HOUND DOG TAYLOR
"Cain't no Negro sing no love song; cain't no white man sing the blues."
This can't be the Blues, these people are having fun! It's hard for me to imagine someone not liking this music, even if they don't like the blues. Hound Dog Taylor and his band were joyful and uninhibited, as though they were playing in a garage just for themselves. They usually were sloppy drunk and on the edge of collapse before gathering it all together again. This is the punk rock of the blues.
Mississippi-native Theodore Roosevelt 'Hound Dog' Taylor was born in 1915. His fate as a slide guitar player seemed pre-determined, as he had a vestigial sixth finger on both hands. When he was only 9, his stepfather put all of Hound Dog's things in a grocery bag, grabbed a shotgun, and told him to get out. He learned to play guitar while in his teens but didn't play seriously until 1936.
The Klu Klux Klan found out that he was having an affair with a white womanchased him out of Mississippi in 1942. He headed for Chicago and never went back. He spent the next 15 years working various factory jobs and playing clubs at night. In 1957, he decided to become a professional bluesman. He became one of Chicago's favorites; usually just sitting alone in a folding chair in front of the club, guzzling Canadian Club, puffing on a cigarette and exhorting the audience to get up and dance. Playing through a cheap Japanese Kent guitar and a Sears-Roebuck Silvertone amplifier, he made as much with distortion and feedback as Jimi Hendrix. He picked up the name Hound Dog because he was always hunting for some action with the ladies. One drunken night in those early days, he decided to cut off the small extra finger on his right hand with a straight razor.
In 1959, he became friends with guitarist Brewer Phillips. They began to play together and the Houserockers were formed. Although the two singles they put out didn't gain them any fame outside of Chicago; Freddie King became famous with a tune called 'Hideaway' that was mostly stolen from Hound Dog. In 1965, Ted Harvey joined the Houserockers, replacing their previous drummer. This trio of two guitarists and a drummer were Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers until Hound Dog played his last chord. The story remains mostly unchanged for the next ten years. Night after night of drinking and chasing girls and jamming on stage for six or seven hours straight.
Bruce Iglauer met Hound Dog in 1969 at a club called Eddie Shaw's. Hound Dog was jamming with another band. Skip ahead a year, and Bruce was a 22 year old shipping clerk for Delmark Records in Chicago. One night he stopped into Florence's Lounge and Liquors on Chicago's South Side and heard Hound Dog with his band. He was awestruck. After failing to get Delmark to sign the band, he took a $2500 inheritance and created Alligator Records in order to record the band. In the spring of 1971 the band spent two nights recording their debut live in the studio.
A master tape was cut for under $1000 and the remainder of Iglauer's inheritance was spent to press 1000 copies. Within a year the album, titled Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, was the biggest selling blues record on an independent label, selling 9,000 copies. In late 1973, the band released 'Natural Boogie', using songs that were recorded and mixed at the same sessions that produced the first album. Still playing that Kent guitar and Sears amp. It received a fair amount of attention from Rolling Stone and other music magazines.
Things were getting better. The band was at the height of their success, touring the USA and doing some shows in Australia and New Zealand. But remember, this is the Blues we're talking about. Taylor and his guitarist Phillips had been friends for over ten years, but even friendships have their rough spots. In May of 1975, Phillips was drinking in Hound Dog's apartment. Phillips said something bad about Hound Dog's wife, and Hound Dog grabbed his .22 rifle. He claims to have aimed for the sofa, but he hit Phillips in the forearm and in the leg. Phillips recovered but pressed charges and Hound Dog was charged with attempted murder. Instead of facing trial he landed in the hospital with lung cancer. Phillips visited him in the hospital in December 1975 and forgave him. Hound Dog Taylor passed away the next day.
His third Alligator album 'Beware Of The Dog', was recorded live in 1974 and released after his death. At least six more albums, mostly live, have been released since he died. Taylor was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984. Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey worked together and separately after Hound Dog's passing. They released a double album in 1995 called Good Houserockin'. Phillips died of natural causes in 1999. Bruce Iglauer turned Alligator Records into the top Contemporary Blues label in the world.
"When I die, they'll say 'he couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!"
Picking the best albums is easy. Alligator did a superior job on all of theirs. Live albums on other labels like Wolf, New Rose and JSP suffer in comparision. I was unable to obtain a copy of 'Live In Boston' on Charly, but I expect it will sound muddy.
BAISTOPHE wants to thank FOURSTEPS for this great contribution to this huge monument of the Blues landscape. Go et find his blog, here
FOURSTEPS's HGT TOP 3 :
1. Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers (1971)
2. Natural Boogie (1973)
3. Beware Of The Dog (1976)
FOURSTEPS's HGT BOTTOM 3 :
1. ABC Radio Australia 1975
2. Live At Joe's Place
3. Freddie's Blues