Born: April 12, 1915 in Natchez MS
Died: December 17, 1975 in Chicago IL
Named after President Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt Taylor was born in 1915 in Natchez, Mississippi. Not much is known of Taylor's childhood save that it was a hardscrabble existence typical of the African-American youth in the South during the era. Taylor's father allegedly handed the nine-year-old boy a paper bag with his worldly belongings and, at the end of a shotgun barrel, told him to hit the road; Taylor would subsequently go live with his older sister.
Taylor's first instrument was the piano, and while he dabbled with the guitar during his teens, it wasn't until he was 20 years old that he began playing the instrument seriously. During this time Taylor appeared with Sonny Boy Williamson on the blues legend's King Biscuit radio program on KFFA in West Helena, Arkansas. Taylor honed his blues skills like many an artist before him, playing juke-joints, fish fries, and house parties across the Mississippi Delta.
Hound Dog's Chicago Blues
Taylor had a reputation as a "ladies man," a pursuit that directly led to his relocation to Chicago around 1942, and which would result in his "Hound Dog" nickname. The story, whether true or not, was that Taylor had an affair with a white woman in Mississippi and was run out of the state by the Ku Klux Klan. In the Windy City, Taylor supported himself with a string of day jobs while playing his guitar in blues clubs at night. By 1957, Taylor was pursuing music full-time, having changed his playing style to a more raucous slide-guitar sound based on the influence of Elmore James.
Taylor recorded but a handful of songs during the 1960s, his single releases including "Baby Is Coming Home" b/w "Take Five" for local Chicago entrepreneur Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records label in 1960; "Christine" b/w "Alley Music" for Firma Records in 1962; and "Watch Out" b/w "Down Home" for Checker Records in 1967. None of these records achieved any significant sales, but with his trio the HouseRockers – including second guitarist Brewer Phillips, who also played bass on his instrument's bottom strings, and drummer Ted Harvey – would become one of Chicago's most dynamic and popular live acts.
It was during one of his Chicago performances with the HouseRockers that Taylor came to the attention of a young blues fan by the name of Bruce Iglauer. Working in the shipping department at Bob Koester's Delmark Records, Iglauer tried to convince his boss to release a Hound Dog Taylor album. When Koester suggested that Iglauer record and release the album himself, he used a $2,500 inheritance to launch Alligator Records as a venue for Taylor's recordings. Alligator released the self-titled Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers in 1971, the album winning critical acclaim for Taylor's raw slide-guitar playing and the band's raucous, high-energy performance. Taylor followed with the equally rowdy Natural Boogie album in 1973.
After touring the United States and overseas with artists like Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, and Freddie King (who had appropriated parts of his instrumental classic "Hide Away" from a Taylor song), plans were for Taylor to release a live album. Recorded during several 1974 performances, Beware The Dog captured the guitarist's electric onstage style; sadly, Taylor died of cancer before the album's release in 1976. Alligator Records, which would go on to become one of the genre's most successful record labels, released Genuine Houserocking Music, a collection of Taylor rarities and studio outtakes, in 1982 and honored its guiding light with Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute, released in 1998.
Recommended Albums: Pay no mind to the many live bootlegs, odd imports, and dubious rarities collections released after Taylor's death; stick to the authorized Alligator albums and you'll be OK. Both Taylor's debut, which includes the great "Give Me Back My Wig," and Natural Boogie, with a remade "Take Five," are great places to start your discovery of this influential and often overlooked artist.
Hound Dog Trivia: Taylor was born with six fingers on each hand, the guitarist later cutting one off the extra digit on his right hand in a drunken fit. Blues-rock guitarist George Thorogood, a big Taylor fan, once worked as a roadie for his idol.
Hound Dog Taylor - Select Discography
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