Reviews

Blues and The Alligator: The First Twenty Years of Alligator Records

Koko Taylor

Blues and the Alligator is a film by Jim Downing, shot 20years ago for Swedish television and now available on DVD as part of the celebration of the label's 40 year dedication to the blues.


Blues and the Alligator: The First Twenty Years of Alligator Records

Director: Jim Downing
Cast: Bruce Iglauer, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks
Release date: 2011-08-23

Arguably, the best—or at least the most notable—moment in the documentary Blues and the Alligator: The First Twenty Years of Alligator Records comes about halfway through the feature when Koko Taylor opens a baseball game by belting out the national anthem. Taylor, the Queen of the Blues, is indisputably Alligator Records' best known recording artist, and the segment on her is reason enough to see the film, but she's not its sole asset.

Blues and the Alligator is a film by Jim Downing, shot 20 years ago for Swedish television and now available on DVD as part of the celebration of the label's 40 year dedication to the blues (there is also a two CD collection of tracks by Alligator artists available). The film tells the story of the first two decades of the Chicago blues label founded in 1971 by Bruce Iglauer, a blues fan who initially started Alligator to record and release music by local artist Hound Dog Taylor.

Hound Dog Taylor sadly passed away in 1975, but Alligator Records has endured. The film follows Iglauer through days in his office with his small staff and on excursions to interview artists, as well as to hear them play in clubs and in their homes. In addition to Koko Taylor, Blues and the Alligator features the great Lonnie Brooks, footage of the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson, and a then-new generation of young blues players such as Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal and Billy Branch.

Blues is a much larger musical community than it was in the late '60s when he became passionate about the Chicago sound, which means that it has moved away from its roots in the Southside and Westside Chicago neighborhoods to a certain extent as artists go to the places where there is more money to be made, and Iglauer is aware of his part in this process. He states, "The irony of it all is that while Alligator has helped Blues survive and reach a broader audience, we've also helped take the music away from its traditional environment and when that happens, the music changes."

However, Blues Iglauer remains certain that the blues he loves and continues to champion will always be around. "Blues is a healing music!", he explains, "and as long as there's a need to be healed, the Blues will live on."

And so it does. Blues and the Alligator: The First Twenty Years of Alligator Records has no bonus materials on the DVD, but the film features music from the Alligator Records catalog, including favorite songs like "Sky Is Crying", "Roll Your Moneymaker", "Sweet Home Chicago', "Devil Child", "Stormy Monday", "Snatch It Back and Hold It", "Like Father, Like Son", "Can't Let These Blues Go", "You Don't Love Me", "You Got Me Running" and a blistering live duet performance of "It's a Dirty Job" by Lonnie Brooks and Koko Taylor.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image