Alligator Records celebrates its 50th anniversary with blues gold from the vaults

It’s been a half-century since Bruce Iglauer scraped together $2500 and changed the course of blues music in America.

Bruce Iglauer with his (and Alligator’s) first recording artist, Hound Dog Taylor. (Nicole Fanelli photo)

But it seems like only yesterday that a young, hippily hirsute Iglauer joined Chicago’s Delmark Records, then left to produce “Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers,” the 1971 debut album of Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor.

That album became Iglauer’s Alligator Records, and what has since become arguably the world’s premier blues label. And also introduced the label’s motto: “Genuine Houserockin’ Music.”

At least that’s how it feels to me. I imagine Bruce has passed those 50 blues-filled years somewhat differently than I have. Shoot, I’m still listening to the 30th anniversary set.

To celebrate this milestone, Alligator is releasing a 3-CD set (58 songs) or 2-LP set (24 songs) June 18, titled “50 years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music.” That’s a lot of music, especially on the CD side, plus a 40-page booklet!

It takes a lot of music to even begin to outline the blues (and blues history) that Alligator has given us. The label’s catalog of more than 300 albums is an audio time capsule of Chicago blues — and other styles like Piedmont blues and jump blues — that should help preserve the music for future fans.

The CD set kicks off with Taylor’s original and joyously raw “Give Me Back My Wig” from that prescient first album that became Taylor’s signature song.

It wraps up, 58 songs later, with “The Chicago Way,” by a “young” Toronzo Cannon, who at 53, should certainly be part of Alligator’s next 50 years.

In between is blues and rootsy music from past and present greats, including Hound Dog Taylor, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, J.J. Grey & Mofro, Koko Taylor, Johnny Winter, Tommy Castro, Marcia Ball, Albert Collins, Luther Allison, James Cotton, Toronzo Cannon and a cast of not quite thousands more. Plus, all of it remastered for our modern, more digitally sensitive ears.

Bruce Iglauer with Albert Collins. (Alligator Records photo)

There’s not really any “new” music here to write about. It should be more than enough of a recommendation to say that this music simply samples some of the best of 50 years of Alligator. That’s sort of like taking the cream off the top and finding even more cream underneath.

But it’s great to look back and listen to great tracks from Fenton Robinson (“Somebody Lend Me A Dime”), Son Seals (“Telephone Angel”), Luther Allison (“Soul Fixin; Man”) and the Holmes Brothers (“Run Myself Out Of Town”). They should send you deep into your Alligator blues library for more.

I know there’s a picture of an alligator in the label’s logo. And now I know why. I’d never heard the story before, but Iglauer talked about it an interview with the Chicago Sun Times:

“Alligator was my nickname,” Iglauer said, “and it comes from this funny habit I have of listening to music and unconsciously, not knowing I’m doing it, playing drum parts by clicking my teeth together. I’ve got this weird last name — Iglauer — which nobody can spell or pronounce. And then beyond that, alligators come from the South; blues, the music I love, is all Southern-rooted.”

Thanks to that music that he loves, Iglauer’s passion is our gain.

Congratulations, and don’t stop now. You’re just getting warmed up.

More about Alligator:

There’s a long interview with Iglauer in Blues Music Magazine, a short TV video interview, and what I hope is the complete list or albums released by Alligator.

Even more houserockin’ music:

Alligator will add to its 50th throwdown with a vinyl reissue of “Natural Boogie,” the raucous second LP from Taylor and The HouseRockers. Released in 1974 as the fourth title in Alligator’s catalog, this is the first vinyl pressing of “Natural Boogie” in more than 30 years. Iglauer produced the original, as he has done with many of the label’s albums, and supervised its remastering.

One final look:

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