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.

Abner Jay

Swaunee River and Cocaine Blues(1967)


There is something about the way Abner Jay tells a tale. You wish that each song lasted an eternity because he has that rare gift of a true storyteller that is able to spin a yarn into a scarf that seemingly runs on for miles and miles. Yeah, they end around the three-minute mark, but Swaunee River and Cocaine Blues’ songs kind of run together into one long cautionary tale about the perils of love, substance abuse and the consequences of poor decision making. What makes Abner Jay utterly transcendent is his loose, rambling guitar licks that approach mantra status as the combo of instrument and voice hypnotize you and suck you into his narratives. I know the ending of each tale, but listen to each repeatedly because Abner Jay is an entertaining motherfucker who plays the holy hell out of a guitar and is one of the few artists who can make a song literally come alive for you late at night when you want to bathe in your own imperfections. These are tales of souls who make the same mistakes over and over again, but never lack the stubbornness to try to make things right no matter how many times shit goes down the wrong chute.

The ramshackle charm of Abner’s music is only highlighted by the fact that he was literally a one-man band. Playing guitar, harmonica, banjo and bass drum, his music is surprisingly mesmerizing and complex despite being looser than a necktie after a long day of drinking at a wedding. He learned much of his repertoire from his grandfather who was a slave in Georgia. Abner was one of the last souls trafficking in minstrel music, but his performances aren’t offensive, but sincere odes to the past and its accumulated storybook of mythology while adding his own spin on what his elders taught him. Even his take on “Ol’ Man River” takes new life in his hand as he wrings every ounce of frustration, pain and weariness from its lyrics and instrumentation.

The song which originally introduced me to the world of Abner Jay was “Cocaine Blues” after hearing Tim Hardin’s  take on “Cocaine Bill.” I think I googled Hardin only to discover the world of Abner Jay and I haven’t looked back since. His “Cocaine Blues” may be the most effective ode to drug abuse while serving as its most chilling warning. A simple, bluesy lick eats its own tail throughout its seven minutes while Abner Jay champions its effectiveness while decrying how it has possessed his heart and soul. You know how many blues songs talk of the devil’s influence. Well, Jay’s “Cocaine Blues” replaces Satan with Cocaine to chilling effect while romanticizing its influence and relating that it is the real deal, not the wash of psychedelics readily available in the 60s. He is part salesman, part drug counselor as he tells of its peaks and valleys and what a misguided soul will do to get a fix. The song isn’t about judgement for misdeeds, but a depiction of what addiction will make a man do and think about at his lowest moments. It’s a love song and death ballad all at once. For that reason, it sticks in my craw each time it is heard in this neck of the woods.

Tim Hardin

This is Tim Hardin (Edsel 1967)


My true love is the folk/psych/country scene of the late 60s and early 70s, but I haven’t really tackled much of it on this blog as of yet. However, I was listening to Tim Hardin tonight and figured that this is the time to usher in a series of posts devoted to the drug-addled and all-too sensitive souls who battled their demons in song. Tim Hardin springs to mind as my first post since his heroin habit cut short a career that should have wormed its way into more hearts and minds that it did.

Tim Hardin definitely falls into the esteemed camp occupied by Fred Neil and Tim Buckley. His bluesy, soulful and psychedelic take on folk is just as moving and soul destroying as Howling Wolf and Robert Johnson. History places too much weight upon the classic bluesmen and ignores the emotional depths that the fucked up detritus of the hippy-dippy hedonism of the 60s.produced. To be sure, these singers draw from a wholly different pool of pain than Mississippi Fred McDowells or Robert Johnson, but the end result is just as devastating to my biased soul. One party suffered from oppression, poverty and a variety of social ills and the other were just fucked up and a bunch of soft-boiled eggs, but the pain and emoting is equally resonant in both camps.

This is Tim Hardin is his second album and is mostly comprised of covers, but that doesn’t matter since tradition was the bread and butter of both parties. In light of his eventual overdose, his version of “Cocaine Bill” is especially poignant and heartbreaking in hindsight. His take on the tune is all too respectful as if he takes pride in the moments those late night mistakes where so much was ingested that self-destruction became romatnic. It is a paean to wrongdoing and the ignorance of consequence. Ignore the history of Tim Hardin and the subject material and it is sung as a love song to bad intentions.

Peel away the context and This is Tim Hardin is a showcase for a voice that was one of the most disctinctive and versatile of the 60s folk artists. Put the skin back on that onion and it is a devastation prelude to a genius who whittled away at his tool until there was nothing left but an empty legacy.

Various Artists

Ruckus Juice and Chittlins


The jug maybe the the most versatile kitchen staple outside of the crafty spoon when it comes to making music. The saute pan was abandoned as a percussion tool during the Great Depression and the food processor was a failure from the start. My earliest memories of jug bands consist of offensive hillbilly stereotypes in Warner Brothers cartoons and Emmit Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. However, I always found something tragic, but comic about its flatulent “oom-pa-pa” refrains.

The only man to lift the jug to new heights was Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators who utilized an electric jug on their earliest forays into Texas psychedelia. Therefore, we are left with dusty 78s of the 20s and 30s to satisfy a craving for old-fashioned jug band music.

The Yazoo label is an excellent resource for the forgotten history of American folk, blues and country and its catalogue rivals anything found on the Smithsonian-Folkways series of albums. I’ve never heard of a single soul on this compilation and chances are you haven’t stumbled upon King David’s Jug Band or Cannon’s Jug Stompers (How’s that for a image!) either. There isn’t a mournful moment on the whole album. This is a music of celebration as these musicians draw upon or predate blues, folk, bluegrass, western swing and jazz to create a joyous clatter. It’s also interesting to hear how each artists utilizes the lowly jug in so many different ways. Some use it to imitate the human voice, others use it as a percussion instrument of sorts while some use it for comic relief. It provides such a distinctive sound that it makes you wonder why more bands haven’t adopted it today. Ruckus Juice and Chittlins documents a thoroughly American form of music and stands as one of the better comps on the Yazoo label.

Wynonie Harris

Good Rocking Tonight


Let’s take a break from the bearded prog, psych and wussified indie pop for a moment and pay tribute to one of the unsung forefathers of rock and roll. Wynonie Harris got his start during wartime with some guest spots with Lucky Millinder’s jazz and big band outfit and performed at the Apollo. They had a falling out and Wynonie headed for the West Coast where he embarked on a solo career that resulted in fifteen top ten hits between 1946 and 1952. His version of “Good Rocking Tonight” was especially popular and it easily bests Elvis Presley’s version by a country mile.

I first encountered Mr. Harris’ music on an afternoon in Savannah, GA where it was so oppressively humid it could rouse fungus from your knickers. I was quite hungover and involved in a shameful drive home from some long-forgotten peccadillo. While listening to the local oldies station, a happy-go-lucky, raunchy number called “Bloodshot Eyes” blared from my meager minivan and it spoke to me in an embarrassing way. It deals with his frustration with a drunken lover who has used up the last ounce of Wynonie’s patience. I especially loved the imagery of the chorus.

I used to spend my money, to make you look real sweet
I wanted to be proud of you when we walked down the street
Now dont ask me to dress you up, in satin and in silk
Your eyes look like two cherries in a glass of bottled milk

Wynonie’s bluesy, gruff hollering goes perfectly with the raunchy tunes he covers here. It’s not hard to predict what you are in for with titles like “Keep On Churnin’ Til’ the Butter Comes”, “I Like My Baby’s Pudding” and “I Want My Fanny Brown.” Predictable as it me be with its steady stream of double entendres, Good Rocking Tonight is a damn fine listen with a glass of whiskey and a scenic porch on which to sit.