Hound Dog Taylor Chops His Own Finger Off!
Before the days of mumble rap, Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and whatever else people are listening to these days, blues music was all the rage. You wouldn’t assume that given the fact that the genre has seemed to almost vanish from the public eye. However, there are still musicians cranking out blues albums like Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark Jr., and Marcus King, who aren’t going to let blues fade away without a valiant attempt to preserve it.
In fact, blues was one of the most popular forms of music back in the later thirties and carried on even through the fifties. One particular event that had a massive impact on the genre and shaped its progression was the Great Blues Migration. This migratory event coincided with the actual Great Migration or Great Northern Drive, which occurred between 1916 and 1970. During this time, African Americans were uprooting their lives in the rural Southern states in an attempt to enrich their lives in more urban areas. Families were in search of better jobs, environments, and overall better lives for their children.
The Blues Migration merely refers to a period of time when musicians realized they were not going to further their careers in the South and aimed for the city life where people seemed to be more open to the blues and other performance arts. One location that had a specific appeal to Southern musicians was Chicago which boasted a wide variety of music styles, people, and cultures. In fact, the city adapted its own form of the genre named Chicago blues, which comprised of mostly Mississippi-born musicians combining elements of electrified and urban style blues.
One of the most unknown and underrated of these Chicago bluesmen was Theodore Roosevelt Taylor, known more as Hound Dog. Everyone knows of Muddy Water, Howlin’ Wolf, and a lot of other famous Chicago musicians but Hound Dog actually began playing a number of years before all of these guys and found his way to Chicago in 1942. For over 10 years, Hound Dog was virtually unknown, playing in various small clubs around Chicago and keeping a low profile.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1971 that Hound Dog actually recorded his first album, due to the persistence of a man named Bruce Iglauer. Bruce had been trying for some time to get Taylor signed to a record label because he felt the musician offered something others really didn’t. He was raw and, in your face, with loud riffs, rough slide work, and” foot-stomping shuffles.” After giving up on the main stream labels, Bruce decided to try his luck and founded Alligator Records, which is now one of the most notorious blues record labels around, signing everyone from Guitar Shorty, Elvin Bishop, Anders Osborne, and Toronzo Cannon.
Perhaps the wildest story surrounding Hound Dog Taylor involves the most important appendage to a guitarist, his fingers. Taylor had a rare physical anomaly referred to as polydactyly which means that he had six fingers on both hands. Now before you think about how lucky he is for having an extra finger to the play the guitar with, the extra digit was essentially just for decoration and was immovable. But think of the possibilities if he were actually able to use that finger!
The story goes that one night while in a bar prowling for women, which is how he was given the name “Hound Dog,” Taylor got blinding drunk, which was not uncommon for many blues musicians. During his drunken rampage, Taylor found a straight razor a decided to remove his extra finger from his right hand. Luckily this didn’t have any ramifications on his playing or life in general but imagine that searing pain! In his podcast “Pick Up Radio,” Joe Bonamassa jokingly refers to Hound Dog as the “Vincent Van Gough of the blues.” Joe also recognizes Taylor as one of the major “underrated Chicago blues greats” who never quite got the recognition he deserved as a player.
So, now you have an interesting and edgy blues story about a great musician who got bored and drunk and decided to chop his extra finger off. That is some awesome after dinner conversation right there!
If you are interested in other musicians who dealt with serious aliments during their career, check out this podcast episode from Joe!