Hound Dog Taylor
One of my all-time favorite musicians is Hound Dog Taylor. The first blues album I bought was Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers in 1971:
I am fascinated with slide guitar; always have been. Hound Dog Taylor once said what slide guitar playing means to me: “When I die, they’ll say ‘he couldn’t play sh_t, but he sure made it sound good!” .
It’s the feel, not speed or perfect technique, that captures the blues essence. Let me tell you about Hound Dog Taylor…
The Legend Starts
The legend starts with the birth of Theodore Roosevelt Taylor in Natchez, Mississippi, 1915. According to Taylor, he was told to “cut out” by his step father at age 9, but this can’t be independently verified.
Hound Dog first picked up a guitar in his teens, however, piano was his first instrument. He picked up guitar at 21 (or so) and began playing all over the Mississippi Delta. He was pursued by the KKK for his affair with a white woman, went to Chicago, and never looked back.
Hound Dog Taylor landed in Chicago, home of the blues (in my humble opinion), in 1942. He spent the next 15 years working mundane jobs during the day and playing semi-professionally at night. He became a full-time musician in 1957 and started playing slide guitar (giving up the standard tuning he once used) for a more explosive sound. Since he was always on the hunt for women, he was given the name “Hound Dog” around this same time.
Hound Dog had six fingers on each hand. He also liked to drink. He would down a shot of whiskey, a mixed drink, a glass of beer (all in quick succession), then take to his folding chair and start “burning the place down”. Canadian Club and cigarettes would fuel him for the next six-seven hours while playing. One night, he cut off the sixth finger on his right hand with a straight razor! (I surmise it was in his way when performing.)
Brewer Phillips became the first of Hound Dog Taylor’s HouseRockers in 1959. The talented second-guitarist always went by his last name; he and Hound Dog were fast friends. Ted Harvey was the remaining piece of this puzzle, taking over drums in 1965. The HouseRockers were born.
Hound Dog got his sound from a $50 Japanese guitar played through a Sears Silvertone amp sporting cracked speakers. The distortion and vibe from this setup was priceless! Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers were regulars at Florence’s Lounge on Chicago’s South Side by the late 1960’s.
Recognition would at last come Hound Dog Taylor’s way in 1970 when he teamed up with Bruce Iglauer, who would become his manager and greatest advocate. Iglauer loved his rollicking, free-wheeling slide guitar, not to mention his great band.
When Iglauer couldn’t get his then-boss of Delmark Records to sign Hound Dog, he took a recent $2500 inheritance, recorded the band in two live in-studio sessions, pressed 1000 records, and formed Alligator Records. The 1971 self-titled Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers sold 9000 albums, the largest selling blues record for an independent label to that date. Alligator grew to a respected Blues label.
Hound Dog Taylor and his band would tour Australia and New Zealand. He would release a second album Natural Boogie in 1973 and record a live album.
Hound Dog’s lifestyle began catching up with him in 1975. Over the years, there would sometimes be violent arguments between band members (alcohol usually involved).
In May of that year, Hound Dog took offense about a comment Brewer Phillips supposedly made at (Hound Dog’s) home regarding his wife Fredda. He returned with a 22-rifle and started shooting at the sofa, hitting Phillips in the arm and leg. Fortunately, Phillips was not killed, and decided to press charges of attempted murder.
Before there could be a trial, Hound Dog ended up in the hospital dying of lung cancer. His dying request was answered when Phillips visited and forgave him for the shooting. Hound Dog passed the following day-December 17, 1975.
Author’s Note: I happened to be visiting my brother in Champaign, IL in 1974. We could have seen Hound Dog, but we read that two people had been stabbed at the same venue the previous night. Looking back, I now wish I had gone…
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