Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection
Two CDs! Over 145 minutes of music. One disc of studio tracks by Marcia Ball, Shemekia Copeland, Koko Taylor and more. One disc of live recordings, including previously unreleased performances by Albert Collins, C.J. Chenier and more, plus a CD-ROM track with the only known video of Alligator’s legendary first artist, Hound Dog Taylor!
The perfect companion piece to our 20th and 25th anniversary collections, the Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection is a two-disc set for the price of one! It has 31 songs (over 145 minutes of music), and offers a distinct alternative to our previous anniversary collections with one disc of studio material and one disc of live performances. As a bonus, the live disc also includes a special CD-Rom track featuring the only known video of Alligator's legendary first artist, Hound Dog Taylor, performing at the 1973 Ann Arbor Blues Festival.
The studio disc features gems from Marcia Ball, Koko Taylor, Shemekia Copeland, Coco Montoya, Corey Harris and many more. Most of the tracks are taken from Alligator's past five years and there are no duplicate songs from the 20th & 25th collections.
The live disc includes previously unreleased performances by Albert Collins, Son Seals (w/Elvin Bishop), C.J. Chenier, Little Charlie and the Nightcats and Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials, plus others from Luther Allison, Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, Delbert McClinton, Hound Dog Taylor and more.
The Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection
By John Sinclair
It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been 30 years since Alligator Records issued its first LP, a rough and raucous set of primal electric blues by a raw, gloriously rowdy three-piece outfit from Chicago by way of Mississippi known as Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers.
Although the album was enthusiastically received by the small coterie of urban blues fanatics who were desperately seeking signs that the blues would continue to evolve and grow into the 1970s and beyond, the eponymous Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers LP didn’t make much of an impact on the marketplace, and it seemed inevitable that Alligator Records would remain a labor of love well into the foreseeable future.
It was clearly Bruce Iglauer’s love for the blues and his determination to get Hound Dog’s music onto record and out into the world beyond Chicago that drove the 23-year-old Cincinnati native — barely out of college at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin and newly settled in the Windy City — to apply the proceeds of a tiny inheritance to the launching of his little blues label and seeing the first Alligator LP into print. Now, three full decades later, Alligator Records is the largest independent contemporary blues label in the world, boasting a catalog of over 190 titles — the bulk of them produced by Iglauer himself — and Bruce Iglauer is one of the most successful and widely respected individuals in the blues business today.
Bruce met the blues in 1966 at the University of Chicago Folk Festival, where he was totally blown away by a Mississippi Fred McDowell performance which literally changed the course of his life. Soon he was busy booking Howlin’ Wolf and Luther Allison for appearances at his college and making trips to Chicago in fiendish pursuit of obscure blues records and live performances by the living giants of the blues. After graduation, Bruce moved to Chicago and landed a job as a $30-a-week shipping clerk/assistant at Bob Koester’s Delmark Records operation. Delmark had been making fine traditional and modern blues albums by Roosevelt Sykes, Sleepy John Estes, Big Joe Williams, Magic Sam, Luther Allison, Junior Wells, Jimmy Dawkins and other blues heavyweights since 1959, keeping the blues flame burning throughout the ’60s and into the ’70s.
Iglauer also joined a select group of obsessive Chicago-based blues lovers — including Jim O’Neal and Amy Van Singel, Paul Garon, Wesley Race, Dick Shurman and others — which would make a powerful impact on the world of the blues for years to come. From their ranks came the founders of Living Blues, America’s first magazine dedicated to keeping the authentic blues alive. O’Neal and Van Singel later established the Rooster Blues label and the Stackhouse Record Shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Wes Race is credited for turning Iglauer on to Son Seals as well as co-producing the Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers album. Garon has written two important blues books, and Shurman became a well-known blues journalist and producer, later co-producing Alligator releases by Albert Collins, Johnny Winter and Roy Buchanan.
Hound Dog had a tremendous impact on Bruce Iglauer, and he spent the next four years of his life (until Taylor’s untimely demise in 1975) totally caught up in the music and affairs of The HouseRockers. First Iglauer tried to convince Delmark to record this incredible band, but it wasn’t quite Koester’s cup of tea, so when a couple thousand dollars that had been willed to him by his grandfather came into his hands, Bruce decided to do it himself, and Alligator Records was born.
From a business standpoint, the young entrepreneur could have picked a better time to launch his new blues label. By 1971, the pioneering post-war independent blues imprints — Chess/ Checker, Modern/RPM, King/Federal and the other small concerns that recorded and sold blues records to a black audience — had either gone under or been sold to large entertainment conglomerates. This left the surviving blues giants who had recorded for those labels bereft of a reliable outlet for their music.
The blues stars of the ’50s and ’60s and their black audiences were growing older, and many of their once-loyal listeners were switching their affections to the R&B and soul music produced and marketed by new companies like Stax/Volt and Motown. What was left of the established black-oriented blues record industry had begun to abandon the musical and emotional force of the Delta-based electric blues which had given such eloquent expression to the painful complexities of African-American life in the cities of the North. Instead, they chose to market a shallower and slicker sound designed to please a modern audience that had long left the South behind.
At the same time, rock music was well on its way to establishing an utter hegemony over the radio airwaves and record bins of the nation, effectively blocking the blues and other root music forms from entering the ever-tightening circle of popular success. From time to time a blues legend like Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush or Freddie King would be “adopted” by a best-selling rock star and produced for release on a major label, but these instances were few and far between at best and mostly failed in their mission to catapult the bluesmen into mainstream acceptance.
So here comes Bruce Iglauer, a young man with a mission, something of a blues vision and
a whole lot of nerve who was ready and willing to do whatever it took to make authentic Chicago blues records and give them a first-class introduction to the world at large. He’d witnessed the enthusiastic response authentic blues artists were beginning to enjoy at college concerts and festivals and from progressive rock radio programmers who would actually play blues records in regular rotation, and he basically set out to develop a whole new audience of blues record buyers among the ranks of students, hippies and rockers who had yet to meet the blues in its purest and most exciting form.
Iglauer’s idea was to put out one album, work it as thoroughly as possible, see what he could make happen, and, if he could make enough money, put out another one next year. From the very beginning, he was aware that he needed to provide professional management and booking services to his artists in order to maximize their exposure in the marketplace, create new performance opportunities and spur record sales wherever the artists were booked to perform.
Slowly but surely, Alligator moved to establish a distribution network, put Hound Dog Taylor albums in the hands of sympathetic publications and radio stations, and build contacts with the nightclubs, festivals and campus concert presenters who were open to booking blues artists. While the mainstream press had little interest in blues of any stripe, the college papers, rock music magazines and alternative weeklies could be persuaded to pay some attention to modern blues artists who operated largely beneath the radar of the mass media.
Following on the modest success of its first release, Alligator made a fine album with harmonica master Big Walter Horton, introduced the compelling young guitarist Son Seals and cut an LP with Fenton Robinson, making sure to inform the listening public that the veteran bluesman had penned its title track, “Somebody Loan Me a Dime,” which had just been a big chart hit for Boz Scaggs on Columbia Records.
Alligator took a significant step forward in 1975 when former Chess Records star Koko Taylor joined the label’s embryonic artist roster and released I Got What It Takes, winning the company its first Grammy© nomination (its first Grammy© Award, for Clifton Chenier’s I’m Here!, would come in 1982). Then legendary Texas guitarist Albert Collins signed with Alligator in 1978, bringing a big reputation and high visibility as an established blues artist who had enjoyed major label affiliations and had been profiled in Rolling Stone. “Because of Collins,” Iglauer has said, “the media perceived Alligator had become a major blues label.” Marketed by the label under its slogan “Genuine Houserockin’ Music,” both Taylor and Collins became important contract artists who built their careers as popular blues performers on the series of album releases issued by Alligator on a regular basis.
Alligator staked another convincing claim to major blues label status in 1978 with the first three albums in its historic Living Chicago Blues series, a six-LP set that featured unrecorded or under-recognized Chicago blues artists like Magic Slim, Carey Bell, Jimmy Johnson, Pinetop Perkins, Johnny “Big Moose” Walker, Detroit Junior, Left Hand Frank Craig, Queen Sylvia Embry and Lonnie Brooks, who was signed to his own album deal and soon became one of the label’s brightest stars. This ambitious project was modeled on Samuel Charters’ historic 1965 three-album set for Vanguard Records, Chicago! The Blues! Today!, which had brought neglected blues masters like Otis Spann, James Cotton,
Big Walter Horton, Otis Rush, J.B. Hutto and others into the forefront of the contemporary blues world.
In late 1979 Iglauer collaborated with Dr. John to produce Alligator’s first album recorded outside of Chicago—Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta, one of the finest of all Alligator albums but, sadly, the influential New Orleans pianist’s last recording. The early ’80s saw Alligator branch out in two more significant directions when Iglauer started licensing records from small European labels, bringing LPs by well-known artists like Buddy Guy and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown to his imprint. He also began making recordings (co-produced by Dick Shurman) of roots-rock guitar heroes with mainstream radio recognition, helping revive the flagging careers of Roy Buchanan, Lonnie Mack and Johnny Winter, whose Guitar Slinger album put the label into Billboard’s “Top 200” chart for the first time. Iglauer has worked with other co-producers on various projects, but on most Alligator sessions you’ll see Bruce Iglauer listed as the producer of record, making albums that are always well thought out, impeccably recorded and mixed for maximum impact. By now his productions must number in three figures — a remarkable achievement for a blues record man.
By the mid-’80s Alligator had grown from one or two releases a year to 10 to 14 albums and would soon become the first blues company to produce CDs. The label’s roster of artists continued to grow under Iglauer’s careful direction: Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, The Kinsey Report, Katie Webster, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Elvin Bishop, Bob Margolin, Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Kenny Neal, Maurice John Vaughn and Tinsley Ellis all cut for Alligator, gaining the benefit of the company’s close attention to maximizing record sales and furthering the development of their careers.
Another Alligator highlight was its brilliant series of Trumpet Records reissues showcasing sides by Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), Big Joe Williams, Willie Love, Jerry McCain, The Southern Sons and other Delta blues and gospel artists recorded by Lillian McMurry in Jackson, Mississippi between 1951 and 1955. Alligator’s license to reissue these historic recordings — most of them unavailable since their original release as 78-rpm singles — lasted long enough to produce several essential CDs (now out of print due to circumstances beyond Alligator’s control) that provided a real treasure trove for modern blues listeners.
Alligator turned 20 years old in 1991 and celebrated with the release of The Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Collection, a triumphant double-CD compilation which became one of the label’s best-selling albums. Then Iglauer took the show on the road with a sensational cross-country tour that featured Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Katie Webster and Elvin Bishop. The tour was recorded for the Grammy©-nominated album, Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour, and documented by director Robert Mugge (Deep Blues) for the film Pride & Joy: The Story of Alligator Records.
The company continued to roll through the 1990s, building on its successes and expanding its musical focus beyond the raw, electric “genuine houserockin’ music” which had served the label so well since its inception. Acoustic blues was represented by John Jackson, Cephas & Wiggins, and groundbreaking young Corey Harris, who brought in New Orleans piano master Henry Butler for an album of rollicking blues duets. C.J. Chenier advanced the zydeco banner first brought to the label by his late lamented father. Texas blues legend Long John Hunter was finally introduced to the world, Chicago harmonica masters Junior Wells, Carey Bell and Billy Boy Arnold were effectively showcased, Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women proved a surprise success, harpist William Clarke brought the West Coast swing blues sound to the label, and emerging young blues stars like Dave Hole, Coco Montoya and Michael Hill gave Alligator a firm foothold on the future.
One of Alligator’s greatest triumphs came in the mid-’90s when the label helped pave the way for Luther Allison’s return from his long self-imposed exile in Europe to take America by storm and establish himself at the very top of the contemporary blues world. Luther’s blazing guitar swept away everything in his path as he leveled audience after audience with his joyful, exuberant, deliriously unstoppable performances, beautifully documented by the label for a blistering live album that was released after Luther was suddenly struck down by cancer and died at the age of 58.
Alligator entered the 21st century with a bang, introducing new blues stars Shemekia Copeland and Michael Burks, signing established or emerging artists like Marcia Ball, Rusty Zinn and The Holmes Brothers, and producing new albums for the label’s contract artists (Koko Taylor’s most recent release, Royal Blue, is one of the finest of her long career). Bruce Iglauer continues to stay busy in the studio and always keeps an ever-vigilant eye open for new opportunities to take the label and its artists into previously unconquered territories.
Now, before you spin these two discs — one featuring live recordings and the other choice studio cuts from the Alligator catalog (with a special emphasis on the last five years) — take a good look at the lineup here and give yourself a moment to marvel at the breadth and depth of blues artistry represented on this 30th Anniversary Collection. Three decades following its most humble beginnings, Alligator Records has grown into a mighty powerhouse of contemporary roots music, and the company promises to keep growing without a let-up in sight. Let’s offer our thanks and appreciation, because that’s definitely an achievement to be proud of.
— John Sinclair is editor of Blues Access magazine and host of the Blues & Roots show on WWOZ-FM in New Orleans. He met Bruce Iglauer when Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers performed at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, an event which Sinclair served as co-producer and creative director.
© 2001 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.
Disc 1 In The Studio
1. SHEMEKIA COPELAND Turn The Heat Up
Born and raised in Harlem, singer Shemekia Copeland burst onto the national blues scene in 1997 with her Alligator debut, Turn The Heat Up, when she was only 19. Daughter of Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland, Shemekia began singing as a child, making her debut at New York’s Cotton Club when she was eight. As a teenager Shemekia toured with her father, opening gigs for him and learning the blues life firsthand. Upon release of her debut, Shemekia catapulted to the top of the blues world. She won two W.C. Handy Blues Awards in 2001 — including the coveted Album Of The Year award — for her second release, the GrammyC-nominated Wicked.
2. MICHAEL BURKS Got A Way With Women
Arkansas resident Michael Burks’ Alligator 2000 debut, Make It Rain, announced the arrival of a major blues guitarist and vocalist. A third generation blues musician, Burks began playing as a small child, earning one dollar from his father for each song he learned to play. Along with his family, Burks built a juke joint in Arkansas where he honed his skills backing the likes of Johnnie Taylor and O.V. Wright. He worked as a mechanical technician in the 1980s before relaunching his career with a self-produced album in 1997. Scorching performances at blues festivals around the country introduced Burks to a national audience and led to his signing with Alligator in 2000.
3. MARCIA BALL Louella
Texas singer/songwriter Marcia Ball began learning piano at age five. At 13, she saw an Irma Thomas concert and discovered the power of the blues. Ball moved to Austin in 1970, where she joined her first band and began delving into the music of Professor Longhair, incorporating the Crescent City legend’s music into her own. Ball launched her solo career in 1974 and released her first album on Capitol in 1978. A strong series of albums for Rounder Records established Ball as an artist equally capable of delivering a ballad or igniting a party. On her 2001 Alligator debut, Presumed Innocent, Ball fused New Orleans and Gulf Coast R&B with Austin’s outstanding songwriting tradition, seasoned by decades of national touring, for her deepest and most personal album yet.
4. JUNIOR WELLS Keep Your Hands Out Of My Pockets
1990’s Harp Attack! was a summit meeting of Chicago’s greatest harmonica players — Junior Wells, James Cotton, Carey Bell and Billy Branch. Wells was the elder statesman of the group, born in Memphis in 1934. He became a local Chicago attraction by the time he was 15 and went on to play with Muddy Waters. In the 1950s and 1960s, he cut hit black radio singles like Messin’ With The Kid, Little By Little and Come On In This House before hooking up with guitarist Buddy Guy to record a string of essential blues albums. At the time of his death in 1998, Wells was recognized as one of the quintessential Chicago blues harmonica players and one of the genre’s greatest vocalists.
5. COCO MONTOYA Enough Is Enough
Guitar virtuoso and Los Angeles area native Coco Montoya began his professional career as a drummer for the great Albert Collins in the mid-1970s. Collins began teaching Montoya guitar, and “adopted” Montoya as a son, teaching him about life as a bluesman. Montoya’s guitar playing fueled John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for ten years before Coco embarked on his solo career in 1995, releasing three albums on the Blind Pig label. Montoya’s 1999 Alligator debut, Suspicion, highlighted his firebrand, Collins-influenced guitar playing and deeply emotive vocals.
6. ROBERT CRAY & ALBERT COLLINS She’s Into Something
The GrammyC-winning Showdown! album featuring Robert Cray, Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland is one of Alligator’s most famous – and best-selling – releases. Cray first decided on a career as a blues player after seeing Albert Collins perform at his high school graduation in Tacoma, Washington. And Albert, already an established and well-loved blues star, took young Robert as a protégé, coaching and teaching him in the ways of Texas blues guitar, just as he had done with Johnny Copeland years before. Together, on Showdown!, Collins, Cray and Copeland recorded one of the great blues guitar albums of all time (see Albert Collins bio below).
7. COREY HARRIS & HENRY BUTLER If You Let A Man Kick You Once
New Orleans-born piano virtuoso Henry Butler was gigging by the time he was 14, later studying under Alvin Batiste and Professor Longhair. By the mid-1970s Butler had played with virtually every important jazz and R&B musician in New Orleans. He released a series of jazz albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s before delving deep into the blues on his 1997 Black Top album, Blues After Sunset, which was also his debut as a vocalist. On vü-dü menz, Butler joined groundbreaking young blues guitarist and singer Corey Harris to form two parts of one visionary, musical mind, and bring new energy to the acoustic blues duet tradition (see Corey Harris bio below).
8. WILLIAM CLARKE Broke And Hungry
William Clarke was born in 1951 in Inglewood, California and fell in love with the blues as a teenager. By the time he was 17, he was sneaking into Watts blues clubs to watch his heroes, including his mentor-to-be, George “Harmonica” Smith. Between 1978 and 1988, Clarke recorded and released five self-produced albums cut on shoestring budgets before signing with Alligator in 1990. His Alligator debut, Blowin’ Like Hell, won massive acclaim in the blues world and established him as one of the great harp players of his generation. Clarke recorded three more Alligator albums: Serious Intentions, Groove Time and The Hard Way. With his untimely death in 1996, Clarke left behind a blues legacy that will be difficult to top.
9. KOKO TAYLOR Bring Me Some Water
Known worldwide as The Queen Of The Blues, Koko Taylor was born and raised on a sharecropper’s farm just outside of Memphis and began singing in church as a child. At 18, Taylor moved to Chicago. While working as a domestic on Chicago’s ritzy North Shore by day, she began to sit in with the various blues bands across the city’s South Side at night. The great producer/songwriter Willie Dixon heard Koko singing with Howlin’ Wolf’s band one night and quickly secured a contract with Chess Records for her, where she scored a million-selling hit with Wang Dang Doodle in 1966. Over the course of her eight Alligator albums (beginning with 1974’s I Got What It Takes), Taylor has won every award the blues world has to offer, including one GrammyC Award and seven nominations (including one for her 2000 release Royal Blue), and a total of 21 W.C. Handy Blues Awards – more than any other artist. Taylor has performed for Presidents Bush and Clinton, appeared on television and in movies, and owns her own blues club in Chicago.
10. CAREY BELL Hard Working Woman
Born in Macon, Mississippi in 1936, Bell began playing harmonica professionally at 13 with his godfather, pianist Lovie Lee. Moving to Chicago in 1956, he began studying under harmonica masters Little Walter Jacobs and Big Walter Horton, and often performed at the famed Maxwell Street Market with Robert Nighthawk and Johnny Young. He recorded his first solo album for Delmark in 1968 (brought to the label by Charlie Musselwhite) and joined Muddy Waters’ band in 1970, then Willie Dixon’s band in 1973. He hooked up with his mentor Big Walter on the second-ever Alligator release in 1972 (Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell) and has toured relentlessly, releasing solo albums for a variety of American and European labels. Bell released two Alligator solo CDs in the 1990s, Deep Down and Good Luck Man.
11. RUSTY ZINN The Chill
Oakland-based blues guitarist/vocalist Rusty Zinn plays a potent blend of 1940s and 1950s West Coast jump blues and gritty Chicago blues. Schooled at first by old Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf records, Rusty, at age 18, became the protégé of groundbreaking bluesman Luther Tucker. Zinn’s raw talent and deep feeling for the blues have earned him gigs and recordings with many blues masters, including Jimmy Rogers, Snooky Pryor, Luther Tucker, James Cotton and Kim Wilson. He released two solo albums on Black Top Records in the 1990s before signing with Alligator at the end of the decade. His Alligator debut, 2000’s The Chill, prompted Blues Revue to call Zinn “a young guitar player with great talent and a natural sense of swing.”
12. COREY HARRIS Basehead
A native of Denver, Harris fell in love with music as a child and made his own sounds with a toy guitar he received at the age of three. Graduating to a full-sized instrument, he began playing the blues while still in high school. After attending Bates College in Maine, Harris lived in Camaroon, West Africa and immersed himself in the local music and culture. Upon returning to the United States, he began busking on the streets of New Orleans and making a name for himself as an authentic acoustic bluesman with the soul and spirit of the old masters. Over the course of his three Alligator albums (1995’s Between Midnight And Day, 1997’s Fish Ain’t Bitin’, and 1999’s Greens From The Garden), and his 2000 collaboration with Henry Butler, vü-dü menz, Harris has laid a path clearly rooted in blues-gone-by while blazing a trail for the future.
13. THE KINSEY REPORT Time Is Running Out
Gary, Indiana’s The Kinsey Report — brothers Donald, Ralph and Kenneth — were schooled in the blues as children by their father and musical mentor, the late Mississippi-born Lester “Big Daddy” Kinsey. They proved to be child prodigies, and before long a family band, Big Daddy Kinsey & His Fabulous Sons, hit the road. In 1972, Donald was plucked from his father’s band by Albert King, with whom he toured and recorded. From there Donald toured and recorded with Bob Marley and later Peter Tosh. Returning to Gary in 1984, Donald reunited with his brothers Kenneth (bass) and Ralph (drums) and The Kinsey Report was born. Alligator recorded the band in 1986 for inclusion in The New Bluebloods compilation, and the success of their sessions led to a contract with the label. The band’s 1986 debut, Edge Of The City, garnered three W.C. Handy Blues Award nominations. 1989’s Midnight Drive brought further acclaim. After two releases for the Point Blank label, The Kinsey Report returned to Alligator for 1998’s Smoke And Steel.
14. CEPHAS & WIGGINS Mamie
John Cephas was born in Washington, D.C. in 1930 and raised in Bowling Green, Virginia. After learning the basics of the complex, ragtime fingerpicking guitar style that defines Piedmont blues, Cephas first emulated the records of Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake and other early Piedmont masters. By 1960, he had begun to make a living from his music and writing original songs. Harmonica ace Phil Wiggins was born in Washington, D.C. in 1954 and developed a love for the blues as a child. The two first jammed together in 1976, and the duo of Cephas & Wiggins was born. After recording for a variety of labels beginning in 1980, the duo came to Alligator, releasing Cool Down in 1996 and Homemade in 1999. Both albums helped further establish Cephas & Wiggins as key figures in the resurgence of interest in country blues.
15. THE HOLMES BROTHERS Homeless Child
Brothers Sherman and Wendell Holmes were raised in a musical family in Christchurch, Virginia. Their schoolteacher parents fostered the boys’ early love of music — blues, gospel and R&B. By the mid-1960s, the brothers were in New York playing in R&B bands and backing touring artists like The Impressions and John Lee Hooker. Bassist Sherman and guitarist Wendell, along with fellow Virginian, drummer Willie “Popsy” Dixon, banded together in 1980 and brought their rich gospel harmonies to blues, soul and even country tunes. The Holmes Brothers released a series of well-received albums featuring their telepathic musical interplay on Rounder Records and other labels during the 1980s and 1990s. Their 2001 Alligator debut, Speaking In Tongues (produced by multi-million selling artist Joan Osborne), received widespread praise with The Chicago Tribune calling it “the first great release of 2001.”
16. DAVE HOLE Jenny Lee
Growing up in Perth, Australia, Dave Hole followed the blues trail from records by The Rolling Stones and The Animals directly to records by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed. While he was mastering slide guitar, an injury to his little finger forced him to put the slide on his index finger and play with his hand over the top of the guitar neck, instantly creating a sound and style all his own. By 1990, Hole was a seasoned performer and local Australian legend. He sent a copy of his self-produced CD to Guitar Player magazine, and created so much excitement that the editor contacted Alligator to rave about this over-the-top blues rocker. Dave became the label’s first overseas artist. Starting with 1991’s Short Fuse Blues right up through 2001’s Outside Looking In, Hole has gone from local legend to international guitar hero, with his name now mentioned alongside those of Ry Cooder and Duane Allman as a slide guitar master.
17. JOHNNY WINTER My Time After Awhile
Born in Beaumont, Texas in 1944, Johnny Winter taught himself guitar at age eleven. He fronted his own band, Johnny & The Jammers, at 14 (with brother Edgar on piano) and released his first single when he was 15. Winter was a regular in the Houston and Beaumont recording studios, cutting dozens of tunes as both a leader and sideman. Signing with Columbia in 1969, he cut four classic blues/rock albums, including the essential hard rock landmark, Johnny Winter And Live. He realized his lifetime dream by producing four Muddy Waters albums (two of which won GrammyC Awards). Signing with Alligator in the early ‘80s, Johnny gave up all trappings of hard rock and got back to the blues with three albums—1983’s Guitar Slinger, 1985’s Serious Business and 1986’s Third Degree—that solidified Johnny’s presence as one of the top blues artists in the world.
18. PHILLIP WALKER & LONNIE BROOKS Boogie Rambler
Lone Star Shootout featured the guitar playing, vocals and Texas blues fire of Lonnie Brooks, Phillip Walker and Long John Hunter. Recorded in 1999 in Austin, Texas, the album found the three old friends and competitors delivering inspired performances of old and new songs in the rocking Gulf Coast style of Port Arthur, Texas, the place where all three got their start. Phillip Walker grew up there and learned guitar as a teen, often peeking into blues clubs to watch Brooks and Hunter perform. He replaced Lonnie Brooks as guitarist with zydeco legend Clifton Chenier in 1954. Walker then moved to the West Coast in 1959 and became a fixture on the West Coast blues scene, releasing a string of singles and albums on a variety of labels but, like his friends Lonnie and Long John, his music never lost the spirit of his East Texas roots (see Lonnie Brooks bio below).
Disc 2 On The Stage
1. LONNIE BROOKS Two Headed Man
Lonnie Brooks is one of Chicago’s best-known and best-loved bluesmen, but his roots are on the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast. Born Lee Baker, Jr. in Dubuisson, Louisiana in 1933, Brooks learned to play blues from his banjo-picking grandfather before moving to Port Arthur, Texas, in the early 1950s. He was recruited for his first professional gig by zydeco legend Clifton Chenier. Before long Lonnie – then known as Guitar Junior – had become a regional star with a string of successful singles on the Goldband label, including the swamp pop classic Family Rules and rock ‘n’ roll hit The Crawl. In 1959 he moved to Chicago, changed his name to Lonnie Brooks and developed a loyal local following. He cut a series of hot local 45s and an album for the Capitol label. In 1978 Alligator recorded four of Brooks’ songs for its Living Chicago Blues anthology. This led to a full recording contract with the label and a series of seven successful solo albums and Lone Star Shootout (with Long John Hunter and Phillip Walker).
2. LUTHER ALLISON Soul Fixin’ Man
Luther Allison moved with his family from Arkansas to Chicago in 1951, and began soaking in the sounds of the city’s great bluesmen. By 1957 Allison was gigging all over the city’s West Side, first as a sideman and then with
his own band, becoming one of the city’s hottest bluesmen. After a riveting performance at the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival (the first national blues fest), he signed with Chicago’s Delmark Records for one album. Allison then moved to Motown Records in 1972, becoming one of the label’s few blues artists. In the early ‘80s, after a series
of successful European tours, Allison relocated to Paris and quickly gained European blues superstar status, but
he became all but invisible in his own country. He re-ignited his American career when he signed with Alligator
in 1994. From that year’s Soul Fixin’ Man to 1995’s Blue Streak to 1997’s Reckless, Allison grew from a club artist into a major festival headliner. At the time of his sudden death from cancer in 1997, Allison’s popularity was at an all-time high. The posthumously released Live In Chicago captures Allison at the absolute height of his
3. C.J. CHENIER & THE RED HOT LOUISIANA BAND Jambalaya (On The Bayou)
Clayton Joseph Chenier, son of the legendary zydeco master Clifton Chenier, was born and raised in the housing projects of Port Arthur, Texas. Chenier played saxophone in funk and jazz bands while growing up, until his father offered him a spot in the horn section of the famous Red Hot Louisiana Band in 1978. By 1985, C.J. had mastered the accordion and begun to open his father’s shows. Upon Clifton’s death, C.J. inherited his father’s accordion as well as The Red Hot Louisiana Band, and he hit the road hard. After hundreds of gigs (including a stint with Paul Simon’s Born At The Right Time tour) and three solo albums for other labels, Chenier joined the Alligator roster in 1994 and has released 1994’s Too Much Fun, 1996’s The Big Squeeze and 2001’s Step It Up!.
4. ALBERT COLLINS & THE ICEBREAKERS Dyin’ Flu
The Master Of The Telecaster was born on October 1, 1932 in Leona, Texas. A cousin of the legendary Lightnin’ Hopkins, Collins and his family headed for Houston when he was 7. By the early 1950s Collins was packing local Houston clubs with a guitar sound, style and tuning all his own. During the 1960s, his “cool sound” instrumentals, including Frosty and Sno-Cone, were all over R&B radio. In 1968, Collins moved to California and broke into the rock ‘n’ roll world, releasing three albums on the Imperial label and playing the West Coast rock ballroom circuit. But Albert’s greatest success came after he signed with Alligator in 1978 and cut Ice Pickin’. It won the Best Blues Album of the Year Award from the Montreux Jazz Festival, and was nominated for a GrammyC. His following five Alligator solo albums and the GrammyC Award-winning Showdown! (with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland) helped earn Collins every award the blues world has to offer. With his untimely death in 1993, Albert Collins left behind a blues legacy that continues to amaze and delight blues fans everywhere.
5. JAMES COTTON When It Rains It Pours
Born in Tunica, Mississippi in 1936, Cotton left home at age nine to find his idol, Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller). Williamson tutored the boy, and before long Cotton was playing behind Junior Parker and Howlin’ Wolf. He cut his first single for Sun Records when he was 18, proving his vocals were as strong as his harmonica. In
1954, Muddy Waters asked him to move to Chicago and join his band. Cotton spent 11 years with Waters, leaving in 1966 to form his own group. Since then he’s toured worldwide and cut albums for various labels, including two solo albums for Alligator: 1984’s High Compression and the GrammyC nominated 1986 release, Live From Chicago…Mr. Superharp Himself!. He also joined Junior Wells, Carey Bell and Billy Branch on 1990’s Harp Attack!.
6. ELVIN BISHOP Slow Down
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1942, Elvin Bishop first heard the blues on the radio as a teenager. In 1959 he used a National Merit Scholarship to attend the University of Chicago so he could be close to the city’s thriving blues scene. Bishop soon fell under the spell of Little Smokey Smothers (an established bluesman from Tchula, Mississippi, who recorded on many of Howlin’ Wolf’s seminal singles) and later helped form The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Bishop headed for California in the late 1960s and began his successful solo career as a rocker during the 1970s and 1980s. He returned to his blues roots in 1988 when he signed with Alligator Records and released Big Fun, followed by 1991’s Don’t Let The Bossman Get You Down!, 1995’s Ace In The Hole, 1998’s The Skin I’m In and 2000’s That’s My Partner! (recorded live with his longtime friend, Little Smokey Smothers).
7. SAFFIRE–THE UPPITY BLUES WOMEN You Can Have My Husband
Beginning with their self-titled 1990 debut, this all-female acoustic blues trio from Virginia updated the long tradition of women blues singers begun by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Mixing brassy, original songs with classic blues of the past, Saffire quickly rose from local favorite status to blues stardom. Pianist/guitarist/vocalist Ann Rabson began playing guitar professionally at age 18. By the 1980s, she was concentrating on piano and giving guitar lessons while holding down a day job as a computer technician. Her prize student, Gaye Adegbalola (an award-winning 8th grade science teacher), joined Ann and formed Saffire—The Uppity Blues Women. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist and former nurse Andra Faye joined the band in 1992, providing the group with three stellar lead vocalists and soloists.