Various Artists – Alligator Records – 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music
58 songs – 232 minutes
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Alligator Records in the pantheon of the blues. Famously founded in 1971 purely to enable founder Bruce Iglauer to record his favourite artist, Hound Dog Taylor, Alligator has grown into one of the most respected record labels in the world, whilst recording a wide range of superb blues and blues-based artists. 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music celebrates the label’s 50th anniversary with a wonderful 3-CD collection of tracks selected from across its vast catalogue, all remastered by Iglauer and Collin Jordan at The Boiler Room in Chicago.
Leaving aside the quality of the music on offer (and pretty much every track is solid gold), it is fascinating to contemplate Alligator’s geographic development from its initial focus on Chicago greats like Koko Taylor, Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell and Son Seals, to Texas artists including Albert Collins and Long John Hunter, Louisiana legends such as Professor Longhair and C.J. Chenier and West Coast monsters like Little Charlie & The Nightcats, William Clarke and Chris Cain. The East Coast is well-represented through the likes of Bob Margolin, Roomful of Blues, Michael Hill and JJ Grey & Mofro, while Alligator has also recorded artists from outside the USA, such as Australian slide master, Dave Hole, and British iconoclast, Ian Siegel.
Much of Alligator’s output has been guitar-centric and that focus is re-iterated on 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music, with any number of electric guitar geniuses on display, including Gatemouth Brown, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, Guitar Shorty, Joe Louis Walker Kenny Neal and Coco Montoya. But the album also highlights the harp skills of Big Walter, Carey Bell, James Cotton and Billy Branch, the piano playing of Marcia Ball, Katie Webster and Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, and the acoustic blues of Cephas & Wiggins and The Siegel-Schwall Band. And this “broad church of the blues” approach is key to Alligator’s continued survival in what is a cut-throat business. The blues-rock of Johnny Winter and Michael Hill’s Blues Mob is balanced against the glorious a capella voices and hand-clapping of Corey Harris and Henry Butler and the blues-eyed soul of Eric Lindell and Curtis Salgado. The muscular power of Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Michael Burks is balanced against the subtlety and grace of Mavis Staples and Janiva Magness.
50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music contains tracks from Alligator’s earliest releases (Big Walter and Cary Bell’s stunning harp duet “Have Mercy” is worth the price of admission by itself) up to modern stars like Toronzo Cannon, Selwyn Birchwood, The Cash Box Kings and The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling.
It’s quite astonishing that Alligator has survived as long as it has done, given the changes in the music industry over the last 50 years, but long may it continue. The label has released over 350 albums of great music, from established acts to up-and-coming wannabes and soon-to-be stars. It’s also easy to forget how often Alligator has breathed new life into careers that had stalled, giving much-deserving artists a whole new audience. Albert Collins is perhaps the obvious example, but so are Lonnie Mack, Roy Buchanan and Luther Allison.
50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music is a superb collection of modern blues and blues-based songs, beautiful remastered. And it’s also unmissable for any fan of modern blues music.