Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records

| May 1, 2016

After the release of his extremely influential 1991 film Deep Blues, a look at Mississippi blues culture, which was funded by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics and involved a collaboration with legendary music writer Robert Palmer, acclaimed music filmmaker Robert Mugge received a phone call. The caller was Bruce Iglauer, founder and president of Alligator Records, the Chicago-based record label which had, over the past two decades, become the world’s most successful purveyor of blues-related product.  Iglauer’s message to Mugge was simple: “We should know each other!” Mugge agreed, and from that initial phone call began a long-term friendship, as well as immediate collaboration on another feature-length blues film.

That film, 1992’s Pride And Joy: The Story Of Alligator Records, presents musical highlights from one of the 4-plus-hour concerts at Philadelphia’s now-defunct Chestnut Cabaret that made up the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour, glimpses of Alligator’s Chicago offices, and profiles of key performers and staff members. The “pride and joy” on display are not only that of fine musical artists plying their trades, but also that of a passionate and highly principled entrepreneur succeeding in a business mostly controlled by corporate giants and littered with the wreckage of countless small, independent labels. Songs in the film include “Pride and Joy” and “Ed’s Boogie” (Lil’ Ed), “Pussycat Moan” and “Lord, I Wonder” (Katie Webster), “El-Bo” and “Beer Drinking Woman” (Elvin Bishop), “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Koko Taylor), “Wife For Tonight” and “I Want All My Money Back” (Lonnie Brooks), “It’s A Dirty Job” (Koko Taylor with Lonnie Brooks), and “Sweet Home Chicago” (final joint encore).

MVD Entertainment Group has announced the first Blu-ray release of this exciting film that Jim Bessman of Billboard called “A fascinating look at the pivotal blues label…[with performances that are] uniformly dynamite.” For this release, the film has been newly transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and stereo audio masters and lovingly restored by the director.

Also included on the Blu-ray are ten bonus songs taken from Alligator’s original 1992 tour and soundtrack CD, as well as the director’s new “making of” video titled “Alligator Tales.” As Peter Stack wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Fans of blues who wailed along with director Robert Mugge’s incisive documentary Deep Blues in 1991 have a new blues treat to bite into with Pride And Joy: The Story Of Alligator Records.

This documentary and concert film was great, in that it delivered first-person interviews about blues music, including those from the late Chicago Blues Queen herself Koko Taylor and the recently deceased Blues man Lonnie Mack. The fervor with which Iglauer started Alligator Records is commendable, in that he was merely a college student who had a love for blues, as he “trolled” the South Side jazz bar Peppers and another club on the West Side to satiate his appetite for what he termed as music that 60’s college kids liked. Out of this love came the beginning of Alligator Records, which is located on the North Side of Chicago.

The indie label is celebrating 45 years and continues to provide music for a “hard core blues market” that enjoys songs by Lonnie and Ronnie Brooks, a father-and-son duo that together have decades in the business. Iglauer says that there is both a primary white audience and a large blue-collar black audience that enjoy and buy blues music. Memorable sets in the film show Taylor and Lonnie Brooks singing Somebody’s Gotta Do It; Lonnie and Ronnie Brooks singing You’re Using Me; as well as Lil’ Ed, who worked for years in a car wash before hitting the blues scene, while admitting that “he lives the blues.”

Even though the record label has been around for decades, Iglauer, whose first job was at Delmark Records, says he would like to see the blues played on more black radio stations. Other acts featured in the film include Hound Dog Taylor, who was Iglauer’s first project; blues pianist Katie Webster, who does a mix of Zydeco, blues and folk music, and Elvin Bishop.

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About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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