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Robert Mugge’s “Pride and Joy” reissued on Blu-ray

Pride And Joy Front
Robert Mugge’s “Pride and Joy” reissued.
By Ron Wynn
Even though Robert Mugge’s superb film “Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records” was originally issued in the early ’90s and has just been reissued on Blu-ray DVD, it remains every bit as vital and important now as it was over two decades ago. That’s because Alligator Records’ chronicle reflects the blues’ struggle and perseverance as an idiom. Though there are some fans in both genres who fail to grasp this, blues in the 21st century operates very much like jazz. Both are treasured and vital art forms that now lack front and center attention from their primary originating audiences: Black Americans.
Since its inception Alligator has always had on its roster a solid mix of veterans and newcomers. There have been both tremendous players well schooled in the music’s history and emerging artists who’d apprenticed, listened to and worked alongside past greats, but were now interested in crafting their own vision of this timeless music. “Pride and Joy” blends a marvelous 20th anniversary concert with a valuable documentary presentation on the label’s history. The mix of performance footage and insider interview analysis shows what makes Alligator special and also profiles the array of fine artists who’ve recorded for it.
It’s also a look at a true record man, the label’s founder Bruce Iglauer. If you’ve ever met, interviewed or spent any time around him, you’ve seen someone loves the music in a way only a genuine record person does. Every Alligator artist that I’ve ever interviewed says the same thing about Iglauer, that he’s never tried to tell them what or how to record, instead concentrating on finding ways to make the very best record possible. That sounds simple, but the bottom line is so much of what you often hear on commercial radio reflects much more the vision of a particular producer or studio than the individual artistic contribution of an artist or group.
Iglauer is frank and open in assessing both how the label started, and what it took to survive and become one among a handful of premier American blues companies. He didn’t get in the business to be a billionaire, nor did he strive to make a brand sound that you could plug any act into and create a hit. It is refreshing to hear someone talk about music in an easily understandable, yet also knowledgeable fashion. He knows sound and recording technique, but he also knows the importance of taking chances in the studio, of being able to shape a contemporary presentation while retaining a classic foundation, and the difficulty that any blues act faces in an era when many consider the sound at best something to be respected and admired, but incapable of having anything to say about what’s happening today.
Mugge’s documentary also explores thorny issues of class and race without getting bogged down in academic language or melodramatic rhetoric. It becomes clear rather early, even before Iglauer acknowledges it on camera, that the contemporary blues audience is heavily White, and that there aren’t many shows airing blues today that aren’t connected to either college or community radio. There’s a lengthy set of reasons for that situation, and a lot of complex factors that have filled numerous books penned by everyone from critics to academics to polemicists, and thankfully much of that isn’t in this documentary. However it is clear that Iglauer and many Alligator artists have done what they can to make music that reflects the era, something that’s even more evident when you listen to some of the current Alligator albums and artists.
One thing that would be nice if a second volume is ever made would be a discussion of how certain 21st century changes in the business have affected (or whether they have) how Alligator does business. For instance, the proliferation of streaming services and downloads, and the resurgence of vinyl. Would also love to know Iglauer’s views on the impact of record stores disappearing all over the place, and what the death of so many giants in the music means for the future.

There are other bonuses with the Blu-ray version to entice those who previously purchased the original DVD. There’s audio from 10 additional songs on the tour plus a short featurette that outlines some of the steps involved in making “Pride and Joy.” Anyone familiar with Robert Mugge’s lengthy, distinguished filmmaking history knows any project he makes is well worth purchasing, but “Pride and Joy” is a special treat both for music fans in general, and especially anyone who loves the blues.

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Filed under Alligator Records, Blu-Ray, Blues, Bruce Iglauer, record labels, Robert Mugge