Blues Alley is a monthly web series featuring the places, the faces and the stories behind Blues Music – which is considered, by many, to be America’s first truly home grown art form.
I’m Alan Reitano, creator of Blues Alley and I’d like to share a little of why I’m so passionate about blues music and why Blues Alley is important to us all.
First – The inspiration behind Blues Alley began, a couple of years ago, when I went with some friends on a blues tour of North Mississippi. I had grown up in the delta – hearing and playing blues all my life. But, I had never been to the places where it all began. I remember standing at Tutwiler Station in Mississippi – the very spot where W.C. Handy first encountered the blues, or in Greenwood, MS at the house where Robert Johnson died, and thinking wow… this is the cradle of American Music. Everybody should have the opportunity to know about this.
These places are the American version of Leipzig and Vienna. And Handy, and Ma Rainey and Robert Johnson are our versions of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. And, their stories can tell us a lot about who we were, and are, as Americans.
Second – Blues Alley is NOT A DOCUMENTARY SERIES. We want to tell the stories that gave birth to this music. We’ll include the official account – where there is one. We’re not trying to mislead anybody. But, we’ll also include the apocryphal – even some outright lies. Because the tales we tell often shed more light on truth and context than the official account.
Third – The name Blues Alley pays homage to a – long gone music club – on Front Street in Memphis, TN, where, as a teenager, I first heard live blues performed by the original artists. Blues Alley was a long skinny room, up a narrow staircase, in an old cotton market warehouse. The only things on the menu were ribs, shrimp and booze, which is nice in and of its self. But at Blues Alley, I also got to hear artists like Furry Lewis and Little Laura Dukes and dozens of others.
Fourth – As an undergrad at Memphis State University (way back in the eighties) – I discovered that the School of Music had a record label called Highwater Records – specializing in blues artists. I loved making records so I volunteered. Working with Dr. David Evans, the well-known blues historian and producer, I got to record something like a dozen blues albums (I lost count years ago). Along with a handful of my fellow students, I got to meet some of the artists – Like Jesse Mae Hemphill, Hammie Nixon, the Fieldstones, or the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. We’d make records and eat Payne’s Bar B Que, drink a little whiskey and make more blues records. I didn’t realize until later (I was only 22 or so when I started at Highwater) – that the real value in all of this – was getting to know some of these legends – getting to hear their stories first hand – and being allowed to contribute in a tiny way.
Finally – As I said earlier, blues music is the earliest authentically American art form. By “authentically American,” I mean that it wasn’t brought over from Europe, like folk songs, or Africa, like call and response – it grew out of the confluence of our immigrant culture – it could have only happened in the melting pot. And, as such it’s a huge part of our legacy as a people.
When we look at ancient civilizations we celebrate what they created – we look to their (art)ifacts to shed light on who these mysterious people were. We still have artifacts from ancient Egypt, and Mesopotamia. We still have Greek statues and still study the plays of Aristophanes. Millions of people have seen the Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo’s David. I like to say, “Very few of us can quote the price of rent in 1597 London, but almost everyone who speaks English (and many who don’t) can quote at least one line from Romeo and Juliet, (published the same year).” Admit it – You just thought “Romeo, Romeo – Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
It’s the arts and humanities that will become our legacy in a thousand years. And, the first step of our legacy, as a nation, is blues music.
In 2015 we’re now more than a century removed from the birth of this music. The founders are all gone and many young people today have forgotten the music entirely – or worse – never knew it to begin with.
HELP US BRING THESE STORIES TO LIFE!
So I’m asking you to help us re-tell these stories in new ways, with new technologies, for new generations, by helping fund Blues Alley.
This $7500 will allow us to produce the first four episodes, helping us find further funding to keep the stories alive.
Blues Alley is an American story – It’s our story – and it’s time for a retelling.
Thanks for your support,
L. Alan Reitano
P.S. Remember to checkout our rewards.
A Little About Me
I began my career as a musician at the age of 13, playing pit orchestra gigs for church plays, radio broadcasts and theater productions. I played on my first record that same year – And was hooked on the record business.
After completing a vocational degree in recording engineering at age 18, I attended Memphis State University on a band scholarship – studying Commercial Music.
Through my twenties I worked as an audio engineer, video editor and recording engineer in the Memphis area. Most notably with ArdentRecording Studios – and as a production director for RKO Radio.
During this time I started volunteering as a recording engineer for Highwater Records – Memphis State University’s blues label run by Dr. David Evans, where I was fortunate to contribute to a dozen or so blues albums – including Jesse Mae Hemphill’s “Feelin’ Good” which won theHandy Award for Best Acoustic Blues Album in 1992. I also did several projects with legendary Rock and Soul producer and friend Don Nix.
In 1989 I re-located to Nashville, TN and continued to work as a freelance audio engineer and videographer working with many of the biggest names in country and pop music.
After finishing my Bachelor of Music from University of Memphis I started Cypress Creek Creative in 1999 and began producing corporate events and video for clients like Hilton Hotels, Ford, Arby’s, Fed Ex, Ingram Entertainment, Disney, Warner, Paramount and more…
In 2002 was invited to be part of Bud Schaetzle and David Branson’s team that created Martina McBride’s multi-media extravaganza, “The Joy of Christmas.”
In 2013 I founded American Entertainment Works, a not for profit 501 c 3 based in the Nashville area – whose mission is the creation ofauthentic entertainment arts that enrich, enlighten, educate and inspire.