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

Show #126: The Queen of the Blues (Koko Taylor)

June 30th, 2007

While I’d meant to post a 2nd anniversary blowout, I’m just too damn lazy right now.

Having gone to a blues picnic last weekend, I thought it only appropriate to post some of the music since I don’t think I’ve done so in a while.

koko1 Show #126: The Queen of the Blues (Koko Taylor)
(Photo found here.)

Being from Chicago, I’ve known about Koko Taylor for quite some time. After all, she is known as the Queen of the Blues. But, honestly, I know very little about her. Thusly I’m going to quite liberally from this article by James Plath.

Born Cora Walton on September 28, 1935 to a sharecropper’s family in Memphis, Tennessee, Taylor’s love for music grew out of the songs she’d sing working in the cotton fields during the week, and in a Baptist church choir on Sundays.

Her career had its beginnings in 1953, when she went north with Robert “Pops” Taylor, a cotton trucker twelve years her senior, whom she met in Memphis and married in Chicago that same year. By day, she worked cleaning houses in wealthy northern suburbs for five dollars a day; her husband, meanwhile, worked in a slaughterhouse. With “Pops” playing guitar and Koko singing, they went to the rowdy South and West Side neighborhood “juke joints,” where they often sat in with the performers.

After her first record, cut for the USA label in 1963, did little to launch her career, she met bluesman Willie Dixon, who’d produced a number of hit albums for Chess Records. Dixon talked her into recording his “Wang Dang Doodle” for Chess in December 1965, a recording which turned out to be Taylor’s theme song of sorts and the famed label’s last big hit.

But Willie Dixon did more than engineer Taylor’s first big break. He also urged her to write her own music. The first song she wrote, “What Kind of Man Is This?” was a tribute to Pops, her husband, friend, promoter, and producer for thirty-five years–written in 1964 while she was pregnant with their first child. Taylor’s subsequent musical growth would eventually lead her away from Chess in 1972, the year she formed her own band, The Blues Machine. Three years later, when Chess went out of business, Taylor signed with Alligator RecordsÑthe Chicago label which has since become the biggest blues label in the nation. There she produced a string of award-winning albums. Now, by her own admission, she’s “the only woman out there singing the old, traditional Mississippi blues.”

koko2 Show #126: The Queen of the Blues (Koko Taylor)
(Photo found here.)

Indeed, she’s one of the few remaining links to the classic post-war blues scene of Chicago. Time marches on but it seems like the contemporary blues scene is notably lacking in prominent women, especially women of color. The likes of Koko and Etta James won’t be around forever. The only women I can think of who could be considered an heir to the throne is Shemekia Copeland.

In the meantime, we still have Koko Taylor. With her raspy, powerful singing voice, you know she means it when she belts out, “we’re gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long”.

Recorded in her home of Chicago, this week’s show is a bit over an hour of her gig at Cubby Bear’s Lounge. It took place on 10 December 1993 and was broadcast over the radio so the quality here is excellent.

The Blues Machine at the time was:

Calvin ‘Vino’ Louden – lead guitar
Eddie King – rhythm guitar
Jerry Murphy – bass
Jeremiah Africa – keys
Duke Kelly – drums


Oh Pretty Woman
Sweet Home Chicago
Can’t Let Go
63 Year Old Mama
Bad Case Of Loving You
Hound Dog
Don’t Put Your Hands On Me
Big Boss Man

Download show

Koko Taylor

The obligatory YouTube clip – “Can’t Let Go” from earlier in 1993.

Related posts:

  1. Koko Taylor and the Madison Blues Scene
  2. Show #62: Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers
  3. Blues from the Delta to Chicago and Beyond
  4. Hound Dog Taylor Video
  5. Jon French & Cool Front

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