Holy Hosts

New CDs offer slice of blues heaven

By Greg Cahill

Independent record labels come and independent record labels go. So it’s worth taking note when a pair of top blues indie labels–Blind Pig and Alligator–celebrate their 25th and 30th anniversaries, respectively, with recession-busting, low-priced, multi-disc samplers chock full of some of the most badass blues around.

Blind Pig Records–which splits its operations between Chicago and San Francisco–got its humble start in 1977 in the basement of a rowdy Ann Arbor, Mich., blues club. These days, the label’s porcine catalog reads like a virtual who’s who of blues and roots artists: Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Commander Cody, Asleep at the Wheel, Roosevelt Sykes, Robert Lockwood, Mighty Joe Young, Johnny Shines, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Walter Horton, Bonnie Raitt, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, and Hound Dog Taylor, to name a few.

More recently, Blind Pig has nurtured the careers of up-and-coming blues artists Tommy Castro, a Bay Area native who recently bailed to sign on with Tower Records’ fledgling label; former John Mayall sideman Coco Montoya, who sports a blues guitar deluxe; and the incredible singer, songwriter, and guitarist Deborah Coleman (a big hit at this year’s Russian River Blues Festival).

Over the years, the label has opened its doors to such North Bay artists as Roy Rogers, Norton Buffalo, and Mitch Woods & His Rocket 88s.

The label’s impressive 25th Anniversary Collection–two audio CDs, including 35 great selections spanning Blind Pig’s quarter century, plus a bonus video CD–runs the gamut from gospel to rockabilly, such Southside blues legends as Pinetop Perkins to hip-hoppin’ newcomer Popa Chubby, the traditional blues of Chris Thomas King to the powerhouse wail of guitarist Jimmy Thackery.

The collection boasts standout tracks by Arthur Adams and B.B. King, James Cotton, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Morganfield (the son of Muddy Waters), and Taj Mahal.

It’s something to squeal about.

At the ripe old age of 30, Alligator Records has helped define the often funk-laden and percussive sound of contemporary blues. Label founder and diehard blues fan Bruce Iglauer invested a small family inheritance to record his idol, the whirlwind slide electric blues guitarist Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers, whom Iglauer had seen performing in a Chicago storefront window. The resulting album, still among the best in the genre, helped finance the next recording (Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell) and established Iglauer as perhaps the most important blues promoter of the past three decades.

The label’s major coups include 1985’s triple-threat smash Showdown!, which teamed axeslingers Robert Cray, Albert Collins, and Johnny Copeland.

Today, Alligator Records is widely regarded as the premier blues label in the United States. The Alligator set–two CDs, one recorded in the studio and one live–is a steal at under $20.

It showcases a host of startlingly talented blues performers (although Charlie Musselwhite is inexplicably absent) that includes harmonica ace Carey Bell’s haunting lament “Hard Working Woman,” one of the finest blues tracks recorded in recent history; the awe-inspiring work of the late guitarist Luther Allison; and less solid but impressive tracks by jump blues enthusiasts Little Charlie and the Nightcats, guitar phenom Rusty Zinn, and Texas blues queen Marcia Ball.

“Iglauer has done his duty, risking everything to follow the blues god,” the Washington Post recently opined. “When he dies, he’s going straight to the roadhouse Valhalla.”

From the November 8-14, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.