Blues Access Fall 2001
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Alligator Records 30th Anniversary:
A few words with Bruce Iglauer

By Ben Hulette

Had Bob Koester at Delmark Records not refused to record Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers back in 1971, Bruce Iglauer may never have ventured out on his own to establish Alligator Record. Ben Hulette spoke with Iglauer for BLUES ACCESS on the occasion of the independent blues giant’s 30th anniversary:

"My first job when I came to Chicago was at Delmark Records. Bob Koester, who still runs Delmark and also this wonderful store called the Jazz Record Mart, was one of my idols. I had read about him before I came to Chicago, and he was the only contact I had for getting on the Chicago blues scene. When I first came to Chicago, I was coming to find a band to play at my college. That was actually my goal. That was in ’68. I ended up getting Luther Allison, who was, at that time, a Delmark artist.

"I did a good job with promotion, and Bob was so impressed he offered me a job. So I took a job as the Delmark Records shipping clerk and also worked in his record store. I moved to Chicago on January 1st, 1970, right after I finished Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was actually a theatre major, specializing in history of the theatre. I never thought about a career in the music business.

"I would probably still be at the Jazz Record Mart if Bob had wanted to record Hound Dog Taylor. I saw Hound Dog sitting in a few places and that was pretty disastrous, because people couldn’t follow him. But I first saw him with his own band at Florence’s Lounge on the South Side. There was so much raw energy on the bandstand — it was the most fun I had ever experienced with a live blues band. I love slide guitar, and of course Hound Dog was a great slide player. It had that rock’n’roll spirit, but it was blues all the way. And there was like this telepathic communication between these three guys in the band. It was the fun, it was the energy, it was the slide guitar, it was just magic! And it was so real!

"I was completely hooked and wanted to produce a record for Delmark. I couldn’t convince Bob of this, probably because he had only seen Hound Dog sitting in. So I got mad and decided I’d do it myself. I produced my first session when I was 23, with Hound Dog Taylor, and released it when I was 24. Alligator was my nickname. My girlfriend at the time called me ‘Alligator’ because I have this habit of playing drum parts to records on the radio by clicking my teeth together, so it reminded her of the snapping jaws of an alligator.

"Recording the earlier artists [on the label] was such an adventure because every one of those records could make or break the future of the company. That is, if I failed to sell enough of one record, I couldn’t make another one. The artists that I tend to think about the most are the early ones: That would be Hound Dog, and probably the first Son Seals album that I did, because he was completely unknown and that was considered a very big gamble. My first Fenton Robinson record, the first Albert Collins record, my Professor Longhair record, the first Johnny Winter. Those are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head. Showdown, of course.

"Something that people don’t understand is that the record industry is primarily controlled by five gigantic multi-national companies. They not only own labels, but they own their own distributing companies. The independent world is the world outside of that. The independent world is the world where we aren’t big enough to own distributing companies, so we sell through independent distributors. We’re not part of this major label scheme in any way.

"100% of the stock of Alligator is owned by me. I’ve seen so many companies that went public and it’s the worst thing they ever did, because the stockholders began looking for them to show profits every quarter. It’s a very bad way to think. This is a music company. The only reason that we try to make money in this company is because we can’t make music unless we make money. I’ve been very lucky in finding some excellent people who, for whatever reason, have a tendency to be very loyal here and stick around for a long time."

Tribute to Sonny Payne at King Biscuit Festival

The Delta Cultural Center, a museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, will sponsor two special events during the 2001 King Biscuit Blues Festival weekend. "Toasting a Legend: A Tribute to ‘Sunshine’ Sonny Payne" will be held October 4 in a large tent in the 200 block of Cherry Street in downtown Helena.

This event, organized by the DCC’s Bob Nance, will celebrate blues radio legend Sonny Payne, host of KFFA’s King Biscuit Time, the nation’s longest running daily radio show now in its (and Payne’s) 60th year on the air. Special guests toasting and roasting Sonny Payne and playing music in his honor will include Robert Lockwood, Sam Carr, John Weston, Bobby Rush, Sam Myers, Anson Funderbugh, Billy Lee Riley, Levon Helm, Kim Wilson, Fred James, C.W. Gatlin and Bruce Iglauer.

Tickets to the Sonny Payne tribute are $50 each, which includes dinner, a commemorative gift pack and lots of music. Proceeds benefit the DCC’s Delta Sounds room. Only a few hundred tickets are available for the general public and may be pirchased by contacting DCC at 1-800-358-0972.

The second event, "Broadcasting the Blues — A Panel Discussion on Blues Radio in the Delta," will take place from 10:30 am to noon on October 6th at DCC’s Visitor Center at 141 Cherry Street in Helena. The panel will focus on the impact of blues radio programming in the Delta by KFFA (Helena), WROX (Clarksdale), KWEM (West Memphis) and WDIA (Memphis) during the ’40s and ’50s.

Panelists will include Louis Cantor (author of Wheelin’ on Beale, the definitive book on WDIA), Peter Aschoff (contributing writer, Living Blues) and Paul Burlison (legendary rockabilly guitarist who performed with Howlin’ Wolf on KWEM). The panel will be moderated by Steve Hoffman, consultant to the Delta Cultural Center, and is free to the public — no tickets required.

Also featured at the Center will be a photography exhibit by regular BLUES ACCESS contributor David Horwitz.

Bill Ferris to be Replaced as Chairman of Humanities Endowment

Mississippi Delta blues scholar William R. Ferris, author of the classic study Blues from the Delta, will be replaced this Fall as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) by Bruce Cole, a professor of fine arts and comparative literature at the Hope School of Fine Arts at Indiana University and a specialist on Italian Renaissance art who was nominated to a four-year term by President George W. Bush.

Ferris, former director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi and a 1997 Clinton appointee, enjoyed the support of Mississippi’s two Republican senators, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, both of whom had asked President Bush to retain Ferris in recognition of his efforts to liberate the NEH from the ideological wars that had raged during the tenure of Lynne Cheney, a Reagan appointee who is the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney.

"It has been an honor to serve the American public as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities," Mr. Ferris commented. "I am especially proud that during my tenure as chairman we have increased access to the humanities for all Americans and have helped our citizens rediscover America’s rich history and culture and our relation to the world."

The NEH is the principal federal agency involved in scholarship, providing grants in history, philosophy and other disciplines.


©2001 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA