Blind Pig Records jumped right out of the 1970's Midwestern American blues inferno. The label was born in one of Ann Arbor, Michigan's many rocking blues bars, at that time the most feral of them all--The Blind Pig Cafe.
The Blind Pig Cafe was started in 1972 by Jerry Del Giudice and Tommy Isaia. The bar was an anchor to the area's sizzling blues scene, bolstered by the legendary Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. If you were a bluesofile, the Pig was the place to be (It didn't hurt matters that at that time it was widely rumored that by simply entering the bar a man could increase his sexual potency tenfold. The Pig was a babe magnet...).
The Blind Pig Records story begins with Jerry Del Giudice leaving Chicago on a cold and rainy night. With a hell hound on his trail and visions of a hip little blues bar dancing in his head, he pulled into Ann Arbor. Del Giudice's vision became in very short time a white hot seething blues cauldron.
The Blind Pig Cafe was a European style coffee house upstairs (the real action took place in the Slippery Lizard Massage Parlor just behind the building that housed the bar, but that's another story...) with a small basement below. In this sub level smoke filled den of bluesology there was a performance stage the size of a large guitar pick. This is not much of an exaggeration, friends, the stage was so small many performers and sidemen had to stand in the aisle next to it, swinging their instruments to the side to let the drink filled tray wielding waitresses pass by.
The Pig's tiny basement featured the hottest acts from all over the world. This fertile blues playground in its heyday booked a veritable Who's Who of serious performers. The club's stable of blues scientists and 13th degree black belt rhythm practitioners included cats and kittens the likes of Johnny Shines, Sippie Wallace, Houston Stackhouse, Koko Taylor, Roosevelt Sykes, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Junior Lockwood, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, Hound Dog Taylor, J.B. Hutto and the Hawks, and Walter Horton. Blistering blues acts ruled the joint and this type venue was standard procedure for The Blind Pig Cafe. The house dispensed blues medication twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and The Pig's after hours parties are fond memories to this day in the Ann Arbor circle of blues mechanics. After the bar closed at 2:00 AM the real party started. But I am not sure if the Statute of Limitations is up and we had better not talk about that here...
It's only natural that after witnessing first hand the nightly blues seizures induced by this extra curricular activity that Del Giudice would want to preserve and share this memorable music.
His first attempt at capturing a real Blues Master plying his trade under actual laboratory conditions took place in 1974 with a live recording of Boogie Woogie Red. Red was John Lee Hooker's ex-piano man and was pretty much a Blind Pig Cafe staff member. He was omnipresent at the club, keeping the dust off of the piano with wig-singeing jams night and day.
The first session to hit vinyl on the prepubescent Blind Pig Record label was appropriately called "Boogie Woogie Red Live at The Blind Pig' and the LP sold several thousand copies. Given the extremely limited distribution of this slab, Del Giudice knew he was into something good.
However, we must at this point make a brief tangential leap (It's okay for me to use big words like 'tangential', I work in Public Radio).
The demands of running a bar (not to mention Jerry's Chinese cooking classes, working as a part- time aerobics instructor, his supporting roles in summer stock dinner theater, his small but successful psychic hotline business) left Del Giudice little time to focus on record label duties. Hence, his recording project was put on hold for a few years. I look at this period as analogous to the simmering of a fine blues stew. Jerry had to let the sanctified chicken bone ingredients of blues cooking come to a boil in his head. And they did.
In 1977 Del Giudice and former college drinking buddy Edward Chmelewski formed a partnership that in retrospect was a pivotal act of genius. Some say that this partnership was eclipsed in importance only by the pairing of the great tag-team Gestalt therapists Hans Bunsup and Gunther Kneeling, of the famous Bunsup and Kneeling Institute.
Edward Chmelewski did two very important things: he initially contributed needed capital, tossing needed dollars onto the blues fire by unloading a cache of ladies leather bags and bondage equipment he'd won in a card game in upstate New York (he bluffed with a pair of twos, ten high) for a sizeable profit. He, possibly more importantly, also explained to Jerry that if he wanted to make records he had to get to the left coast, because as everybody knows, even small children, if you want to start a record company you have to do it in California--it's the law.
Taking the needed cash, and heading West, the two set out in one of the most repair prone dangerously unsafe at any speed sleds at that time, a 1967 MGB--the first company car, it could be argued.
On the way to the coast, Edward and Jerry functioned briefly as rodeo clowns in Laramie, Wyoming, picking up needed gas and beef jerky money. It was there in Wyoming that Edward received his now famous lower belly scar (ask him to show it to you the next time you run into him at a party, after a few drinks you can't get him to stop talking about it). Edward was injured in a knife fight while protecting a rodeo groupie from a drunken cowboy after a predawn 'roping' party.
When the two hopeful record executives in training finally made it to the coast, they applied blues jumper cables to Jerry's original record label idea. Tirelessly and mercilessly, Jerry and Edward stayed up late, toiling into the early hours of morning--even on school nights--breaking big-time sweats, crossing the T's and dotting all the I's. Jerry and Edward shaped Blind Pig Records into the industry giant and household word it is today (In all honesty, it must be said that every now and then they took a break to drink beer and watch 'The Dating Game' on television).
Jerry Del Giudice and Edward Chmelewski's hard work paid off. Blind Pig Records is on the map, quality blues purveyors with a vengeance since 1977. Employing the blues jaws of life, The Blind Pig Record label has cut many a gifted talent free. Since those early recordings Blind Pig has established itself as a fully functional and seasoned label offering the stellar performances of tried and true greats like Otis Rush, Pinetop Perkins, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, James Cotton, and Hubert Sumlin. The label also gives voice to equally great contemporary blues artists like Jimmy Thackery, Tommy Castro, Coco Montoya, Debbie Davies, and Deborah Coleman, just to name a few.
Blind Pig Records has received Grammy Award nominations in the Soul Gospel (The Gospel Hummingbirds), Traditional Blues (James Cotton) and Country Instrumental (Roy Rogers and Norton Buffalo) categories. Chubby Carrier's first recording for Blind Pig was selected as "Zydeco Record of the Year" by Living Blues Magazine and Coco Montoya was given the "Best New Blues Artist" award at the 1996 Handy Awards. This is all testimony to the fact that Blind Pig Records brings to the market an awesome variety of heartfelt soul thumping music.
The label's unique approach to recording science has paid off. Blind Pig Records has established itself as one of the premium blues resources worldwide. A label that started out with the distribution power of Pee Wee Herman in a movie theater is now global.
Here's to you, Blind Pig Records. I raise my glass. Happy twentieth anniversary, you loveable little knuckleheads! May we never find you walking the back streets crying.
Keep up the good work, you guys deserve a raise,
The Bone Conduction Music Show
March 31, 1997
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