Friday, June 20, 2008

Repost 1/19/08: The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings--KoKo Taylor

There are new additions to the "sites/blogs of interest" section. Please check them out, they are wonderful blogs written by social workers. Since I haven't found a job yet and need something to fill up my time when I'm not pavement pounding I've decided to take excerpts from The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, written by Tony Russell and Chris Smith with Neil Slaven, Ricky Russell and Joe Faulkner, 2006. Since KoKo Taylor is my favorite blues singer of all time I've decided to start with her. She can be found in The Penguin pages 631-633.

"Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Cora Walton was drawn to the blues by hearing it on local radio stations. At the age of 18 she moved to Chicago, where she sang in clubs. Her recording career began 10 years later and was encouraged by Willie Dixon, who got her on to Chess. In 1965 she had a hit with 'Wang Dang Doodle', a Dixon song previously recorded by Howlin' Wolf. Since the '70's she has been one of the most popular artists on the US and international blues circuits and has won several awards. She appears in David Lynch's 1990 film Wild at Heart."


  • The Chess Years--Her first, recording alongside the likes of Walter "Shakey" Horton, Robert Nighthawk, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, etc.
  • KoKo Taylor--Similar to The Chess Years. Taylor's first single for Checker, 'I Got What It Takes/What Kind Of Man Is This' exhibited a promisingly strong, if undisciplined singer. A year and a half later, her pugnacious reading of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" confirmed her as one of Chicago's most exciting new talents. Much of that talent was betrayed by her subsequent checker sides. Taylor's star would only shine clearly when she got away from Dixon and the Chess studios.
  • South Side Lady--Taylor might have left Chess but she still relied on the repertoire she had developed there: she sings four Dixon songs, including two versions each (one studio, one live) of 'Twenty Nine Ways' and 'I Got What It Takes'.
  • I Got What It Takes--A simple menu of old-fashioned, home-cooked blues such as 'Blues Never Die' and the Elmore James derived 'Happy Home,' with a couple of side-orders of Southern soul like 'That's Why I'm Crying' and a surprise dessert of the country song 'Honky Tonk'.
  • The Earthshaker--a good moody reading of Little Milton's 'Walking The Backstreets'. but most of the other pieces are uppish in tempo, with nods to Dixon in 'Spoonful' and a remade 'Wang Dang Doodle'.
  • From The Heart Of A Woman--has a stronger flavor of Southern soul in the Ann Peebles or Irma Thomas manner. Criss Johnson is a forceful addition and remains so on Queen Of The Blues, unfazed by the star guests whom alligator brought in to spice up the dish.
  • Queen Of The Blues--this album marked a shift away from soul repertoire towards swaggering blues like 'Queen Bee' and 'I Cried Like A Baby'. That and the albums title suggest that Taylor and her people were focusing on establishing her as the reigning blues diva.
  • Live From Chicago-An Audience With The Queen--undeniably something fresh in Taylor's output, as it captured some of the flavor of a club gig (at Fitzgerald's in the chicago suburb of Berwyn), but the price of this novelty, for fans who had invested in her previous records, was a great deal of familiar material; she had recorded six of the ten tracks on alligator albums alone.
  • Jump for Joy--was made soon after the death of Robert 'Pops" Taylor, KoKo's husband and road manager and a popular figure on the blues circuit. No doubt it was coincidental that her first album of the '90s felt like something of a new start. She or her co-producers eliminated old blues and soul standbys, matching fresh material with less conventional settings, including horn arrangements by Gene Barge and inventive interventions by Criss Johnson, back as sole guitarist except on 'It's a Dirty Job' a duet with Taylor and Lonnie Brooks.
  • Force of Nature--Taylor is joined by Carey Bell on 'Mother Nature' and Buddy Guy for 'Born Under A Bad Sign'. Guest appearances were becoming a routine feature of her records.
  • Royal Blue--Taylor is joined by pianists Johnnie Johnson and Ken Saydak. Kenny Wayne Shepherd on 'Bring Me Some Water' and B. B. King on 'Blues Hotel'. In a quieter collaboration Taylor sings her own 'The Man Next Door' partnered only by Keb' Mo' on harmonica and National guitar.
  • Deluxe Edition--draws from all eight of Taylor's previous Alligator albums, adding 'Man Size Job', a previously unissued track from the Royal Blue sessions. The hour long program naturally embraces crowd-pleasers like 'I'm A Woman' (KoKo's answer to Bo didley's 'I'm A Man') and 'Wang Dang Doodle', the latter the studio version from The Earthshaker in improved sound but with half a minute of Abb Locke's closing tenor solo knocked off. 'Born Under A Bad Sign' from Force Of Nature is also docked by about a minute and a half, to its advantage." (Penguin. (2006) pp 631-633)

But KoKo says it best on her own site, KoKo Taylor, Queen of the Blues.

"Blues is my heart. That’s my heart. This album is hard core blues, down in the basement, far as you go. This album is the kind of blues I was listening to down South and when I first came to Chicago.

I came to Chicago around 1951, straight out of the country. We came up here on the Greyhound bus. Couldn’t sit in the front of the bus; ain’t nobody black sit in the front. If you ain’t white, you go in the back and sit. We came with 35 cents in our pockets and a box of Ritz Crackers. That’s all we had to our names. Didn’t know where we was gonna stay. Didn’t have no money. Didn’t have nothing but us. We were just in Chicago, so we’re happy about that, cause we wanted to leave the South.

The South was rough and it was tough, but we was rough and tough too. I was picking cotton, chopping cotton, milking cows, feeding hogs and chickens. And going out catching rabbits to cook for our dinner. Or else eating hoecakes sopped in molasses for breakfast, dinner and supper. I went through what they call hell and high water. It wasn’t nothing nice and it wasn’t nothing easy that I had to go through down South.

When I got to Chicago, it wasn’t easy either. The first job I had was cleaning white families’ homes, taking care of their children, washing their clothes, ironing, cooking, whatever they wanted done. I wasn’t making but like five dollars a day.

But on Saturday night, me and my husband went anywhere there was blues. The music back then was great. It was exciting to me—I thought Chicago was heaven. We didn’t miss nary a Saturday night. We’d go to Sylvio’s or Theresa’s to see Howlin’ Wolf or to see Muddy Waters, Little Walter or Shakey Horton. We didn’t go to no clubs playing that fancy music. Everywhere we went was a blues club. Nothing fancy, nothing beautiful. It was just a hole in the wall where a bunch of us was in there listening to the blues, dancing, drinking, talking loud, doing everything else. It wasn’t a place you had to sit up and look pretty, be cute and use a certain language and say something a certain way.

I didn’t know all the famous blues musicians lived here. Right after I came to Chicago I found out that this is the city where all the guys do their recording. They seemed like regular folks, country folks like me, but they were stars. That’s the way it was with Wolf and Muddy and them. People looked at them as big stars because they was recording artists, and that made them special. But they stayed down to earth, like I do.

That’s why I like blues, because it tells a true story, a down to earth story. It’s not only something about my life; it reaches out to a lot of people. Maybe something to lift you up or help bring you out of this rut you’re in.

I love singing the real, old school blues. It gives me a feeling to sing them type of blues. That’s old school. That’s me.
- Koko Taylor"

You can have a listen on her site which after the introduction will take you to a page with a link to her MySpace page where you can hear the woman's awesome voice for yourself! Oh, Lord, to be able to sing from the soul like that!! :)

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