Area blues, R&B musicians have caught the ear of folks at Chicago record label

I don't typically blog here about my vacation shenanigans, but today I'll make an exception. Last week, while recreating in Chicago, I found myself thinking about musical links between the Windy City and Hampton Roads.

Most of this was sparked by a friendly visit to the Chicago headquarters of Alligator Records, considered by many the world's premier blues music label. There, I got to chat with veteran publicist Marc Lipkin and Bruce Iglauer, the president and founder of the 42-year-old label.

In the photo above, I'm holding a 1984 Grammy award won by Koko Taylor. Lipkin and Iglauer were nice enough to let me pose with a genuine artifact from blues music history.

Iglauer understands the rich musical heritage of our region quite well. We talked about sax man Gene Barge, the Norfolk native made famous as the Daddy G of Gary "U.S." Bonds' legendary Church Street Five. (Iglauer is a big fan.) We also touched on the late, great Ruth Brown from Portsmouth and the wonderful Holmes Brothers from the Middle Peninsula. (They're playing a benefit concert in Middlesex County on Friday, April 26. Go to the Middlesex Museum website for details.)

The Holmes Brothers, by the way, are part of a crowd of Virginia blues artists who have released records on the Alligator label. The gang also includes Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women (whose Ann Rabson passed away earlier this year); Corey Harris, who has blazed a fascinating, genre-blurring musical trail; and beloved Piedmont-style blues master John Jackson, who passed in 2002.

The fine duo Cephas & Wiggins also released several discs on Alligator, too. Sadly, guitarist and singer John Cephas died in 2009.

Alligator has a strong track record for documenting Virginia blues music, but Iglauer's not stuck in the past. He's aware of what the local Natchel' Blues Network is up to and has struck up a friendship with Norfolk blues singer Jackie Scott.

Chicago might be a long way from Hampton Roads, but Iglauer and his label are clearly keeping an ear cocked our way.

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