cream of the crate:  album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
CD Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"When I die," Taylor once said, "they'll say, 'he couldn't play shit but he sure made it sound good." - (Alligator Records) . . . . "Taylor takes the rattletrap six-string sound a step or three further, resulting in some of the most raucous, roof-raising blues that you'll ever hear." - (bluesabout)

This is album retro-review number 121 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

The album under retro-review is one that I originally had on vinyl, but it joined a long list of record albums that I’ve have lost, loaned and never got back or were just stolen.

So I re-purchased it, but on CD.

The album is Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers, by Hound Dog Taylor.

The vinyl album was released in 1973 in the USA on the Alligator Records label and was released in Australia in 1975 on the Toadstool label (a subsidiary of Festival) with the code D35435, which is the same code as the CD – also an Australian release on the Toadstool label.

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
CD Label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

However there is no indication of the date of the Australian CD, and record sites only have a release in Australia on vinyl, and make no mention of this CD. I estimate its release on CD to be around 1990.

It has 12 tracks, which reflects the number of tracks on the vinyl album.

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
Rear cover: Track Listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Track Listing:


She’s Gone
Walking The Ceiling
Held My Baby Last Night
*
Taylor’s Rock
It’s Alright
Phillip’s Theme
Wild About Your Baby
*
I Just Can’t Make It
It Hurts Me Too
*

44 Blues
Give Me Back My Wig
55th Street Boogie

All tracks are credited to Hound Dog Taylor / HouseRockers except, when indicated with a * These being written by Elmore James

According to the Alligator records web site, “Until he recorded his (and Alligator Records’) first album, HOUND DOG TAYLOR AND THE HOUSEROCKERS in 1971, Taylor was largely unknown outside of Chicago. He played blues guitar for 35 years before reaching a wider audience and gaining the status of a beloved blues icon.

From the mid-1950’s until 1975, Taylor and his band–second guitarist Brewer Phillips and drummer Ted Harvey – kicked out the blues jams all over the South and West sides, including a regular Sunday afternoon gig at Florence’s Lounge. 

It was at one of these performances in 1970 where a young blues fan named Bruce Iglauer decided to start a blues record label for the sole purpose of recording Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers.”

The liner notes tell us something of this relatively unknown blues singer.

He was born Theodore Roosevelt Taylor in Natchez, Mississippi sometime in 1915 and grew up in and around the Delta.

While the liner notes don’t talk of his childhood, it is very easy to imagine a young black kid growing up in the home of the Delta Blues being totally immersed in that music.

So while it appears as though there is no written history of the artists that influenced him, in fact there is little written history about him at all. I did find one reference to a “story” that at the age of 9, his father is supposed to have packed all the young boys belongings in a brown paper bag, taken him to the front door, carrying a shotgun, and told him to “cut out!”.

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
A young Hound Dog Taylor (date unknown circa 1940)

 

What we do know is that Hound Dog Taylor took up playing guitar when he was in his early twenties and played both the standard guitar tuning, plus Open E tunings.

Playing in Open E is not unusual, as it is the tuning most used for bottleneck (or slide guitar) playing, a favourite style of Delta Blues players.

We may not know much about his teen and pre-teen years, but we do know that he struck up a friendship with perhaps the man who is considered as one of the greatest slide guitarists/delta bluesmen – Elmore James.

Taylor gigged all over the Delta and played with Sonny Boy Williamson for a while, no doubt further honing his blues skills.

In 1942 he landed in Chicago and worked at various day jobs, gigging whenever he could at night. He seems to have made an impact upon the local blues players, and in fact the great Freddy King “borrowed” one of Hound Dogs instrumental tracks, rebadged it as “Hideaway“, and it made him a star.

Sadly Hound Dog received no recognition at all.

Despite that Hound Dog thrived in the blues clubs and drew decent audiences, both in the Mississippi area with older working couples, but also with the younger Chicago born street folk.

Yet he only attracted a smattering of white folk.

He did attract the best of the local musicians, both the well known and lesser known to play with him.

These included Jimmy Reed, Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell and Lee Jackson. The story goes that when Hound Dog plays, there’s rarely a break in the music; when one musician gets tired, another steps in to take his place but the Hound Dog keeps playing.

 

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers

 

Regular readers will know I’m a firm believer in playing the first track of an album, unless there is a really good reason not to.

It seems to me that the first track, like an opening conversation with someone you meet for the first time, often reveals much about what is to follow.

Track one on this album is She’s Gone. It is a Hound Dog Taylor original.

When I listened for the first time it struck me immediately, this was going to be a great track. His “distorted” sound reminds me a lot of early Doctor Ross, and indeed the general tempo and feel is similar to a number of Ross’ tracks, but there is no suggestion that the two ever met so it is one of musics coincidences.

Mind you, there was a general “sound” – a raw in fact “distorted’ sound that did originate west of Memphis and the area certainly encompassed the geographic locations of both Taylor and Ross.

The track has a nice feel with the bass and drums laying down a classic blues groove, with Taylor’s voice coming through nice and clean.

In fact the production and recording is excellent – as it should be. Despite spending his formative musical years playing and gaining not just fans, but honing his skills, Taylor only made his first record, a single Christine backed with Alley Music, for Firma Records until the early 1960’s.

In fact his next single, Take Five backed with My Baby’s Coming Home, was recorded for Bea & Baby Records.

It took until this album was recorded in 1971 for the public to hear for the first time a selection of what he could play.  Unlike the recorded sound that most of the “classic” earlier Blues players had to be happy with, because of the embryonic stages of recording, by the time Taylor made this album the recording equipment and processes were far more sophisticated.

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
With Muddy Waters – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Sadly, those tracks on his original singles are not included on this album.

But She’s Gone is, and it’s a great musical way to start a review.

She’s Gone

 

Track number 4 is Taylors Rock.

Purely an instrumental it is not a refined track and it is not a track where the guitar playing will set you back on your heels.

So why then play it?

Because it is the essential Hound Dog Taylor inasmuch as it epitomises his unrelenting driving style that he developed. In fact it’s almost a boogie!

It reflects that confusion of “crossover” styles that gave birth to rock and roll music.

Yes he recorded this in 1971, but remember by then he was 56 years of age and in some ways, as this track demonstrates, he was still playing that “elemental” early blues style that he had grown up with in Mississippi.

The other reason for featuring it is, that it is actually one of three instrumental tracks that features the wild (almost unbounded) playing of Brewer Phillips, himself a ‘student” and devotee of the West Memphis style of playing.

The sound that Phillip’s achieves is totally within the sound framework that Taylor is comfortable with, and is probably the reason why they had such a successful partnership.

Taylor’s Rock

 

Then I hit a problem!

I try to keep my reviews on a single album down to four tracks, which generally gives the reader/listener a good idea of the scope and quality of the music. I

had already decided on the final track but could not decide which would be the third track, as both tracks number 7 and 10 needed mentioning. So the answer was – I’ll do both!

Track number 7 is Wild About You Baby.

It’s a brilliant example of the slide guitar playing of Taylor, and while not quite at the quality of Elmore James, is pretty damn good. In fact this track is one of three on the album not written by Taylor, and it and the other two tracks were written by Elmore James, as I credited above.

 

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers

 

The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings describes the sound as “loud, harsh, boxy and exciting”.

It does show Hound Dog’s versatility.

In case you might wonder if his sound was processed to get that delightfully harsh sound, it wasn’t. He was famed for using a cheap Teisco guitar – a guitar made just after WWII in Japan and Sears Roebuck amplifier to great advantage and that in turn created his unique sound.

The track rocks along with a lot of punch and the slide guitar demanding attention. The lyrics are good, but almost redundant given the excellent the playing.

Wild About You Baby

 

My penultimate track is track number 1044 Blues.

What a great rock and rollicking track! The overall sound really pre-dates the sound of the “garage band music” of the Punks that would follow shortly in the 1970’s.

Make no mistake, the ability of these four guys who make up the Houserockers is fantastic. What is so good about this track, and I wish it had happened more often, is that we have the lead is played by rhythm/second guitarist, Brewer Phillips, but in almost a “dual” style outcome.

Taylor’s contribution is via a slide guitar.

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
Brewer Phillips

 

One thing I have omitted to share, is that Taylor actually had SIX fingers on his left hand!

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers

 

Now that leads to some interesting possibilities. Mind you some of us (especially myself), had enough trouble keeping five fingers in control on the fretboard – six is a whole different dimension!

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
CLICK to enlarge

 

44 Blues

 

The final track is both the best known of his releases, and probably the best track on what is actually an album with NO weak tracks at all.

Track number 11 is Give Me Back My Wig.

As it commences the first thing I thought was – Jimmy Reed! However, it only takes seconds for Taylor to stamp his authority and sound across this great track.

It was one of those tracks that I remember hearing in a semi-drugged state in the 1970’s through a haze of blue smoke and, smokin’ Blues.

I never realised who it was – and my biggest regret was not taking the trouble to find out. If I had then maybe I would have ‘discovered” Hound Dog Taylor earlier.

My loss!

This track has it all, that raw oh so sweet “harshness”, to the sound but still quality playing, good lyrics with a great lyric “hook” – “Give me back my wig“.

“Incessant” is one word that can be used over and over again to describe Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers music, and this track is just that! But I clarify this by saying, that my that description is used in the most positive way.

 

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers

 

There has been a lot of discussion as to the meaning of the song, but like much about Hound Dog Taylor, it is shrouded in mystery.

Certainly black women generally kept their hair short, but often wore wigs when they went out.

When we look closely at the lyrics it seems as though he has bought his woman a wig, but didn’t expect it to be as expensive as it was. “. . . takin’ me downtown, say four forty nine, when i get down there I swear nine ninety nine.”

Oh yes, his baby convinced him to come downtown to buy her a wig for $4.49, but on buying it, the price is $9.99!!

Worse, it sounds as though once she has the wig, she has done gone and left him ( a repeating theme of so may blues songs – “she’s” always doin’ him wrong!), anyway, now he wants it back.

He paid more than he wanted, and she ain’t even going to be seen with him wearing it.

Give me back my wig
Honey now let your head go bald.
Give me back my wig
Honey now let your head go bald.
Really didn’t have no business
Honey buyin’ you no wig at all.

Takin’ me downtown
Say four forty nine,
When I get down there
I swear, nine ninety nine.

You just give me back my wig
Honey now let your head go bald.
Really didn’t have no business
Honey buyin’ you no wig at all.

Yeah my Mama told me
And your good friend too,
When you get that wig
That’s the way you gonna do.

You just give me back my wig
Honey now let your head go bald.
Really didn’t have no business
Honey buyin’ you no wig at all.

Goodbye little one
All I got to say.
Give me back my wig and be
On your merry way.

You just give me back my wig
Honey, now let your head go bald.
Really didn’t have no business
Honey buyin’ you no wig at all

Give Me back My Wig

 

So it is, after all those years playing in clubs and bars and touring around, Hound Dog Taylor went into the studio in 1971 and cut the album Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers.

Four years later he is dead of lung cancer.

The groups second release, Natural Boogie, was recorded in late 1973, and led to greater acclaim and more touring opportunities.

In 1975, Taylor and his band toured Australia and New Zealand with Freddie King and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

His third Alligator album, Beware of the Dog, was recorded live in 1974 but was only released after his death.

More posthumous releases occurred including Genuine Houserocking Music and Release the Hound, on the Alligator label as well as some bootleg live recordings.

 

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers
Click to enlarge

 

Hound Dog Taylor was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984.

With so few albums to his name each should be treasured.

This, his first album, is most special because it represents the true raw and “unpolished” sound that he will be forever associated with.

For blues fans this album is an absolute must. On eBay the vinyl album is priced around $35.00, and the CD between $19.00 and $30.00.

Oh, since writing this review I have sought out and purchased the vinyl version of this album for my collection.

 

cream of the crate: album review #121 – hound dog taylor: hound dog taylor and the houserockers


VIDEOS – Youtube actually had some live performances by Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, and while the tracks are not on this album, they give us a great idea of what his live performances were like.

 

Roll Your Money Maker

 

Wild About You Baby

 

Held My Baby Last Night [Video incorrectly titled]

 

[an unnamed boogie]