Takes a Hungry Crowd
Koko Taylor: Queen of Raw and Rowdy Blues
by Catharine Richert
Koko Taylor taught at the School of Badass, shed be your favorite
professor. The first African American woman to be inducted into
the Blues Hall of Fame, Taylor strutted her stuff (in head-to-toe
sequins, no less) along with her Blues Machine in front of students
and parents alike this past Saturday night. As junior Jason Goss
said, It was aggressive, raunchy blues. Blues so raw, it would
rip the panties off a nun. Fortunately, there were no nuns
in the audience, so high-velocity flying underwear was not a danger.
was dangerous, however, was Taylors band, The Blues Machine.
Opening the show with I Just Want to Make Love to You,
a raunchy blues tune, which was made even more so by the Machines
lead guitarist. During a breakdown in the middle of the tune, he
displayed some unusual guitar playing antics by strumming the instrument
with his tongue. Sexual innuendos aside, the words to this piece
were enough to get most audience members going. I dont
want you to make my bed/ I dont want you to rub my head,
growled the guitarist into the microphone, I just want to
make love to you. His performance was nothing short of shady.
When Taylor took the stage, opening with Youd Better
Leave My Man Alone, she made it clear she is not one to mess
with. Singing, You play with fire/Youre gonna get burned/Girl,
youre in the right school to learn with such vehemence,
it seemed that Taylor was singing the song for the first time.
the blues is something Taylor feels so naturally shes certain
she was born with it in her blood. I was born with the blues,
and Ill probably die with it, Taylor said. Taylor was
not without inspiration in her career, though. As a child growing
up in Memphis, Tenn, Taylor listened to the local radio station,
WDIA. They didnt play nothin but the blues. Real
Mississippi blues, Taylor said. But it wasnt until her
move to Chicago where she was first heard by blues god Willie Dixon.
He was so enamored by Taylors voice that he signed her, recorded
her and wrote her first hit, Wang Dang Doodle. He also
motivated Taylor to begin writing her own music. Taylor reiterated
the advice Dixon gave her, saying, All you have to do is put
words together, make em rhyme, have them make sense. A song
tells a story.
This support from the blues community boosted Taylors career
immensely. Her performance proved to be a testament to her legendary
status in the musical world as well as a tribute to the people who
influenced her career. Her rendition of B.B. Kings The
Blues Hotel was one of the highlights of her show. Paired
with the song that made her famous, Wang Dang Doodle,
wrapped up Taylors portion of the show with bawdy energy only
the blues can release.
despite the up-beat nature of the performance, it was obvious that
Taylors voice was not what it once was. No longer able to
cover a wide vocal range, Taylors singing was hoarse and sometimes
inaudible. With such an extensive accompanying band, the Blues Machines
sound added a complexity to the performance that took away from
the blues mystique. It was hard to imagine this music being
played in a dark roadhouse or somewhere on the Delta with such a
did not stop Taylors audience from screaming, clapping and
dancing for more. Playing with such energy, animation and sweat,
Taylor and her Blues Machine made it clear that they love what they
do. And the audience loved them for it.