Alligator Records: 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin' Music

5/5 reels

I couldn't forget Hound Dog Taylor if I wanted to.

I remember standing in my college radio station record room, flipping through the vinyl, even though the rest of the world had long ago moved onto CDs, while still years away from MP3s and streams. I saw Taylor's name and loved it. It sounded so bluesy. And his face looked just as authentic. I put him on the turntable and he instantly hooked me. The music was raw, but also fully formed. It had the intensity of punk and metal, but somehow in a lower gear.

Taylor has always been in my life since that day. I have 1982's Genuine Houserocking Music on my wall. For years, his hand, with its six fingers, was my phone wallpaper, where I would frequently show it to my nephews, both of them never sure if the photo was real. Taylor cemented himself into my life, a family member I'm not related to and never met.

Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer with Hound Dog Taylor (photo by Nicole Fanelli)

That's the impact music has on us. Some artists, for whatever reason, become fused to our souls. But there are lots of other artists that we hear, love, and for whatever reason, forget about. It's not a judgment on them or their talent, so much as it's the nature of life. Things fall out of our listening rotation and are eventually forgotten. Which was the joy of the Alligator compilation, Alligator Records: 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin' Music. There's plenty of artists I know and remember, but it's also a great refresher of some of the wonderful artists who are no longer front-and-center in our minds.

The challenge of compilations, especially for fans, is that we often already know and own these songs. Given Alligator's long history and the album's 58 tracks, it's unlikely many people possess each of these albums, but there are still some familiar tunes.

For me, the value was in the less familiar. So as someone who didn't know Michael Burks, who died in 2012 at 54, it was great to hear his huge guitar tone and emotive vocals on "Love Disease." I had somehow missed The Paladins, who have broken up but occasionally reunite, but I got to discover them through "Keep On Lovin’ Me, Baby." And despite ubiquitous guitar magazine ads, seemingly into the 1990s even though it was a 1985 release, I had forgotten about Showdown!, featuring Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland.

The compilation leans toward the contemporary-sounding tracks. There's not too much treacly keyboard or songs with now-out-of-date production flourishes. It certainly helps that Alligator has always had a consistent sound, even as it worked with blues-adjacent styles like zydeco and rockabilly.

Despite the timelessness of so many of Alligator's albums, 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin' Music also favors the more recent releases, with almost 25% of the compilation released in 2018 or later. It makes sense in that the purpose of a release like this is, of course, to celebrate Alligator's history, but also to help current artists sell albums and tickets to shows. Still, it would have been nice to hear older tracks, even if it meant multiple selections from the same artist.

50 Years of Genuine Houserockin' Music is a lot of great music. There's no filler, nor segments where the quality slows down. Even if you already own many of these albums, it's worth flipping through the track listing, to remind yourself of how much great blues, if you're anything like me, you've managed to forget over the years. Or managed to not hear in the first place. The human brain can only hold so much. Things are going to fall out. This compilation reminded me of what I had dropped, but also great stuff that never made it in.