Mark played keyboards in The Butterfield Blues Band on the first five albums. Mark hosts a blues radio hour on WPKN-FM. He also plays twice a month with various musicians at the 323 Restaurant Bar in Westport, CT.
Alligator Records may well be the premier blues record label on the planet. A quick review of the label’s releases over the past forty-seven plus years turns up one legendary artist after another, and some of the leading lights of the current blues scene. At the center of the label stands Bruce Iglauer, founder and owner, who now gives blues fans a deep, compelling look into how he built the label from a very humble start.
In the book’s forward, Iglauer is clear about his motivation for the Alligator label. “Most of Alligator’s records move your feet or your body, but we also try to make records that move that other part: your soul. It’s music that can cleanse your inner pain by pulling that pain right out of you….the mission of Alligator, was to carry Chicago’s South and West Side blues to a worldwide audience of young adults like me. Now it has become a mission to find and record musicians who will bring the essence of blues – its catharsis, its sense of tradition, its raw emotional power, and its healing feeling – to a new audience”.
As a college study in Wisconsin, Iglauer visited Chicago, primarily to visit the Jazz Record Mart and to find a blues band to book for his school’s homecoming dance. Once there, he fell under the spell of Bob Koester, legendary owner of the store and the Delmark Record label. Koester assigned one of his employees to take Iglauer around to some of the clubs on the south and west sides of Chicago. At a small joint owned by the late Eddie Shaw, Iglauer saw guitarists Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, and Hound Dog Taylor, who made an indelible impression.
Finishing school, Iglauer made a permanent move to Chicago, where he started working full-time hours as the Delmark shipping clerk for part-time pay. He spent his nights in the blues clubs throughout the city. Iglauer would frequently catch Taylor and his band, watching them fill the dance floor night after night. It was a raw sound form a self-taught musician, as the author notes,”He couldn’t read music and probably could not have told you the name of the notes the strings of his guitar were tuned to, and, as he tuned by ear, they might be different on different nights”. Once he established that Koester had no interest in recording Taylor, Iglauer put his plan together to record the band with Brewer Phillips on guitar and Ted Harvey on drums. Those sessions became Hound Dog Taylor And The House Rockers, the 1971 release that announced the start of a new blues record label.
Along with co-author Patrick A. Roberts, Iglauer weaves a fascinating narrative that delves into three separate aspects of the Alligator story. An obvious focus is the owner’s recollections of all of the artists that found a home on the label, many becoming close personal friends. From legends like Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, James Cotton, Luther Allison, and William Clarke, to guitar heroes like Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan, and Lonnie Mack, as well as bringing Louisiana artists like Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Katie Webster, and zydeco king Clifton Chenier to a wider audience, Iglauer’s stories provide meaningful depth to our understanding and appreciation for these artists. There are also moments of sadness, with the passing of friends or tragic accidents, like the 1978 train derailment in Norway that nearly killed Iglauer and the entire Son Seals Band, in the mist of a European tour.
A second aspect of the book chronicles Iglauer’s growth as a human being, and as a label owner. He offers fair assessments of his shortcomings as well as some of his best ideas. The label hit the jackpot with the double disc Twentieth Anniversary Collection, which sold ten times the number of a regular solo artist release, and the Grammy winning Showdown, which combined the talents of Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland. Early on, he learns several valuable lessons regarding the role of producer on recording projects, including the need to say no when required. At one point, Iglauer became a reggae fan, and released a number of fine recordings in that genre that failed to connect in the marketplace. Realizing his dream to work with another legend, Johnny Otis, Iglauer quickly learns what happens when you craft an album with too much blues for the R&B crowd, and not enough blues for that audience. He even readily admits to turning down a one-shot offer to record Stevie Ray Vaughan early in his career.
Perhaps a crucial part of the narrative concerns the description of the actual business of running a label. Over time, Alligator grew to be more than just a record company, offering artist management, bookkeeping, and tour booking services for the musicians on the label. Iglauer sheds a light on some areas of the business that the average fan may not understand. He enlightens readers on the practice of licensing recordings from other labels for release in a new market. His explanation of the record distribution system is telling, both in the way it progressed from the owner delivering boxes of albums from the trunk of his car, to major distribution companies that allow music to reach a wider market, but can be disastrous for a label like Alligator if the distributor fails, leaving tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices. There is also reflections on the challenges of selling albums versus compact discs, and the on-going struggle to figure out on to make money for the artists and the label as streaming services continue to have a severe negative impact on music sales.
It is a story well-told, one that will resonate with every blues fan. In fact, anyone who loves American roots music should pour through this book. Readers will undoubtedly gain new insights into some of their favorite musicians and classic recordings, in addition to getting a firm grasp on the magnitude of achievements that Iglauer has accomplished through the Alligator label. This one is most highly recommended!
Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife 😉
The Rolling Stones have long been supporters of the Blues from before the start of their career right through to their latest album, Blue & Lonesome which featured their interpretations of the classics, many of which appear in their original versions here on Confessin’ The Blues.
Mick Jagger was an early fan of the Blues: “The first Muddy Waters album that was really popular was Muddy Waters at Newport, which was the first album I ever bought”.
Confessin’ The Blues collects together the greatest bluesmen ever and provides a perfect education to the genre. The tracklisting on the various formats have been chosen by The Rolling Stones, in collaboration with BMG and Universal and will be released on BMG on November 9.
“If you don’t know the blues… there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.” – Keith Richards
The band has decided that 10% of BMG’s net receipts* from the sale of this album will be donated to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation (A registered US 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization).
Ronnie Wood says: “That’s how Mick and Keith first got close as well, on the train coming back from college. They noticed each other’s record collection and it was, “Hey, you’ve got Muddy Waters. You must be a good guy, let’s form a band”.
Confessin’ the Blues is available to pre-order in several formats, including a two-CD set, a double LP vinyl set, and a special vinyl book pack meant to mimic the original packaging of 78 rpm records. All versions will come with liner notes from music journalist Colin Larkin, while the book pack will feature removable card prints featuring drawings by blues illustrator Christoph Mueller.
Billy F. Gibbons that bad hombre of Z.Z. Top fame is enamored with the blues. He is releasing a solo album, The Big Bad Blues on September 21, 2018.
Gibbons said in a statement about the new recording, “The shift back to the blues is a natural. It’s something which our followers can enjoy with the satisfaction of experiencing the roots tradition and, at the same time, feeling the richness of stretching the art form.”
Elvin Bishop’s music has been making people smile for over 50 years. A founding member of the groundbreaking Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he has performed and recorded with music legends such as B.B.King, John Lee Hooker, and the Allman Brothers. From deep down gutbucket Blues played in smoky South Side Chicago taverns, to raucous roadhouse R&B, he’s instilled all of his music with passion, creativity and a healthy helping of wisdom, wit and good humor!
Elvin and his Big Fun Trio-mates (Willy Jordan on cajon and vocals, Bob Welsh on guitar and piano) serve up a fresh new helping of their good ‘n’ greasy blues and R&B, highlighted by the title track, a comic State of the Union address as only the blues and Southern Rock legend can deliver. The album includes four additional new originals, Big Fun Trio takes on Elvin’s Right Now Is The Hour, Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher, Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand The Rain and more. “Deceptively loose but always tight…the raspy chuckle in Bishop’s singing and the sharp sting of his guitar are forceful and fresh, enduring and fun.” –Fresh Air, NPR
His songs have interested me for years thanks to Jorma Kaukonen faithful renditions. But I didn’t know anything about the person behind those songs.
I learned that Rev. Gary Davis rose from abject poverty in North Carolina and that he was nearly blind from birth. He taught himself how to play the guitar and to improvise songs. He got married and eventually moved to New York. He was a hardy soul who survived on the streets of Harlem as a musician. He taught guitar in order to make a living. He provided lessons right up until his death at age 76 in 1972. Amongst his star pupils were Dave Van Ronk, David Bromberg, Bob Weir, Roy Book Binder, and Stefan Grossman. Woody Mann who was his student for four years serves as co-producer and responsible for the music for Harlem Street Singer.
Blind Gary Davis was a purveyor of the Piedmont Blues which refers to a guitar style known as the Piedmont fingerstyle. It is characterized by a fingerpicking approach in which a regular, alternating thumb bass string rhythmic pattern supports a syncopated melody using the treble strings generally picked with the fore-finger, occasionally others.
His versatility as a musician allowed him to create the intersection of blues, folk, and gospel. His mastery of each idiom truly stood him apart.
The folk revival of the 1960s jettisoned Davis’s career. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his version of “Samson and Delilah“, also known as “If I Had My Way”.
Reverend Gary Davis who never had any children of his own, proudly claimed these guitar students as his sons. Thankfully for you and I they honor his tutelage by paying it forward.