Up the Downstair

Being a weeklie podcaste from Madison, Wisconsin featuring several remarkable curiosities therein occurring being a compendium of live music from divers artistes

Koko Taylor and the Madison Blues Scene

March 29th, 2006

I remarked yesterday that a co-worker of mine is a drummer with an extensive CV which includes playing with the Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor. Well, last night I put on my newly-acquired Hound Dog Taylor show and thumbed through the latest issue of the local music rag, Maximum Ink only to find an interview with Ms. Taylor. At the end of the interview, it was noted that she would be performing with Buddy Guy in Milwaukee this month.

After I’d finished reading, I felt disappointed that they wouldn’t be coming to Madison. My disappointment gave way to nostalgia as I recalled having seen some great Chicago blues artists at the Crystal CornerLonnie Brooks and Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials among them. I also recalled that it’s been a while since I’ve seen any Chicago blues acts listed to play here in Madtown. A quick look at the calendar of the Madison Blues Society didn’t turn up much from Chicago, although Bernard Allison’s show at The Club Tavern on 20 April was a notable exception. We’re 130 miles from Chicago, arguably the capital of post-WWII blues yet it seems like we can’t get Chicago blues artists up here. Now, I say this not meaning to insult any local blues bands that I haven’t heard. Instead, I say this because of the local blues bands that I have heard. Their music comes across to me as being sanitized. There’s no grittiness, no rough edges. They pitch wang dang doodles with all the conviction of a telemarketer.

Ms. Tayor was asked her opinion on the future of the blues and here’s her response:

Well, I hope that I am wrong, but the blues is trying to fade out. Not because it’s not good music, but because the older singers are dying out. They’re leaving. We all got to leave sometime. Young people nowadays ain’t like it was 25-30 years ago. The kids are all into their hip-hop and bee-bop, wearing their pants down, saying “I’m a gangsta!” and getting into drugs. Life has been easy for them, growing up in the city. They don’t even grow cotton in my hometown anymore. There is no one to pick it. Young people ain’t picking cotton, milking cows, or plowing mules. We had to work in the fields. We had to cut wood with an axe. They don’t chop wood, they turn a knob [to get warm]. We had no electricity and you had to burn a kerosene lamp for light. Young folks don’t understand that right now.

Much of this sounds like a speech that just about everyone gets from a grandparent. You know, the old “Back in my day…” speech. Aside from this, it also sounds like she’s saying that the blues is dying because young people aren’t playing it nor are they listening to it. The number of performers and listeners alike are shrinking. While I’ve never seen Taylor live, I suspect that when she looks out into the audience, she sees few younger people.

So how does this fit into the Madison scene? Returning to the Madison Blues Society webpage, it doesn’t appear that there’s a real shortage of live blues to be had. Are audiences smaller today than they were 10 years ago? Has Madison lost its position as a stop for regional blues artists? And who goes to blues concerts here in town? Specifically, how many college kids and people in their 20s go? Blues legend Luther Allison considered Madison his second home. He passed away in 1997 and Madison Blues, the precursor to the Madison Blues Society, became inactive in 2000. And, if memory serves, the last Madison Blues Fest was in 2003. It seems to me that the blues scene here took a slide in the late 1990s/early 2000s. When was the last time Buddy Guy was here? He used to be here a couple times a year, or so it seemed.

I have more questions than I have answers.

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