Monday, November 07, 2011

Alligator Records Is Now 40, Looking Back When It Was 20

While Alligator is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, MVD Visual has issued Blues and the Alligator: The First Twenty Years of Alligator Records, making available Jim Downing’s film from 1990 that has been issued by Gazell Film. The documentary is a mix of performance clips and interviews that serve to provide an overview of what led Bruce Iglauer to start his label and how it grew to become one of the most important (if not the most) labels producing new blues music.

The film opens with Lonnie Brooks in the studio recording with his band and Bruce in the control room discussing levels and such with the engineer before we start getting Bruce talking about his background and how Alligator got started. We see him at the studio as well as in his office having a business meeting with staff. The performance clips include a number of gems including a small excerpt of a band on Maxwell Street playing You Don’t Love Me, a fuzzy black & white film of Hound Dog Taylor followed by a live club shot of Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials.

Kenny Neal & Billy Branch’s duo album was contemporaneous with this film and a back porch performance by the two of Devil Child is followed by the two talking. We then are taken to a public school where Billy Branch conducting a “Blues in the School” program with the kids singing and playing Stormy Monday, and then starting Jimmy Reed’s Baby What You Want Me To Do, before we are taken to a clip of Kenny Neal and Lucky Peterson handling this.

No question that through Alligator and her recordings for them, Koko Taylor became internationally known as the Queen of the Blues” and was able to enjoy a recording career as opposed to housework. Recognition of her stature is reflected by showing her sing the Star Spangled Banner at Comiskey Park before Bruce and then her discuss how life has indeed changed. This is followed by her with Lonnie Brooks doing a strong Its a Dirty Job.

Bruce talks about how the blues has changed and ironically how Alligator has taken its artists from its roots playing in the community as they seek bigger pay checks and a bigger audience. As a result, the blues as they perform it has changed. Magic Sam’s recording of Sweet Home Chicago segues into a hot live rendition by Brooks that takes this film to its close. It is a nice end to what certainly is an intriguing look back at Alligator. BTW, it is about time Robert Mugge’s film on Alligator, Pride and Joy, made it to DVD.

I received a review copy from the label.

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