Bitten By The Blues

Bitten By The Blues: The Alligator Records Story – Bruce Iglauer & Patrick A. Roberts

University of Chicago Press

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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 😉

This review is courtesy of Blues Blast Magazine and is featured in the November 2018 issue.

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Into The Light – The Music Photography of Jerome Brunet

I have a fantastic music photographer to share, Jerome Brunet.

He has a new coffee table book available now,  Into the Light – The Music Photography of Jerome Brunet 

The book is a twenty year portfolio that captures live performances of prominent musicians. His lens offers a unique view of the artist from the vantage point of the stage and orchestra pit.

This publication is a welcome addition to any music photography collection.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Pinetop Perkins Foundation.

I can’t wait to get my signed copy in two to three weeks.

Led Zeppelin – The Day I Was There

I received an e-mail from Richard M. Houghton, the author of the book I posted about recently, Jimi Hendrix – The Day I Was There. He was letting me know that he had signed copies of that book available. He also informed me that he was starting his Led Zeppelin The Day I Was There book. He was accepting stories from fans. So I decided I would document my Led Zeppelin concert experience for inclusion in his next book.

I have been meaning to create a concert and memorabilia database, blog site so what better opportunity to kick it off with this blog post 😉

Led Zeppelin

June 11, 1977

Madison Square Garden

New York City, NY

The Day I Was There

Led Zeppelin first occurred to me as music phenomenon when I was a senior in high school in 1968. I hung around with a group of friends and we were passionate about rock music. We would meet in the cafeteria before school and at lunch to discuss who we were listening to on WNEW-FM radio. We devoured Rolling Stone magazine cover to cover.

A member of our discussion group had friends in England. They had told him about Led Zeppelin. He raved about this new supergroup which was creating a stir across the pond in the fall of 1968. Led Zeppelin did not release their earth-shattering album Led Zeppelin until January 1969. It was everything I had heard about and more. I took that album with me everywhere. I played it relentlessly on my hi-fi system and in art class at school. Lots of people borrowed it from me.

I wanted to see Led Zeppelin live in concert after bonding with their first album. Progressive FM airplay stirred that need even more. On July 3rd, 1969 on the way home from The Fillmore East in the East Village, New York City after a Jethro Tull/Jeff Beck concert I bumped into two friends from high school. We rode the subway from Astor Place to Grand Central Terminal to catch the train back to Connecticut.

They were psyched about having seen Led Zeppelin at The Filmore East a couple of months earlier. I listened intently as they talked about sitting in the balcony with binoculars studying Jimmy Page’s guitar mastery. They watched his hands the entire show as they both played guitar in a band. They were knocked out by his musicianship and urged me to see Led Zeppelin if I ever got the chance. I made a personal commitment to make that happen.

Eight years later that became reality. I purchased tickets at a Ticketron ticketing terminal to see Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Led Zeppelin had booked a six-night engagement at this famous venue, June 7, 8, 10, 11, 13 & 14 ,1977. I scored tickets for Saturday evening June 11th.

I recall that my sister-in-law drove us from Norwalk Connecticut in her Volvo. Travelling by car to the Garden added to the excitement of the evening. There is a thrill in witnessing the streets and atmosphere of New York City at night. The lights, the people, and the stores. We parked at The Garden and joined our fellow Zep freaks as we headed into the venue.

I was handed this pin by a Garden employee. I refer to it often in my pin collection. WPLJ-FM 95.5 was one of two major FM rock stations in New York City in the mid 70s.

Our seats were fantastic for $10.50 each. We sat on the left side of the band as they faced out into the audience. We had a great view of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Bonham. John Paul Jones was tucked behind Bonham so we couldn’t see him as well.

Led Zeppelin proved to be everything I knew and felt about them in concert. My visual recollection of their performance centers around a couple of songs in their 21-song set list.

Set List:

The Song Remains the Same, (The Rover intro) Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault but Mine, In My Time of Dying, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Ten Years Gone, Battle of Evermore, Going to California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, White Summer ~ Black Mountainside, Kashmir, (Out On the Tiles intro) Moby Dick, Jimmy Page solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway to Heaven, Heartbreaker.

I remember being tired that night and starting to drift off to sleep in my seat (I know who falls asleep at a Led Zeppelin concert?). They had played several acoustic numbers seated at the front of the stage. I snapped awake after Black Mountainside as I witnessed Jimmy Page kicking a three-legged stool as it slid fast behind him under Bonham’s drum kit. He grabbed his double neck guitar launching us into “Kashmir”. It was a powerful moment that swept me along for the ride. Ever since then “Kashmir” has been my favorite Led Zeppelin tune.

“Kashmir” was followed by the greatest drum solo I ever saw. John Bonham played “Moby Dick” with drum sticks, his hands, and the Gong. I have seen a lot of great drummers in my 49 years of live concerts. But no one has impressed me or reached me with their drumming skills like John Bonham. I realized after he passed away why Led Zeppelin did not want to reform without him as Bonzo was integral to their sonic experience.

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The evening ended with the encore of “Stairway to Heaven” which is the classic Led Zeppelin hit.  Hearing Robert Plant’s voice echo across the sea of people in Madison Square Garden as the huge disco ball cast its light on us was breathtaking to witness. His hair was golden as was the memory.

I’m always reminded of this concert when I see this rock t-shirt being worn. It’s a shirt I must add to my rock t-shirt wardrobe.

Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin

John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant convened 50 years ago last week in Olympic Studios in London to commence recording their debut album as Led Zeppelin. They have a new book coming out next week that documents the history of the legendary band.

The book Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin is a definitive 400-page volume which includes previously unpublished photos, artwork from the Led Zeppelin archives and contributions from photographers around the world.

If ordered before October 9th, an exclusive 19.7 x 27.8in poster (pictured below) will come with your pre-order from reelartpress.com or from selected independent retailers. To see the list of participating stores, click here.

LZ Final poster approved B2b_0 The Reel Art Press video should increase your excitement for this unique music book.

Sir George Martin – The Fifth Beatle

I’ve conducted research on The Beatles for a Teach Rock lecture I am building. I keep uncovering books from authoritative authors. It’s amazing what I have unearthed thus far and what remains to be discovered.

A key vantage point about the lads is a two-volume series about the influential Fifth Beatle, Sir George Martin by Kenneth Womack.

Kenneth Womack is a world-renowned authority on the Beatles and their enduring cultural influence. His latest book project involves a two-volume, full-length biography devoted to famed Beatles producer Sir George Martin. The first book in the series is entitled Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years, 1926-1966). The second volume, Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years, 1966-2016), is to be released tomorrow September 4th.

The first book of a two-part series, Maximum Volume traces Martin’s early years as a scratch pianist, his life in the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War, and his groundbreaking work as the head of Parlophone Records during the 1950s, when Martin saved the company from ruin after making his name as a producer of comedy and spoken-word recordings. In its most dramatic moments, Maximum Volume narrates the story of Martin’s unlikely discovery of the Beatles and his painstaking efforts to prepare their newfangled sound for the British music marketplace. As the story unfolds, Martin and the band craft many number-one hits along the group’s progress towards The Ed Sullivan Show and such landmark songs as “Yesterday” and “In My Life”—Beatles tunes that bear Martin’s unmistakable musical signature.

As Martin and the Beatles create one landmark album after another, including such masterworks as Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (The White Album), and Abbey Road, the internal stakes and interpersonal challenges become ever greater. During his post-Beatles years, Martin attempts to discover new vistas of sound recording with a host of acts, including Jeff Beck, America, Cheap Trick, Paul McCartney, and Elton John. Eventually, all roads lead Martin back to the Beatles, as the group seeks out new ways to memorialize their achievement under the supervision of the man who came to be known as Sir George. Now, more than 50 years later, Martin’s singular stamp remains on popular music as successive generations discover the magic of the Beatles.

Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography By Andrea Warner

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The Buffy Sainte-Marie authorized biography will be released on September 25, 2018. It’s a powerful, intimate look at the life of a beloved folk icon and activist.

The Saskatchewan-born Cree singer-songwriter “has made her voice heard through her music, art, and activism, establishing herself among the ranks of folk greats such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan,” according to publisher Greystone Books.

“But Sainte-Marie is so much more than a musician; she is also an entrepreneur, a pioneer in digital art, and an important cultural activist who has worked tirelessly advocating for and protecting Indigenous rights and freedoms.”

Painter-and-Big-Smile

“Warner’s book draws decades of incredible, world-changing accomplishments together to make an irrefutable case for Sainte-Marie’s place among the rock n’ roll and songwriting greats.” Tanya Tagaq – Experimental vocalist, and artist

Buffy Sainte Marie

Andrea Warner is a writer, critic, broadcaster, and Podcaster focusing on music, arts, pop culture, and feminism. She’s also the author of the acclaimed 2015 book, We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music (Eternal Cavalier Press). Andrea is an associate producer at CBC Music and co-hosts the weekly podcast, Pop This!.

Andrea has also written An Essential Guide to Buffy Sainte-Marie for those who want to discover the gems in Buffy’s 20 album catalog prior to obtaining her book.

Pre-orders for the book may be placed:

1) In Canada at your local bookstoreAmazon, or Indigo.
2) In the USA, at your local bookstore/IndieboundAmazon, or Barnes & Noble

Sonny Rollins: Meditating on a Riff

I just discovered in my Twitter feed an illuminating source for the book I’m writing about spirituality and the healing power of music.

Sonny Rollins: Meditating on a Riff, A Journey Into His World of Spirituality by Hugh Wyatt.

It’s the second title from a new, independent book publisher Kamama Books that focuses on books as diverse and offbeat as the city itself.


Jazz legend Sonny Rollins spent his youth hustling on the streets of his native Harlem, but over time the tenor saxophonist shifted gears and developed the reputation of being “the world’s greatest living jazz musician.” Did he deserve such a lofty title?

This biography, entitled Sonny Rollins: Meditating on a Riff, will attempt to answer this and other questions. However, it will not be a regurgitation of previous books or articles that focus exclusively on jazz. Instead, the major focus of this book will be on Sonny’s adventurous foray into spirituality and even the occult.

The secretive Sonny experimented with certain esoteric forms of yoga and spirituality, such as Rosicrucianism and other otherworldly practices. His goal was not only to achieve God-realization, among other things but to develop certain powers that would enable him to unlock the secrets of the universe.

Wyatt’s riveting biography offers a unique glimpse into the psyche of one of the most reclusive figures in jazz. It is a tell-all that reveals intimate and unpublished details of his fascinating life directly from Sonny himself, as well as his family members and close friends