The Perfect Weekend Read
If you’ve subscribed to, or even randomly leafed through, a couple of issues of Living Blues in the last few decades, undoubtedly you’ve perused the Alligator Records ads contained inside. In addition to touting the label’s latest releases, they also contain label founder Bruce Iglauer’s full-page poetic waxings citing various points in Alligator’s history. Bitten by the Blues is in many ways a compilation of these regular testimonials. A stone-cold Chicago blues fanatic, Iglauer started the label on a shoestring budget in 1970, selling and promoting his initial Hound Dog Taylor LP out of the trunk of his secondhand Plymouth. Fast-forward. Today, Alligator Records has been referred to as “the largest contemporary blues label in the world.” Bitten by the Blues documents much of Alligator’s colorful and unlikely journey. Early on, Iglauer concentrated on Windy City artists. In addition to the once-in-a-millennium Taylor, his Chicago roster grew to include Son Seals, Koko Taylor and Lonnie Brooks. Shrewdly, Iglauer realized that for Alligator to grow and prosper, he would need to expand beyond the 312 area code. In 1979 he would travel to the 504 area code, specifically to Clematis Street, where he recorded Professor Longhair’s acclaimed Crawfish Fiesta LP. However, a 1997 foray to New Orleans would prove disastrous after Alligator forged an alliance with Camp Street’s Black Top Records—a deal which backfired for both labels exponentially.
While the book is filled with interesting antidotes about Alligator artists, incidents and specific releases, the authors don’t ignore the colossal challenges the ever-metamorphosing record business imposes. Formats change, there are manufacturing errors, record chains go bankrupt, distributors pay their bills with returns, your best-selling artist needs a down payment on a bus, your last batch of releases tanks. It’s a damn tough business to survive in. But to Alligator’s credit, they have survived while many contemporaries have struggled and gone belly up. Bitten by the Blues in many ways is a tale of that survival and a celebration of the music many folks grew up with.