Record company founder, producer
As the founder, owner, and operator of Alligator Records, Bruce Iglauer was a major force behind the American blues revival of the 1980s and 1990s. He made Alligator Records the world’s largest independent blues music label, as well as one of the largest and most successful independent labels of any music genre. Since 1971 Alligator has recorded some of the blues’ most prestigious artists and offered recording contracts to undiscovered musicians who went on to international fame. Among the many artists whose careers surged after signing with Alligator are Albert Collins, James Cotton, Koko Taylor, Roy Buchanan, Lonnie Brooks, Luther Allison, Johnny Copeland, and Lonnie Mack. Artists whose careers began after signing or recording with the label are Son Seals, Robert Cray, Shemekia Copeland, and Kenny Neal.
Born on July 10, 1947, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Iglauer claimed that his infatuation with blues music began while he was a student at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, when he attended a performance by Mississippi Fred McDowell. As a student, Iglauer also hosted a blues radio program at the college radio station and made regular excursions to the blues clubs on Chicago’s West and South Sides, where he heard blues legends Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Junior
For the Record…
Born on July 10, 1947, in Cincinnati, OH. Education : Attended Lawrence College, Appleton, WI.
Hosted college radio program, 1960s; worked as shipping clerk at Delmark Records, 1970; financed startup of Alligator Records to record band Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers, 1971; recorded and released albums by Son Seals, Albert Collins, Lonnie Mack, Professor Longhair, Johnny Winters, and others; celebrated Alligator Records thirtieth anniversary, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Alligator Records, P.O. Box 60234, Chicago, IL 60660, website: http://www.alligator.com.
Wells, Buddy Guy, and Little Walter. When his college activities committee needed a performer for an event, Iglauer recommended Howlin’ Wolf, the stage name of Chester Burnett, a Chicago blues performer who had produced many of Chess Records biggest blues hits during the 1950s and 1960s.
Disappointed with the manner in which the committee promoted the show, Iglauer took it upon himself to fund and promote another concert by Luther Allison, resulting in two sold-out performances. This success brought him to the attention of Bob Koester, the founder of Chicago’s Delmark Records, Allison’s label at the time. Koester offered Iglauer a $30-a-week job as a shipping clerk, a position that allowed him to watch recording sessions by Allison and Junior Wells, the latter being a former Muddy Waters harmonica player, frequent Buddy Guy collaborator, bandleader, and solo performer.
Iglauer put his newfound experience to use when Koester rejected his proposal to record Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers. Instead, he used his own money—a small inheritance from an uncle—to record the band’s debut album. Recorded on a two-track recorder over two nights and at a cost of $900, the album marked the beginning of Alligator Records—named after Iglauer’s habit of clicking his teeth in time to music—in 1971. Pressing only 100 copies of the album with the money remaining from his inheritance, Iglauer promoted the album directly to FM radio stations. After convincing several deejays at different radio stations to play songs from the album, he convinced record retailers to stock it. Within nine months of recording the band, Iglauer left Delmark to become the agent, promoter, business manager, and publicist for Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers.
At first Iglauer operated Alligator Records out of his Chicago apartment, releasing a new album every ten months. “Because I could record so few artists, I was determined to only record musicians whose music I truly loved, and that’s been the philosophy of Alligator ever since,” he wrote in the liner notes of his label’s twentieth-anniversary anthology. His second release, a collaboration entitled Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell, paired two legendary blues harmonica players. A then-unknown blues guitarist from Arkansas named Son Seals, who had spent some time as a sideman to Albert King, recorded Alligator’s third release, Midnight Son. This was followed by releases from Fenton Robinson and Koko Taylor, neither of whom had any recognizable success earlier in their careers.
Iglauer also produced Bayou Lightning for the guitarist, songwriter, and singer Lonnie Brooks, who had previously recorded in Louisiana under the name Guitar Junior. In addition, he began a long recording relationship with guitarist Albert Collins in 1978, which, as Iglauer explained to John Sinclair in the liner notes for Alligator’s thirtieth-anniversary anthology, helped Alligator gain national recognition as “a major blues label.” The relationship also helped to reinvigorate Collins’ career. “Bruce is involved with the lives and the total careers of his artists,” Alligator recording artist Marcia Ball told Down Beat’s Ed Enright. “A lot of artists he’s worked with over the years were older and in some cases thought their careers were in decline. He’s given them an opportunity to record again or extend their careers.” Among some of the other blues artists whose careers Iglauer and Alligator Records helped extend are guitarist Luther Allison, former Paul Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Elvin Bishop, New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair, harmonica player Charlie Mussel-white, Lazy Lester, and rock guitar progenitor Lonnie Mack, whose Alligator debut was produced and featured vocals and additional guitar playing by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Iglauer and his label also supported unknown Chicago blues acts during the 1980s with a series of anthology albums collectively titled The New Bluebloods, “because I felt these were the artists who could become the future Chicago blues ‘aristocracy,’” he wrote in the liner notes for Alligator’s twentieth-anniversary anthology. Several of the acts recorded for the project who went on to greater popularity include Valerie Wellington, Detroit Junior, and L’il Ed and the Blues Imperials. Iglauer also arranged to have Alligator Records lease and reissue classic 1950s R&B recordings by Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson originally recorded for the Jackson, Mississippi, record label Trumpet. In 1982 Alligator Records received its first Grammy Award for the zydeco release I’m Here! by Clifton Chenier. In 1985 the collaboration between guitarists Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray, entitled Showdown!, won another Grammy Award. By 2001 Alligator artists had received 32 Grammy nominations and won 64 W. C. Handy awards.
Palmer, Robert, Deep Blues, Viking Press, 1981.
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 31, 2001, p. 4.
Down Beat, December 2001, p. 24.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 30, 2001, p. 14E.
Alligator Records Official Website, http://www.alligator.com (February 20, 2002).
“Bruce Iglauer,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (February 20, 2002).
Additional information was taken from the liner notes of The Alligator Records Twentieth Anniversary Collection, The Alligator Records Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Collection, and The Alligator Records Thirtieth Anniversary Collection.
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