Were it not for the artists and the music they produced, no one would be watching this film.
In 1971, Bruce Iglauer was working as a shipping clerk for Delmark Records, an independent jazz and blues label in Chicago. When he was unable to convince the label to record his favorite band, Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers, he took the plunge and founded his own label, Alligator Records, to do the job himself. The rest is history, as they say: Iglauer recorded and promoted the label’s first recording while on a break from Delmark, driving from one radio station to another with a box of LPs in his car. From there, Alligator Records went on to record some of the biggest names in American blues, including Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Big Walter Horton, Albert Collins, and Clifton Chenier.
In 1992, Alligator Records organized a concert tour featuring some of their most popular recording artists. One stop on that tour, a performance at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia, forms the backbone of Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records, a 1992 documentary by Robert Mugge recently released on Blu-ray by MVD.
Pride and Joy is a celebration of Alligator Records and the artists it recorded, combining concert and recording session footage with interviews with Iglauer, the performers, and others in the music business. No tough questions are asked, nor would they be expected in this context, which instead sketches in the history of the company and offers some insider views on the music. Iglauer is relaxed on camera and is more than happy to show off his company, non-glamorous aspects included (the warehouse is down a back alley, and staff meetings are pretty much like staff meetings in any business). This part of the film serves as an interesting time capsule of the days when recordings were sold as physical media that had to be shipped to the customer, rather than MP3 files that could be downloaded from anywhere. In case you were wondering, in 1992 Iglauer said that 70% of his sales were for CDS, but Alligator still produced albums on vinyl for those who preferred that medium.
The Philadelphia concert, featuring Elvin Bishop, Katie Webster, Lonnie Brooks, and Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, is the real heart of the film. That’s as it should be, because were it not for the artists and the music they produced, no one would be watching this film. Mugge gives each band their fair share of screen time, presenting complete songs with professional but unfussy cinematography that concentrates on the music happening on stage, not the crowd or other ancillary elements. The concert ends with all the artists on stage for a massed rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago” which is a celebration of the song, the performers, and this distinctively American style of music.
Pride and Joy is distributed on Blu-Ray by MVD Entertainment Group. Extras on the disc include the making-of documentary “Alligator Tales” and ten bonus songs. | Sarah Boslaugh