Two For Tuesday: Koko Taylor

Little history: when I was in high school in the Chicago area in the early Seventies, a guy who called himself Johnny “Funky” Twist played a couple of concerts at my high school. He was a favorite of a friend of mine and I, and we tried to catch him whenever he played in the area. And, as too often happens with acts like him, he dropped off the face of the earth. Couldn’t find him anywhere.

A couple of years later, I was talking to another friend of mine and happened to mention Johnny Twist. He said, “Skinny guy, gold teeth, plays a Flying V? He plays with Koko Taylor these days.” I found out that Koko was playing that weekend at a Far North Side bar named Biddy Mulligan’s, called my friend from high school, and said, “We gotta go!” (Fortunately, Illinois had changed the drinking age to nineteen a year or so before.)

Anyway, we went to the place, and damned if he wasn’t playing the guitar and putting on a show before Koko Taylor took the stage. A few minutes later, Koko came out… and absolutely blew me away. On a break, I got to meet her, her husband “Pops,” Vince Chappelle (her drummer, who was busy working the crowd and selling her latest album at the time, I Got What It Takes), and Johnny Twist himself. It has to be one of the most amazing experiences I’d had up to that point, and still ranks way up there. From that point on, any time she was playing Biddy’s, I went to see her, even after Johnny left the band.

Koko was born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee in 1928, the daughter of a sharecropper. In 1952 she and Pops moved to Chicago, and she started playing the blues clubs in the late 1950’s. Legendary bass player and composer Willie Dixon discovered her in the early 1960’s and helped her get her first contract with Chess Records. Her first single, Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” went to #4 on the R&B charts in 1966, and was the song she was best known for. In 1975, she signed with Alligator Records and recorded nine albums for them, and performed regularly in the Chicago area until she died of complications after surgery in 2009.

“Wang Dang Doodle,” her biggest hit, is the first song here. Accompanying her are Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs on harmonica and Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor on the guitar. This was filmed in 1967. The second song, a cover of Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Cryin’,” is from I Got What It Takes, her first Alligator album.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip down Memory Lane, and enjoyed the music of Koko Taylor, your Two For Tuesday, October 23, 2012.

2 thoughts on “Two For Tuesday: Koko Taylor

  1. totally new to me, John. thanks for sharing. I’m always so impressed with people who love and pay attention to music. I enjoy it but in a purely entertainment sort of way. My son in law can identify almost any song with a couple of notes. he knows history and he loves music. reminds me of you.


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