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Many Shades of Blues
Label Spotlight
Many Shades of Blues

With “Genuine Houserockin' Music" as their slogan, blues label Alligator Records has been around for nearly five decades. Their 250+ releases share deep roots in blues traditions, but also reshape the heartfelt genre. Together with founder Bruce Iglauer we touched upon half a century dedicated to the blues—and how sampling relates to that.


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“Genuine Houserockin’ Music” has a nice ring to it. What does it mean to you?

It has been our slogan from the first days of Alligator Records. Our artists have always been proud to both carry on the tradition of blues, but also to update and reshape the blues in their own way. That’s the “Genuine” part of their music; the roots. The “house” part is because our artists’ songs weren’t created on synthesizers in studios. They were honed in front of live audiences in small clubs, where the artists could feel the response of their listeners and share the energy with the audience close up, and shape the songs to fill the emotional needs of their listeners.

That’s why it’s “Houserockin’.” Not “arena-rockin’” or “stadium-rockin’”. And the “Rockin’” part doesn’t just mean that the music is intensely rhythmic and makes you want to move. Though it sure does that. At its best, Alligator’s blues rocks not only your body, but it also rocks your soul.

When you say “our artists’ songs weren’t created on synthesizers in studios,” was this sentiment also part of the reason to start a label?

One reason I fell in love with the blues is that the music moved me. It reached some inner spot and, as they say, soothed my soul. I love the directness, the storytelling lyrics, and the cathartic quality of the blues. Blues developed as a folk’s music, and the artists were usually of the same community as the audience—African Americans dealing with the same problems—poverty, racism and lack of opportunity. Except when the blues began, these problems were even worse than they are now.

The magical thing about blues is that it works so well that even I—a middle-class white guy from Cincinnati—can feel and be moved by the blues. The best blues artists dig deep into themselves to create soul-to-soul communication with their audiences. And the interpretation of songs changes at each gig, as the artists feel the audiences. The interpretations of the songs change from night to night. Not only because of the audience, but also because they are the result of interaction between the band members. The same song might feel sad one night and joyful the next.

Bruce Iglauer (photo: Chris Monaghan)
Bruce Iglauer (photo: Chris Monaghan)

“Using samples to create or enhance tracks is an amazing art form, calling on a very different sort of creativity and talent than making music on instruments.”

— Bruce Iglauer (founder of Alligator Records)

So which artists featured on Tracklib best represent that style?

The most obvious would be our very first artist, Hound Dog Taylor, but there are dozens of others who have carried on this raucous, unvarnished music. Of our legendary artists who are now deceased, besides Hound Dog Taylor, I’d think of Son Seals, Albert Collins, William Clarke, Katie Webster, Carey Bell, and Michael “Iron Man” Burks. Of our current roster, I’d first name Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, who have been with the label since the mid-1980s and have nine albums on Alligator. I’d also single out The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling and The Cash Box Kings, both of them signed in the last couple of years.

What is your view on music sampling, from the perspective of Alligator Records? I mean, you started in a whole different era, roughly a decade before the concept of “sampling” really took off...

I laugh sometimes at my own naiveté. When I first heard hip hop and rap, I thought “people talking and rhyming rhythmically over computerized tracks with bits of other songs thrown in? It’s a novelty that will last about six months...” That was over 40 years ago. Could I have been more wrong?

I will be the first to say that I don’t have an ear for hip hop or rap. But using samples to create or enhance tracks is an amazing art form, calling on a very different sort of creativity and talent than making music on instruments. And the art form has continued to evolve musically, as well as making some strong social statements that I admire. I would like to see a synthesis between blues and hip hop, but it needs to happen organically—not just a studio project, but in live bands. Blues guitar and harmonica combined with samples and digital scratching? Why not?

As far as Alligator, with our large catalog of blues and blues-based music, we have plenty of tracks that could make for very effective samples—signature guitars and harmonicas, intense, distinctive vocals, and catchy hooks.

"Tracklib makes it simple and affordable to clear samples. That allows users to concentrate on what they want to do most: create creative and memorable recordings."

— Bruce Iglauer (founder of Alligator Records)

How do you look at Tracklib and its potential in the music industry in this day and age?

Sample placement deals and negotiations can get very complicated and lengthy. For musicians/producers who can’t afford a troop of lawyers and don’t want to wait months to clear a sample (but who want to be legally and ethically correct and obtain legal rights to use the sample), Tracklib is an ideal solution. Tracklib makes it simple and affordable to clear samples. That allows users to concentrate on what they want to do most: create creative and memorable recordings.

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Just a fun hypothetical question: if you could sample any material from Alligator as a producer, which one would it be, why, and for what type of track?

That’s a very hard question. As our music is intentionally raw and energized, I’d probably be looking for a track with some tempo, and with great blues intensity and some burning guitar. A track like “Hot Sauce” by Son Seals would be interesting in a hip hop context.