Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers-s/t
December 10, 2011
Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers
s/t (Alligator 1971)
It’s a goddamn shame that Hound Dog Taylor never recorded a full-length album until the ripe and raucous age of fifty-six. Although he plugged away on the blues circuit for years, Taylor only managed to release a few singles in the 60s despite a career whose genesis began in the 40s playing alongside Sonny Boy Williamson on a few radio sessions. Dig a little into his history and you’ll see why the unpredictable avenues of life led him on a rough and tumble pathway to a larger audience. A budding career as a bluesman was cut short when he was chased out of Mississippi by the KKK for sleeping with a woman of the caucasian persuasion. Understandably, his ambitions fell by the wayside and he spent the next fifteen years working odd jobs and building television cabinets until he decided to say goodbye to the straight life at age forty-two and reengaged with the world of blues as a changed man.
No longer tied to the tried-and-true canon, Taylor chose one hell of an era to reestablish his career in a 60s where the blues had sired rock and roll and subsequently taken notice of its brash amplification and nasty streak. Taylor was a stone cold natural for this newly electrified and electric format and his fascination with the ramshackle bottleneck playing of Elmore James opened up his playing to a new way of approaching his instrument. The fact that he had a larger than life personality didn’t hurt either. The man gained the nickname of Hound Dog due to his incessant chasing of the female persuasion. The fact that he sliced off his sixth finger with a straight razor while drunk didn’t hurt his reputation as a feral force. Yes, he did have six fingers on both hands, which may or may not explain why no one plays quite like him.
On his own, Taylor might have gotten lost in the sauce of the blues revival inspired by hippies infatuated with the B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. However, Taylor was blessed with the best backing band of any blues act of the 60s and 70s. The Houserockers were a two-piece consisting of drummer Ted Harvey and guitarist Brewer Phillips. Harvey’s drumming puts the boogie back into the blues and his relentlessly sloppy and insistent beats really lend the three-piece the feel of one drunken mess of a band. Phillips is the perfect foil for Taylor as they compete to see who can let loose the most while retaining a hypnotic, repetitive drive that centers each song. They perfectly congealed as one unholy drunken mess of a blues act that is more interested in conjuring some bad hoodoo with a mean streak a mile wide instead of bemoaning lost love like a motherless child.
Enough backstory, let’s get to the actual album. Released in 1971, their self-titled debut was recorded live over the course of two liquor fueled evenings and it sure sounds that way to these ears. Even Taylor’s take on his idol Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too” has a wild and deeply hurt vibe that replaces the pathos of the original with something more primal and angry. It’s a majestic version that drags its forefather through the mud and covers it with all of the grime it always deserved. However, Hound Dog Taylor wasn’t a man to wallow in misery for misery’s sake, so much of the album is fueled by more light-hearted spirits. You can see why they were such a popular live act in Chicago as their performances seem tailor-made for seedy stages surrounded by barflies and lively souls. “Give Me Back My Wig” might be one of my favorite blues songs even if it is just a song about repossessing a wig from a former flame. It’s a silly and bizarre concept delivered with fire and passion accompanied by a thoroughly electric performance that has no business being married to such lyrics, but it somehow conjures some true magic as these three men play like their lives depended upon it. It is the undistilled sound of having one too many and ranting about what its bothering your agitated mind. Ultimately, this is a perfect statement of purpose, which was to present the essence of bluesy raunch at 2 a.m. in a dimly lit club where the soused outnumber the sober. To that end, it is a perfect album since that grimy dart has most definitely hit the bullseye here.