Thursday, June 04, 2009
6802: Koko Taylor (1928-2009).
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
Chicago legend and ‘Queen of the Blues’ Koko Taylor dead at 80
Obituary | Koko Taylor, whose fiery delivery set standard for blues, dies at 80
By Dave Hoekstra
Koko Taylor was an iconic figure in Chicago—a Picasso for the people, a tower of blues power.
And no one will forget her gold-toothed smile that stretched from the North Side to the South Side. She was a radiant “Queen of the Blues” from New York City to Hollywood, where David Lynch cast her in his film “Wild At Heart.”
Mrs. Taylor died Wednesday at age 80, the result of complications from surgery on May 19 to correct a gastrointestinal bleed. She died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital surrounded by family and friends, including Alligator Records label founder Bruce Iglauer. He signed Mrs. Taylor to his label in 1975.
In 1965 Mrs. Taylor recorded the Willie Dixon composition “Wang Dang Doodle,” which became a million seller and her signature song. The year before Dixon had brought Mrs. Taylor to Chess Records, where she remained until 1972.
Mrs. Taylor included Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” on her 2007 Alligator release “Old School,” her final recording.
Blues legend Buddy Guy played guitar on “Wang Dang Doodle.”
“She was very shy, and so was I, so we hit it off,” Guy said Wednesday. “Willie Dixon and I had to get her out of her shell for ‘Wang Dang Doodle.’ She was one of the last of the greats of Chicago and did what she could to keep the blues alive here, like I’m trying to do now.”
Dixon saw Mrs. Taylor as a conduit for his rhythmic counterpoints and devout work ethic.
“He’d call me up in the middle of the night and say, ‘Kok, I’ve got the perfect song for you,’ “ Mrs. Taylor told me after Dixon’s death in 1992. “He would stay on me all day and all night until we got it right. He started me on my way.”
In 1972, Mrs. Taylor became a fixture at Wise Fools Pub on North Lincoln when David Ungerlider became the first North Side club owner to book South Side blues. Mrs. Taylor sat in with close friend Mighty Joe Young because she didn’t have her own band. Young also played on Mrs. Taylor’s smoking 1975 Alligator debut, “I Got What It Takes.” She began to cultivate a crossover audience through her North Side appearances.
Bluesman Lonnie Brooks met Mrs. Taylor after he moved to Chicago in 1958. He played on her 1990 release “Jump for Joy” and 1985’s “Queen of the Blues.” He was planning to begin a tour of Spain next week with Mrs. Taylor. “She had a strong voice like an old bluesman,” Brooks said Wednesday. “She was one of the most powerful blues ladies I ever met.”
Mrs. Taylor was born Cora Walton on a sharecropper’s farm outside of Memphis, Tenn. She was nicknamed “Koko” as a girl because of her love of chocolate. Mrs. Taylor heard blues on B.B. King’s and Rufus Thomas’ radio shows on WDIA in Memphis. Her family also sang gospel music in church.
The glory of Mrs. Taylor’s gritty voice was her ability to shape those styles into one distinct sound.
“We built all of her records around her vocal style,” Iglauer explained. “We listened to where she would bear down on a song and where she would lighten up and build the arrangement around her feel. Koko was tireless. She would do songs over and over and never wanted to record to a previous track. She always wanted to record with the live band to urge them on.”
In 1952, Mrs. Taylor and her soon-to-be-husband, the late Robert “Pops” Taylor, migrated from Memphis to Chicago. Pops found work in meatpacking, and Mrs. Taylor cleaned houses on the North Shore. At night they explored the city’s blues clubs searching for Delta echoes.
Between 1999 and 2001, Mrs. Taylor owned Koko Taylor’s Celebrity nightclub in the South Loop. She closed the club because her daughter and club manager Joyce Threatt had asthma and could not deal with secondhand smoke. Threatt now manages the Koko Taylor Celebrity Aid Foundation, which assists destitute blues performers.
Eight of Mrs. Taylor’s nine Alligator albums were Grammy-nominated. She won a Grammy in 1984 for her work on the compilation album “Blues Explosion” for Atlantic Records.
Mrs. Taylor’s final performance was on May 7 in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards (formerly the W.C. Handys), where she sang “Wang Dang Doodle” after receiving her award for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year. She won 29 Blues Music Awards, more than any other artist.
Besides Threatt, survivors include Mrs. Taylor’s husband, Hays Harris; two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Contributing: Jeff Johnson