A Big Bite of the Blues | Sojourners

A Big Bite of the Blues

The music and reputation of Alligator Records

The myths about blues music—that it's outdated and all sounds the same—are dispelled by The Alligator Records 25th Anniversary Collection. Alligator is recording the variety and vitality of the blues, present and future. The myths are history.

This double-CD collection lets you hear 38 different artists, and the liner notes indicate countless more playing backup (Stevie Ray Vaughan with Lonnie Mack, for instance). Three cuts are previously unreleased, which is a treat in itself, and the rest are available on complete collections from each artist. It's like having your own listening booth to check out Koko Taylor's soul, Son Seals' baritone, Cephas and Wiggins' Piedmont picking, or Michael Hill's lyrics.

The spectacular music on this collection isn't the only reason to buy it: The reputation and history of Alligator Records are worth supporting as well. In 1971, Bruce Iglauer, a white guy from Cincinnati who fell in love with the blues as a university student in Wisconsin, recorded and then pressed 1,000 copies of Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers with a $2,500 inheritance check. (Iglauer's first contact with the blues was hearing Mississippi Fred McDowell in 1966.) As the first album sold, Iglauer was able to record the next one (Big Walter Horton); as it sold, the next one came out (Son Seals), and so on.

Until 1978, Iglauer only recorded Chicago blues musicians. Albert Collins was the first from beyond the Chicago scene, and zydeco musician Clifton Chenier's 1982 I'm Here! won Alligator its first Grammy award (though not its first nomination). Johnny Winter's decision in 1984 to return to his blues roots brought Alligator's first listing in Billboard's "Top 200" with Guitar Slinger.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1996
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