GRAMMY-nominated blues guitarist Johnny Winter died July 16 in Zurich, while in the midst of a European tour. No official cause of death has been disclosed. He was 70. Lauded for his lightning-fast riffs, Winter took up guitar at an early age while his brother, fellow GRAMMY nominee Edgar Winter, learned keyboards and saxophone. Winter's debut album, 1968's The Progressive Blues Experiment, reached No. 40 on the Billboard 200 and garnered praise from Rolling Stone, which labeled Winter "the hottest item [in Texas] outside of Janis Joplin." Winter would chart several other albums, including Johnny Winter (1969, No. 24), Second Winter (1969, No. 55), Live/Johnny Winter And (1971, No. 40), and Still Alive And Well (1973, No. 22). Winter scored his highest charting single in 1971 with a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which reached No. 89 on the Billboard Hot 100. Winter, who ranked No. 63 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists list, received five GRAMMY nominations during his career, most recently scoring a 2004 nod for Best Contemporary Blues Album for I'm A Bluesman. Winter's new studio album, Step Back, is set for release Sept. 2. The album will feature collaborations with GRAMMY winners such as Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, and Dr. John, among others.
It wasn't such a lonely hour for Sam Smith, or more accurately, not such a lonely three and half hours. Smith now has four GRAMMY Awards to keep him company, though he narrowly missed becoming only the second male artist to sweep the four general categories (Christopher Cross remains the only one to accomplish that feat).
Smith's haul included Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year (the latter with co-writers James Napier and William Phillips) for "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)" as well as Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album for In The Lonely Hour. "It was only until I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen," Smith said while collecting the Best Pop Vocal Album award.
Three-time GRAMMY winners for the night included Beyoncé (Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song for "Drunk In Love" and Best Surround Sound Album for Beyoncé); Pharrell Williams (Best Pop Solo Performance for "Happy [Live]," Best Urban Contemporary Album for Girl and Best Music Video for "Girl"); and engineer Bob Ludwig, who was awarded for work on Beck's Morning Phase and Beyoncé's Beyoncé.
Also winning three awards was roots artist Rosanne Cash (Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song for A Feather's Not A Bird and Best Americana Album for The River & The Thread). "The last time I won a GRAMMY [Ronald] Reagan was president," Cash laughed when accepting during the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony.
Beck won Album Of The Year, as well as Best Rock Album, for Morning Phase.
Other multiple winners included Chick Corea, Eminem, Jay Z, For King & Country, Kendrick Lamar, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, and Jack White.
On a more somber note of celebration were wins for the recently deceased Joan Rivers (Best Spoken Word Album [Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling] for Diary Of A Mad Diva) and blues rock guitarist Johnny Winter (Best Blues Album for Step Back). Additionally, Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Glen Campbell, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease, won Best Country Song (along with co-writer Julian Raymond for "I'm Not Gonna Miss You") but was not able to appear to accept the award.
Awards aside, the show was filled with 23 amazing performances, from the introduction of Rhianna's new single "FourFiveSeconds" with Kanye West and Paul McCartney to AC/DC rocking the show open, with the likes of Beyoncé, Madonna, Pharrell Williams, Miranda Lambert, Adam Levine, and Gwen Stefani, among others, in between.
With its signature GRAMMY Moments, The Recording Academy regularly takes musical risks, this year pairing Ed Sheeran with Jeff Lynne's ELO, teaming Beck with Coldplay's Chris Martin, joining Annie Lennox with newcomer Hozier, and bringing Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige together for a mesmerizing performance. But the show often takes other kinds of risks as well, recognizing it can be a platform for important messaging. This year, President Barack Obama made a plea to stop domestic abuse, backed up by Katy Perry's heartfelt song of empowerment, "By The Grace Of God."
It was a fitting moment for Music's Biggest Night, where celebration meets the recognition that music has a profound cultural impact.
Bruce Iglauer started Alligator Records in Chicago in 1971 with a $2,500 inheritance from his grandfather, and the loan of a down payment on a Chevy Vega from his mother Harriett so he could service retailers with an album by Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers in a time-honored fashion: out of his trunk.
For only $900, Iglauer produced the recording and subsequently pressed 1,000 copies — giving birth to Alligator Records.
This was more than a decade before there was either a Chicago Blues Festival — which Iglauer helped start in 1984 — or a dedicated blues GRAMMY category, which debuted in the form of Best Traditional Blues Recording in 1982.
Fast-forward to 2011, Alligator is now run by 16 employees out of a three-story building on Chicago's North Side and is in the midst of celebrating its 40th anniversary.
In February, the label released a double-disc retrospective, Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection, featuring artists from Charlie Musselwhite and Albert Collins to Mavis Staples and Johnny Winter, among others.
On June 12 the label was feted at the 2011 installment of the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park. A stable of Alligator artists led by Lonnie Brooks paid tribute to the label's key role in nurturing blues locally and nationwide. Alligator will also be saluted in October at Poland's Rawa Blues Festival with performances by artists Marcia Ball, Lil' Ed And The Blues Imperials, Corey Harris, and C.J. Chenier, all of whom have recorded for the label.
"We're smaller than we were, but we manage to somehow run a profitable company almost every year," says Iglauer. "Our definition of profitable may not be the same as Sony's but we have realistic expectations and operate on realistic budgets, therefore we manage to turn a profit."
What started as a modest operation out of a one-room apartment has grown to a label with a catalog of more than 280 albums, more than 120 of which have been produced or co-produced by Iglauer. One important milestone took place when earned its first GRAMMY in 1983 for Clifton Chenier's I'm Here. The company's most recent GRAMMY came in 2009 for Best Zydeco Or Cajun Music Album for Buckwheat Zydeco's Lay Your Burden Down.
"My company is built on small triumphs, rather than giant steps or landmark events," says Iglauer.
Today, the label remains committed to discovering new talent, and keeping blues and roots music on the radar.
"I want to work with artists with the idea that the record they're making right now for Alligator is going to be the best record of their careers," says Iglauer. "It's going to be the record they want their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to listen to and say, 'That was grandpa.'"
There were two major inspirations for Alligator. One was Bob Koester, founder of Chicago's jazz/blues label Delmark Records.
"Bob was my guide into the world of blues," notes Iglauer. "He revealed an entire parallel universe to me that I never knew existed."
The other was Chris Strachwitz, the founder and president of Arhoolie Records, an El Cerrito, Calif.-based label offering everything from blues, Cajun and zydeco to jazz, Mexican and American Roots music.
"Chris is a smart enough businessman to make his label survive for 50 years, which is sure saying something," says Iglauer, who notes his first blues album purchase was Mississippi Fred McDowell's Mississippi Delta Blues, Vol. 2 on Arhoolie.
In 2010 Arhoolie celebrated its 50th anniversary and the label has extended the celebration into 2011, releasing Hear Me Howling!: Blues, Ballads & Beyond in January. The four-CD boxed set consists of a historical collection of music Strachwitz recorded in the '60s from artists such as Big Mama Thornton, Lightnin' Hopkins, Country Joe And The Fish, Debbie Green, and the Hackberry Ramblers, among others.
The label also celebrated by hosting three days of events and concerts in Berkeley, Calif., in February, featuring such artists as Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Michael Doucet And The Beausoleil, and Toni Brown, among others. The proceedings doubled as a benefit for the Arhoolie Foundation, which was founded by Strachwitz in 1995 to "document, preserve, present, and disseminate authentic traditional and regional vernacular music." The foundation was designated as a recipient of the GRAMMY Foundation Grant Program in 2010.
The German-born Strachwitz fell in love with the American blues, country and jazz he heard on Armed Forces Radio Network just after World War II. His family emigrated to Reno, Nev., where he heard a wealth of music from roots artists on border radio stations.
"I was captured by the rhythm primarily," explains Strachwitz. "They all had their totally individualistic style."
Strachwitz began amassing recordings and, while still in his teens, started a mail-order business to service European collectors. The service enabled him to buy more records and eventually start field recording.
Arhoolie's first release in 1960 was Mance Lipscomb's Texas Sharecropper And Songster, which Strachwitz recorded the previous year during a trip across the South with British blues scholar Paul Oliver. Strachwitz and his wife Alice stuffed the albums into the jackets themselves until they had 250 copies ready for sale.
The basis of the label's catalog became Strachwitz's numerous field recordings of blues, gospel and zydeco musicians mainly from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, including artists such as Chenier, Hopkins, McDowell, and Bukka White.
"I became a pretty good detective," says Strachwitz, who explains that his techniques for finding musicians ranged from consulting old phone books to striking up conversations with men shooting craps on the sidewalk.
The financial foundation of the label, with 10 employees, has become Tradition Music Co., its publishing unit. Country Joe McDonald's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag" provided the down payment on the building that houses Arhoolie and the Down Home Music Store, the label's specialty retail unit. Other important titles in the Tradition catalog include K.C. Douglas' "Mercury Blues," which has been covered by Steve Miller and Alan Jackson, and McDowell's songs "You Gotta Move" and "Kokomo Blues," which have been covered by the Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt, respectively.
And what happened to the thousands of recordings Strachwitz collected?
They are the primary asset of the Arhoolie Foundation. The foundation's current chief project is the cataloging and digitalization of the Chris Strachwitz Frontera Collection, Strachwitz's cache of approximately 17,000 Mexican-American and Mexican vernacular recordings, with the ultimate goal of making them available for listening through the UCLA library system.
As Arhoolie and Alligator are poised to forge ahead amid an evolving music industry landscape, what keeps them motivated and committed to their labels?
"It's because I can bring to the public music I truly love — music that moves me, music that fulfills deep emotional needs and music that is also often very fun to listen to," explains Iglauer.
Strachwitz says simply, "I love it."
(Dave Helland became interested in roots music through his acquaintance with Harry Oster at the University of Iowa.)
It's that time again, when we gather some of the best new releases from the last month and deliver them straight to your front door. While it's always near impossible to choose just a handful of new releases to spotlight, we want to give you a little bit of everything — from pop, rock, hip-hop, country, and more. So without further ado, take a look back at the Monthly Music Roundup for May.
The Afghan Whigs, In Spades
This '90s alt-rock mainstay is back In Spades with their second release since reuniting in 2012. "Bolstered again by the louche and ravaged voice of singer Greg Dulli," writes Pitchfork, "the latest from the indie rock icons is delightfully stuffed with romance and rancor."
Diana Krall, Turn Up the Quiet
The sultry-voiced GRAMMY winner takes it back to basics for Turn Up The Quiet as she revisits standards such as "L-O-V-E," "Blue Skies" and "Night And Day" with alternating backing bands. Produced by GRAMMY winner Tommy LiPuma prior to his passing this past March, AllMusic.com says of the album, "The end result is so elegant, it seems effortless."
Natalia Lafourcade, Musas
Like many of her acclaimed albums, GRAMMY winner Lafourcade's Musas "serves as a mini lesson in Latin American music." A combination of Latin American standards and songs written or co-written by Lafourcade, she told Remezcla the album represents "patience" and "humanity."
Mary Lambert, Bold
The "Same Love" GRAMMY nominee is back at it with her latest, the crowdfunded EP, Bold, which Bust describes as a mix of "emotionally deep and thought-provoking songs" and "fun feel-good jams." Bold is an open and honest ode to living a full life and includes a little dancing, a little poetry and even a duet with her mom.
Lil Yachty, Teenage Emotions
With guests such as Migos, YG, Kamaiyah, and GRAMMY winner Diplo, Lil Yachty is ramping up with Teenage Emotions. The 21-song album reflects an empowering, "be yourself" message. "Don't be afraid to do you, to be you," Lil Yachty said on Instagram Live. "If you have vitiligo or if you're gay or whatever it is, embrace yourself. Love yourself. Be happy, positive."
Rapper Logic has taken his game to the next level withn Everybody, on which he tackles everything from mental health to his biracial identity. The album has already charted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and XXLmag.com said it "further solidifies Logic['s] solid standing in hip-hop."
Paramore, After Laughter
Paramore's After Laughter is a "very of-the-moment" pop record that ditches the bubblegum but keeps the catchy hooks. Or, as Rolling Stone says, it's "a record that's so sunshine-bright it gives off a glare at times, rooted in fleet basslines and beats made for open-road drives and solo bedroom dance parties" that also has a bit of "cocked-eyebrow trepidation."
Perfume Genius, No Shape
Perfume Genius — aka Mike Hadreas — is back with his fourth studio album, No Shape. Produced by GRAMMY winner Blake Mills, the singer/songwriter continues his confessional brand of indie-pop in grand style. "These songs swoop and chatter like flocks of mad starlings, light up like religious paintings, … make the cosmos explode inside your ribs," Pitchfork writes. "No Shape rebukes tasteful minimalism and embraces beauty at its most transgressive."
Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 1
His first album since winning the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for 2015's Traveller, From A Room: Volume 1 also embraces '70s-sounding outlaw country, including a cover of Willie Nelson's "Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning." While the record only runs approximately 30 minutes, Variety said, "Country has been holding out for a hero so long, even a display of superpowers as modest as From A Room feels epic enough."
Rapper Wale's fifth studio album, Shine, covers a lot of musical ground across 14 tracks. There's dancehall with a Diplo co-produce, a Latin connection with a J Balvin feature and a revisit of the seminal, "Smile." While Complex calls the album "a new dad rap classic" in light of its devotion to Wale's daughter, it's not a bad thing — the "different flavors" the album evokes are cause for celebration.
Roger Waters, Is This The Life We Really Want?
The former bassist for Pink Floyd, Waters' latest album hearkens back to a 1970s sound. GRAMMY-winning producer Nigel Godrich was given unusually strong oversite of the album. The result is an album that reaches from politics to the personal in a Floydian-esque package of the best kind. Waters told Entertainment Weekly, "It's about the transcendental nature of love and, I suppose, how it can transform anger into compassion."
Zac Brown Band, Welcome Home
Appropriately titled, this LP takes Zac Brown Band back to their roots of a more traditional country sound, including "Roots" and "Family Table." AllMusic.com says, "The sound of Welcome Home is a warm, comfortable bath" that "is the very definition of music as comfort food." For those who appreciate this melodically inclined country band, it will definitely be a Welcome Home.
The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
A must-have for collectors, the 50th-anniversary super deluxe edition of the Beatles' classic 1967 album is packed with fabulous bonuses and extras. Aside from a new stereo mix of the album and track outtakes, the super deluxe set features 33 more recordings from the Sgt. Pepper sessions, unreleased mono mixes, surround-sound audio mixes, a documentary, and commemorative hardcover book.
With '90s nostalgia in full bloom, the 25th-anniversary deluxe edition of the Singles soundtrack is an alt-rock feast for the ears. The set features a remastered version of the original soundtrack, featuring Gen X classics by Alice In Chains, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, and Chris Cornell, plus a bonus disc of previously unreleased songs and rarities, including songs heard in the film but not on the original soundtrack. Also included is a full EP from the late Cornell, featuring an early version of Soundgarden's GRAMMY-winning song "Spoonman."
Miley Cyrus, "Malibu"
Cyrus' "Malibu" does not come in like a wrecking ball. Quite the opposite, actually. A sweet love song that goes back to basics in its instrumentation, "Malibu" could be the soundtrack for your summer fling.
A move toward a more house-sound for Flume, "Hyperreal" features Australian singer Kučka. Her ethereal vocals compliment asymmetric synths and a darker backdrop with crunchy atmospherics.
Haim, "Want You Back"
A mid-tempo tune with the Haim sisters' signature vocals, "Want You Back" continues their brand of pop, this time with a love song. NPR adds that the track features "production that feels like several songs layered up and seeking maximum heart."
LCD Soundsystem, "Call The Police"/"American Dream"
Released as a "double A-side" to their upcoming comeback album, LCD Soundsystem evoke two separate moods with these two tracks. "American Dream" languishes with self-deprecating talk about love while "Call The Police" has instrumentals that, per Pitchfork, sound like "downed live wires …raring to go."
An official cause of death has not been revealed. According to a statement on Allman's website, he "passed away peacefully at his home in Savannah, Georgia."
Allman served as a frontman for the Allman Brothers Band since the group's founding in 1969 in Macon, Ga., becoming the sole frontman after Duane Allman's death in 1971. Inspired by soul singers such as Ray Charles, Gregg Allman's distinctive voice was the driving force behind classics such as "Midnight Rider," "Melissa," "Statesboro Blues," "Whipping Post," and "It's Not My Cross To Bear," among others.
The Southern rock collective scored four Top 10 albums on the Billboard 200, with 1973's Brothers And Sisters being their lone chart-topper. They charted three Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits, including 1973's "Ramblin' Man" (No. 2) and 1979's "Crazy Love" (No. 29).
An accomplished musician who played organ and guitar, Allman released several solo albums throughout his career, beginning with 1973's Laid Back. His 2011 solo album, Low Country Blues, received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Blues Album.
Due to health issues, Allman toured less frequently in recent years. His last live public performance was Oct. 29, 2016, as part of the Laid Back Festival, which Allman organized. According to his website, a new solo album, Southern Blood, is slated for release in 2017.
Allman received nine total GRAMMY nominations, including seven with the Allman Brothers Band. His lone win came for 1995 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the band's live recording the classic track "Jessica." The Allman Brothers Band's Live At Fillmore East, regarded by critics as one of the greatest live albums in rock history, was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999.
In recognition of their legendary standing, the Allman Brothers Band were honored with a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
"This goes to a lot more people than you see here," said Allman during his acceptance speech. "There are many, many unsung heroes that work their backs every night: the road crew, all of our people, all of our workers, all of our drivers. ... But most of all, it's the fans. The fans are the whole reason to even have a band."