can use some interview clips during the show- is that cool with you?

Sure…

Now the Hound Dog Taylor tune here, “Sittin’ At Home Alone”- is that from those initial sessions?

No, the Hound Dog Taylor track is from a live recording that we did in Cleveland, Ohio for a radio show in 1973, I think.  It’s not the best sounding track on the record by any means, but it captures some of that Florence’s Lounge spirit, that just raw seat-of-the-pants flying that Hound Dog did so well.  I did choose… mostly when I choose Hound Dog tracks for various previous anthologies, I’ve chosen up-tempo tracks because he was just a master at getting your butt moving and he loved to boogie, but I chose a slow one this time because I wanted to show that more soulful side of him. 

Right.  Koko Taylor leads off the first disc, “I’m A Woman” and man, it says it perfectly in the press release, she really WAS a force of nature…

Oh yeah!  Koko was such a real blues woman.  She had lived that life- she was a sharecropper, she had grown up in a shack in Tennessee, she had come North on the Greyhound bus with, like she used to say, 35 cents and a box of Ritz Crackers.  And of course having to sit in the back of the bus because it was segregation times.  Then she worked in a laundry washing people’s sheets, then she got a job scrubbing floors, cleaning houses, and eventually became sort of a nanny for rich people in the northern suburbs.  And had she not been able to sing, that would’ve been her life for the rest of her life.  Koko said to me once “I spent hours and hours on my knees, and I wasn’t praying, I was scrubbin’ people’s floors.”  But she was  one of the most honest, directly spoken, tough survivors that I have ever known.  It was amazing to me what she went through, both when she was younger and later in life when she was battling health problems when she got older.  In 2003 Koko should have died.  She’d had surgery, it didn’t go well, she was on a ventilator, she couldn’t breathe on her own, she was not conscious and they told us the chances of her recovery were almost zero.  And that woman willed herself back to life, just made herself be alive again.  She wasn’t ready to die- and that was so Koko Taylor! (both laugh)

She’d go when she was ready…

Within a few months she was singing again, it was truly unbelievable!  I chose “I’m A Woman’ to open the set partly because Koko passed away fairly recently, 2009, and I wanted to pay tribute to her,  but also I thought it’s such an anthem and of course it starts “everything, everything, everything’s gonna be alright” and I thought “eh, it’s a nice beginning for 160 minutes of music”, it sets the tone, and boy is that the blues! 

Yeah, THAT’S for sure!  Now, one of my favorite tracks on here is the next one, by one of my all-time favorite guitarists, Albert Collins. 

Ah… Albert was with us from, what… 1978 ‘til about 1992, ’91, something like that.  I worked with Albert, I managed Albert, I produced or co-produced all of his Alligator albums, I was on the road with him all the time.  He was one of the most exciting live musicians I ever saw.  That man played guitar from his toes- not with his hands and his arms but with his whole body, and he had so much fun doing it!  You know, you’d get him on stage and he just wouldn’t want to come off!  I have a lot of musicians on the label like that who just so enjoy performing, so enjoy making music, that they’d do it 24 hours a day if they could.  Albert is… was, you see, (chuckles) Albert still is in my mind, unfortunately in the real world he was, just such a sweet, gentle and funny guy.  At the end of every show, when people applauded, he would say, and he would mean it, he would say “thank you for accepting me.” 

I actually saw that.  I never had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, but last year another record label that I deal with, Eagle records, they have this really cool series with live performances from the Monteux Jazz & Blues festival and I got one of Albert, and I remember him saying that.  There’s a song right in the middle of the set, and I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it…

Right, I can imagine…

…the song was “Too Many Dirty Dishes”.

Oh yeah!  I’m going to pat myself on the back a little bit.  Both “I Ain’t Drunk”, which is on the 40th Anniversary Collection” and was a most requested song for him, and “Too Many Dirty Dishes”, were songs that I brought to him, those are songs that I found for him. 

Oh! Very cool!

So speaking as his producer, one of the things I’m proudest of is, as a producer, when an artist doesn’t write a lot- and Albert didn’t- that I can find songs that fit their musical personalities and human personalities. 

Right…

I listen with that in mind.  I’m listening to songs all the time, and I’m always thinking “Will this work for one of my artists?”  So “I Ain’t Drunk” is one of the songs that Albert learned on the day that he recorded it. 

Really?!?

Yeah, he’d never performed it before that day.  He flew in on the red eye, we recorded in Chicago but he was living in Los Angeles at the time, he flew in on the Red Eye, slept for a couple of hours, rehearsed with the band, we rehearsed for about 2, 2 & ½ hours and kinda sketched out the arrangements, and went directly to the studio and recorded. 

That’s amazing!

It was fun!  And you know, Albert really knew how to get inside a song, and I so enjoyed watching him because he would sing without monitors or headphones.  He just heard the melody in his head and his solos were almost always the live solo he played in the studio.  You know, we isolate things in the studio so somebody can repair something, and if an artist wants to play another solo we make it technically possible for that to happen.  But Albert just loved to play whatever popped into his head at that moment, and his rhythm sense was so great that he would lock in with the band in a certain way the would be hard to reproduce if you were listening to playback through headphones.  He wanted to be right out in the room with the other musicians, feeling the music physically, and being physically with them.

 Now one more I want to ask you about, and one of my favorite albums that I’ve gotten from Bill (Alligator international promotions guy) in the last couple of years is Tinsley Ellis’s “Speak No Evil”, and you include the title track on the new collection- tell me about Tinsley.

Well Tinsley and I have become close personal friends and seen each other through some difficult personal times.  That album was actually produced by Tinsley.  He’s a guy who…. Well first of all I should say, you know, Tinsley is really a blues rocker, and he would say that- he would not call himself a pure bluesman at all.  He’s from Atlanta, Georgia and he’s listened to a lot of those southern rock players, he grew up on The Allman Brothers and all of that southern rock movement, and he’s a guitar virtuoso.  He’s also a very passionate singer, he just throws himself into the songs.  On that particular album, he wrote everything.  He’s become a better and better writer, and he sends a lot of songs to me.  He has a home studio, he’ll be workin’ on tunes and he’ll send tunes to me, you know the joy of the digital world.  He’ll email a rough mix to me and I’ll comment on the song, the lyrics or the groove, and we kind of play back and forth together to try to get these songs to where everybody is going to be happy with them.  And usually when he’s going to record, we’ve got 30 or 40 songs that he’s worked on to choose from.  This one was one of the ones that just sort of worked right the first time.  I don’t recall there was a lot of rewriting involved, he came up with this excellent hook line, you know, “speak no evil or evil will happen to you” and built the whole song around that.  And… you know… I like tempo, I like songs that move, but sometimes the slower ones, because they have space to breathe, can actually be more impactful.  The pause before the impact- you know, they talk about how in an auto accident time seems to slow down?

Yeah?

Well sometimes in a slow blues time slows down in a good way and the pause before the note hits you makes that note just that much more powerful. 

Absolutely…

And Tinsley is a master at that, he’s a master of the pause.  And one of the things that he, and he can not only play a lot of notes, but he knows that the notes are supposed to tell  a story, and have value.  And one of the differences I think between a lot of blues guitar playing and a lot of rock guitar playing is that the notes… Often I hear, especially amongst rock guitar virtuosos, I’ll hear playing that’s just busy for its own sake.  The notes are not there to have emotional impact, they’re there to show off the guitar player’s chops. 

Yeah…

…And that’s a whole different approach. And there’s nothing wrong with virtuoso playing, I have no problem with hot guitar playing or hot any instrument playing, I just feel that the music should always tell an emotional story.  And sometimes, you know, when you talk as fast as you possibly can, you’re talkinglikethiswhereeverywordrunsintoeveryotherword, prettysoonthewordsdon’treally haveanymeaningatalltheyjustsoundlikeabunchofnoise.

Yeah, exactly

Whereas if you take… your time… and… pause… what happens after… the pause… can be pretty, pretty strong!  I learned these things by watching preachers! (both chuckle)

You know, the ability to… I didn’t grow up going to black churches, but boy the ability to preach, and the phrasing of preaching, is very often like the phrasing of blues singing.  And the great preachers will have that moment where you’re just anticipating (gets quiet)… the next word. 

Exactly.

And sometimes it hits hardest because it’s (whispers) very quiet.  So one of the great things that blues musicians do is they’ll do the build up and then the sudden breakdown, where the music will get MORE AND MORE LOIUD AND POWERRFUL AND DRIVING AND SUDDENLY… (low whisper) really quiet… And boy that ‘really quiet’ always gets a round of applause, because there’s a space… for the audience… to come to the musicians. 

OH yeah!

This is funny. I do telephone interviews and I’m gesturing with my hands like you can see me (both laugh) and I just had the audience rush in toward the imaginary stage! (still laughing)

I have to give back the production studio here but just a couple of more quick questions…

Okay…

First we have the Alligator records 40th Anniversary Collection, a terrific 2 disc set- are there plans for any other ways to mark the 40th anniversary? 

I would love to do… we did a 20th anniversary tour…

I’ve got the CD from that too…

Which we actually didn’t do on the 20th anniversary year, we did very well with the 20th anniversary collection we put out, and it funded the tour, which happened in the 21st year- so we cheated a little bit!  We’re hoping to have a night on the main stage at the Chicago Blues Festival in June that’s going to be dedicated to Alligator- that’s not for sure yet, it may happen or not, and there are a number of other festivals that may have Alligator nights, including… I’m being flown to (Katavitza) Poland for the (Robba) Blues Festival, which is bringing an entire evening of Alligator artists to Poland in October.  And I’m hoping, and hearing, that this may happen at some other festivals around the country.  So I could be quite the traveler this summer!  At this point a tour is not planned and a number of us would like to have a big party, but I gotta be able to afford it. 

Yeah, I guess that’s the thing!  Well I guess that pretty much wraps it up, if I could get you to do a couple of ID’s for me, that would be sweet…

And with that I gave back the studio and let Bruce get on with the rest of his day.  I used this interview to produce three different radio specials; one for Mountain FM in Castlegar BC, one for The Rossland Radio Co-op in Rossland BC, and another for K-Rock in Cold Lake Alberta, the station that now carries my blues program “How Blue Can You Get” Sundays at noon.  Alligator artists have been, and will continue to be, a regular part of the program. They are passionate about the music they play and are welcome in my house anytime.

Our valuable member John The Rock Doctor Kereiff has been with us since Friday, 18 March 2011.

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