First blog – a bit of history
If you’re reading this, you signed up for the Hitman Blues Band mailing list, and decided to learn a bit more about the band.
This is Hitman (Russell “Hitman” Alexander), leader of the Hitman Blues Band. This blog was started in the hopes that, by sharing information about what we’re doing, it might help others who wish to record, tour, play in public, write songs, or are just interested in how that all works.
How did the first record come about?
So to get right into it, a brief summary. The Hitman Blues Band has been around, with various players, since 1989. But it wasn’t until 2000 that I recorded the first album, “Blooztown”. I was fortunate enough to get Bobby Forrester (now deceased) on keyboards, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums, Johnny Gale as producer/bassist, and got my father, Ray Alexander (also deceased) to add vibes to a couple of the tracks.
So how did I get these guys? Bernard is one of the most recorded drummers in the world, playing with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Steely Dan. Bobby was Ruth Brown’s musical director, as well as Lena Horne. Johnny Gale is an amazing guitarist, bassist, producer, etc.
I called them.
So let’s start with that. If they people you want on your album aren’t currently super famous (Bono, for example), they’re probably like everyone else – looking for a quick few hundred bucks to go record something. I paid union scale at that time, which came out to about $600 each for Bobby and Bernard. Since Johnny was also producing, we had a different kind of deal worked out. I paid him by the session, and he did me a big favor by keeping the price reasonable.
So why didn’t I just use some local guys?
Well, I could have. But it was my first album under my own name. I wanted to put together the best guys I could think of. And that was this particular crew. This way, there was no doubt about the quality of the players. If it didn’t turn out right, I knew who WASN’T to blame. If I had to do it over again, I would choose exactly the same guys. Everything was done in one take, with the exception of “1,000 Feet Ahead”, which had the wrong feel. So it got nailed on the second.
I should note that when I say “everything was done in one take”, I’m not including MY part. Nope, Johnny was a very strict producer. I laid down the basic rhythm guitar parts, which I later recorded over, and scratch vocals. Since I only had these guys for one afternoon, it was vital that all the tracks get done in that one day. I didn’t have time to mess around with my guitar sound, or vocal sound, or performance issues on my part.
I’ll talk about that first album in another blog, so you can see how Johnny’s insistence on honesty influenced the way I record.
Skip forward, we released four more albums, with different personnel. And we toured the UK five times and Europe once.
What? Waddaya mean “we toured the UK”? How did that happen?
Well, we’re on own label, so no money there. No contacts, no help, re-inventing the wheel every step of the way despite reading tons of books, blogs, subscribing to tip sheets, etc. So how did we get to tour?
Thank my wife, Joanne.
in 2003, she wrote to every booking agent she could find in the UK and Europe. Why not here in the US? Well, she did that too. And you know what?
Nobody responded. Not even to say “No”.
She kept writing. Finally, we got ONE response. It was from Cat Anderson, who had been Steve Marriot’s road manager (plus a lot of other bands.) Cat had a stroke, and had gotten out of the music business for about ten years. He was just getting back into it, and was looking for bands to book. As it happened, he heard the title track of “Angel In The Shadows”, our second album. Angel isn’t a standard blues tunes, but that was what he liked about it!
You never know.
He booked me for six weeks, all over England, in the late spring of 2004. Since I couldn’t afford to bring my band, he found a band from Northern England called “Groove Juice” to back me up. The deal was they would come on first and play their stuff, then take a break, then I would come out with them and play my stuff. This benefited them because they got to play in places they otherwise couldn’t have, and showcase their own band. So how come I was able to get into those places? After all, nobody knew me!
Cat pushed the fact that I was an American blues act, and “may” have fudged the fact that the backup band was English. Plus, the pay wasn’t great. But we got to play some great gigs, including the Great British R&B Festival in Colne (which is still running, but not as blues oriented as it was then.) Groove Juice was very accommodating, working pretty damn cheap. In the end, I just about broke even.
We did another tour in 2005. This time I used Groove Juice for gigs up north, and a great band called Storm Warning for gigs in the south.
The next tour was 2006, with Storm Warning backing me up for the whole tour.
Then he booked us for a European tour in 2008, and got me a backup band from Amsterdam, which was the “home base” for the tour.
This was such a disaster that I didn’t go overseas again for three years, wiping out all the progress I had made.
More on that in another blog.
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