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Iglauer started the label with his own savings to record and produce his favorite band Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, whom his employer, Bob Koester of Delmark Records, declined to record. Nine months after the release of the first album, he stopped working at Delmark Records to concentrate fully on the band and his label. Only 1,000 copies of the Taylor's debut album were made, whilst Iglauer also took over managing the group. Other early releases for the fledgling album included recordings by Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell and Fenton Robinson. In 1976, Koko Taylor's I Got What It Takes was nominated for a Grammy Award, and Albert Collins soon signed to the label. Iglauer mainly acted as the label's executive producer.
In 1982, the label won its first Grammy Award for the album, I'm Here, by Clifton Chenier. The second Grammy came in 1985 for Showdown! by Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray. In 1991, a 20th anniversary compilation album was issued.
Since its founding, Alligator Records has released over 250 blues and blues/rock albums, as well as a now-defunct reggae series. Present and past Alligator artists include Marcia Ball, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials, Eddy Clearwater, Sam Lay, Smokin' Joe Kubek, Roomful of Blues, Eric Lindell, JJ Grey & MOFRO, Lee Rocker, Cephas & Wiggins, and Michael Burks. More recently, veterans Charlie Musselwhite and James Cotton have re-signed to the label.
Alligator celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011 and noted that it returned a profit for the previous year.
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