Screening: Horn From The Heart

Last year I wrote about the Paul Butterfield documentary Horn From The Heart. I am pleased to share that there will be a screening at The Fairfield Stage One on November 27th in Fairfield CT. It will be followed  with a Q and A with filmmaker Sandy Warren and musician Mark Naftalin.

Mark played keyboards in The Butterfield Blues Band on the first five albums. Mark hosts a blues radio hour on WPKN-FM. He also plays twice a month with various musicians at the 323 Restaurant Bar in Westport, CT.

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Bitten By The Blues

Bitten By The Blues: The Alligator Records Story – Bruce Iglauer & Patrick A. Roberts

University of Chicago Press

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Alligator Records may well be the premier blues record label on the planet. A quick review of the label’s releases over the past forty-seven plus years turns up one legendary artist after another, and some of the leading lights of the current blues scene. At the center of the label stands Bruce Iglauer, founder and owner, who now gives blues fans a deep, compelling look into how he built the label from a very humble start.

In the book’s forward, Iglauer is clear about his motivation for the Alligator label. “Most of Alligator’s records move your feet or your body, but we also try to make records that move that other part: your soul. It’s music that can cleanse your inner pain by pulling that pain right out of you….the mission of Alligator, was to carry Chicago’s South and West Side blues to a worldwide audience of young adults like me. Now it has become a mission to find and record musicians who will bring the essence of blues – its catharsis, its sense of tradition, its raw emotional power, and its healing feeling – to a new audience”.

As a college study in Wisconsin, Iglauer visited Chicago, primarily to visit the Jazz Record Mart and to find a blues band to book for his school’s homecoming dance. Once there, he fell under the spell of Bob Koester, legendary owner of the store and the Delmark Record label. Koester assigned one of his employees to take Iglauer around to some of the clubs on the south and west sides of Chicago. At a small joint owned by the late Eddie Shaw, Iglauer saw guitarists Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, and Hound Dog Taylor, who made an indelible impression.

Finishing school, Iglauer made a permanent move to Chicago, where he started working full-time hours as the Delmark shipping clerk for part-time pay. He spent his nights in the blues clubs throughout the city. Iglauer would frequently catch Taylor and his band, watching them fill the dance floor night after night. It was a raw sound form a self-taught musician, as the author notes,”He couldn’t read music and probably could not have told you the name of the notes the strings of his guitar were tuned to, and, as he tuned by ear, they might be different on different nights”. Once he established that Koester had no interest in recording Taylor, Iglauer put his plan together to record the band with Brewer Phillips on guitar and Ted Harvey on drums. Those sessions became Hound Dog Taylor And The House Rockers, the 1971 release that announced the start of a new blues record label.

Along with co-author Patrick A. Roberts, Iglauer weaves a fascinating narrative that delves into three separate aspects of the Alligator story. An obvious focus is the owner’s recollections of all of the artists that found a home on the label, many becoming close personal friends. From legends like Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, James Cotton, Luther Allison, and William Clarke, to guitar heroes like Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan, and Lonnie Mack, as well as bringing Louisiana artists like Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Katie Webster, and zydeco king Clifton Chenier to a wider audience, Iglauer’s stories provide meaningful depth to our understanding and appreciation for these artists. There are also moments of sadness, with the passing of friends or tragic accidents, like the 1978 train derailment in Norway that nearly killed Iglauer and the entire Son Seals Band, in the mist of a European tour.

A second aspect of the book chronicles Iglauer’s growth as a human being, and as a label owner. He offers fair assessments of his shortcomings as well as some of his best ideas. The label hit the jackpot with the double disc Twentieth Anniversary Collection, which sold ten times the number of a regular solo artist release, and the Grammy winning Showdown, which combined the talents of Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland. Early on, he learns several valuable lessons regarding the role of producer on recording projects, including the need to say no when required. At one point, Iglauer became a reggae fan, and released a number of fine recordings in that genre that failed to connect in the marketplace. Realizing his dream to work with another legend, Johnny Otis, Iglauer quickly learns what happens when you craft an album with too much blues for the R&B crowd, and not enough blues for that audience. He even readily admits to turning down a one-shot offer to record Stevie Ray Vaughan early in his career.

Perhaps a crucial part of the narrative concerns the description of the actual business of running a label. Over time, Alligator grew to be more than just a record company, offering artist management, bookkeeping, and tour booking services for the musicians on the label. Iglauer sheds a light on some areas of the business that the average fan may not understand. He enlightens readers on the practice of licensing recordings from other labels for release in a new market. His explanation of the record distribution system is telling, both in the way it progressed from the owner delivering boxes of albums from the trunk of his car, to major distribution companies that allow music to reach a wider market, but can be disastrous for a label like Alligator if the distributor fails, leaving tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices. There is also reflections on the challenges of selling albums versus compact discs, and the on-going struggle to figure out on to make money for the artists and the label as streaming services continue to have a severe negative impact on music sales.

It is a story well-told, one that will resonate with every blues fan. In fact, anyone who loves American roots music should pour through this book. Readers will undoubtedly gain new insights into some of their favorite musicians and classic recordings, in addition to getting a firm grasp on the magnitude of achievements that Iglauer has accomplished through the Alligator label. This one is most highly recommended!

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 😉

This review is courtesy of Blues Blast Magazine and is featured in the November 2018 issue.

The Boy and The Piano

This Christmas advertisement from John Lewis & Partners featuring Sir Elton John is certain to touch your heart.

Is there anything more precious than a boy, his piano, and a gift from his Mum?

IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR ME THAT THE ADVERT WAS CLOSE TO MY ACTUAL MEMORIES AND EXPERIENCE SO IT HAD THAT EMOTIONAL IMPACT. AND YES, THE PIANO HAS ALWAYS BEEN A BIG PART OF MY LIFE. MY EARLIEST MEMORIES ALWAYS REVOLVE AROUND MUSIC AND THE PIANO WAS ALWAYS AT THE CENTRE OF FAMILY LIFE WHEN I WAS GROWING UP.”- Sir Elton John CBE

The Oxford American’s 20th Annual Southern Music Issue

It’s almost here. The 20th Annual Southern Music Issue from Oxford American Magazine. I can’t wait to add the North Carolina edition to my collection.

I’d love to rent a custom RV and travel to the Southern states. The additional benefit of this publication are all the great tourist attractions featured inside. I have quite the itinerary planned 😉

Details

The Oxford American presents its 20th annual Southern Music Issue, featuring more than 25 stories exploring the history and legacy of North Carolina music. Among the many notable contributors to this year’s Southern Music Issue are novelists Jonathan Lethem, Jill McCorkle, and Wiley Cash, and the beloved North Carolina musicians Rhiannon Giddens and Tift Merritt.

Tryon-native Nina Simone, one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, graces the cover in a portrait by Jim Blanchard; Simone is the subject of a feature essay about artistic influence and identity, written by poet Tiana Clark.

The issue comes with a 28-song sampler of recordings by North Carolinians sourced across nearly a century. The compilation highlights music from NC legends like Simone, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson, James Taylor, and Elizabeth Cotten, plus a wide-ranging host of others. Accompanying the sampler are detailed liner notes and essays on the songs by Ron Rash, Laura Ballance, Randall Kenan, and others.

The issue, available for pre-order in their online store (link above), will mail to subscribers on November 6, and will be available on newsstands nationwide on November 20.

National Album Day UK

The first ever National Album Day(UK) takes place on Saturday, October 13th, 2018. The entire British music community is coming together to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the album format.

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alice-cooper

National Album Day UK Ambassador Alice Cooper, said:

“It would be very hard for me to do something that didn’t follow the album format. It’s hard for me to simply write twelve songs. It’s in my nature to connect them somehow.
 
“It’s really neat that this post-millennial generation is buying albums again.  I’m from a period of time where the release of a new album was an important thing: you stood in line, you bought it, you invited a bunch of friends, you opened it up, and there was a smell to the vinyl. You checked out the sleeve to discover who was on it, who wrote it.  You placed the needle down – it was a ritual.”

At 3:33 (r)pm on October 13th people will be encouraged to stop what they are doing, sit back, relax and play an album of their choice in full from start to finish.

Let it be known what album you chose by using the hashtag #NationalAlbumDay and handle @AlbumDayUK.

Welcome to the Gutenberg Editor

Of Mountains & Printing Presses

The goal of this new editor is to make adding rich content to WordPress simple and enjoyable. This whole post is composed of pieces of content—somewhat similar to LEGO bricks—that you can move around and interact with. Move your cursor around and you’ll notice the different blocks light up with outlines and arrows. Press the arrows to reposition blocks quickly, without fearing about losing things in the process of copying and pasting.

What you are reading now is a text block the most basic block of all. The text block has its own controls to be moved freely around the post…

… like this one, which is right aligned.

Headings are separate blocks as well, which helps with the outline and organization of your content.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Handling images and media with the utmost care is a primary focus of the new editor. Hopefully, you’ll find aspects of adding captions or going full-width with your pictures much easier and robust than before.

Beautiful landscape
If your theme supports it, you’ll see the “wide” button on the image toolbar. Give it a try.

Try selecting and removing or editing the caption, now you don’t have to be careful about selecting the image or other text by mistake and ruining the presentation.

The Inserter Tool

Imagine everything that WordPress can do is available to you quickly and in the same place on the interface. No need to figure out HTML tags, classes, or remember complicated shortcode syntax. That’s the spirit behind the inserter—the (+) button you’ll see around the editor—which allows you to browse all available content blocks and add them into your post. Plugins and themes are able to register their own, opening up all sort of possibilities for rich editing and publishing.

Go give it a try, you may discover things WordPress can already add into your posts that you didn’t know about. Here’s a short list of what you can currently find there:

  • Text & Headings
  • Images & Videos
  • Galleries
  • Embeds, like YouTube, Tweets, or other WordPress posts.
  • Layout blocks, like Buttons, Hero Images, Separators, etc.
  • And Lists like this one of course 🙂

Visual Editing

A huge benefit of blocks is that you can edit them in place and manipulate your content directly. Instead of having fields for editing things like the source of a quote, or the text of a button, you can directly change the content. Try editing the following quote:

The editor will endeavor to create a new page and post building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has “blocks” to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or “mystery meat” embed discovery.

Matt Mullenweg, 2017

The information corresponding to the source of the quote is a separate text field, similar to captions under images, so the structure of the quote is protected even if you select, modify, or remove the source. It’s always easy to add it back.

Blocks can be anything you need. For instance, you may want to add a subdued quote as part of the composition of your text, or you may prefer to display a giant stylized one. All of these options are available in the inserter.

You can change the amount of columns in your galleries by dragging a slider in the block inspector in the sidebar.

Media Rich

If you combine the new wide and full-wide alignments with galleries, you can create a very media rich layout, very quickly:

Accessibility is important — don’t forget image alt attribute

Sure, the full-wide image can be pretty big. But sometimes the image is worth it.

The above is a gallery with just two images. It’s an easier way to create visually appealing layouts, without having to deal with floats. You can also easily convert the gallery back to individual images again, by using the block switcher.

Any block can opt into these alignments. The embed block has them also, and is responsive out of the box:

You can build any block you like, static or dynamic, decorative or plain. Here’s a pullquote block:

Code is Poetry

The WordPress community

If you want to learn more about how to build additional blocks, or if you are interested in helping with the project, head over to the GitHub repository.


Thanks for testing Gutenberg!

👋