Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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ALLIGATOR label

A label formed in Chicago by Bruce Iglauer in 1971, an important blues label in the line of Chicago's Chess and Delmark, successful beyond expectations. Like Chuck Nessa, Iglauer once worked at Delmark; he was also manager and driver for Hound Dog Taylor (b 12 April 1917, Natchez MS; d 17 December 1975, Chicago). Iglauer's theory that young white fans would buy LPs by modern blues artists was proved correct: Alligator's first release was the first Taylor album, and Iglauer carried on with Koko Taylor (Alligator's first Grammy nomination '75, followed by five more for her subsequent albums), Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks ('Guitar Jr' b 18 December 1933, Dubuisson LA; d 1 April 2017, Chicago). Iglauer rescued Albert Collins from years of neglect, his straightforward production with good sound and no gimmicks resulting in splendid albums including Showdown! with Collins, guests Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray, one of four Alligator LPs in the charts in 1986. He also managed many acts, his personal attention and full-time interest avoiding the mistakes of labels that get too big.

The good-time music continued with Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows (Larry 'Big Twist' Nolan, b 23 September 1937, d 14 March 1990), the excellent nine-piece band including horns (also two earlier albums on Flying Fish). Alligator signed white legends Lonnie Mack, Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan and Elvin Bishop, whose careers were in danger of terminal slowdown; discoveries in the late 1980s included L'il Ed and the Blues Imperials: L'il Ed Williams, guitar and vocals (b 8 April 1955); James 'Pookie' Young, bass; Dave Weld, guitar; Louis Henderson, drums: Williams and Young are nephews of the late J.B. Hutto and had never recorded before; they came to Streeterville Studios to cut one track for an anthology and didn't stop until they'd had a party and made an album, Roughhousin' '87. The jump-band-influenced Little Charlie and the Nightcats made All The Way Crazy '87 on the West Coast, where they were a local legend in the Sacramento Valley: guitarist Charlie Baty (counts Cray among fans), plus Rick Estrin on harmonica and vocals; Jay Peterson, bass and backing vocals; Dobie Strange on drums; their seventh album on Alligator was Night Vision '96.

28 Alligator albums were nominated for Grammys 1971-94 including two winners: Clifton Chenier's I'm Here! '82 and Showdown! '85. Artists added to the roster have been Luther Allison, Charlie Musselwhite, Sippie Wallace, C.J. Chenier, Carey Bell, Billy Boy Arnold and Noble 'Thin Man' Watts: R&B sax legend Watts d 24 August 2004 aged 74; his first solo album was Return Of The Thin Man '87 on Alligator. Younger discoveries included Bob Margolin, Michael Hill, Dave Hole, Corey Harris; European releases by Otis Rush and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells have been licensed; reissues from the Trumpet label '94 included compilations and Sonny Boy Williamson's Goin' In Your Direction.