Koko Taylor – Queen of The Blues!
They broke the mold when they made Koko. There will never be another one like her. With her intense gravelly voice that you could easily hear even if you were in the back of the room. To her emotional moments that could easily change with a blink of an eye. When it came to singing about relationships, she could be quite passionate and warm. But if a man did her wrong, whew! Is all I can say! Because she could preach the blues and make everyone in the audience understand when it came to relationships and how to handle them! She is a rare performer that forged her own path and inspired many artists to do the same.
Born in Tennessee, she was the daughter of a sharecropper. She fell in love with music at an early age and would listen to gospel and WDIA blues jockeys B.B. King and Rufus Thomas. Also, as kids she would sing with her brother and sisters accompanying them on homemade instruments. Even then, she had a voice that could be heard all the way to the rafters. But in 1952, she left the farm for the big city lights of Chicago with her fiancé Robert Taylor who drove trucks for a living. Also, she’s going by the name Koko (her childhood nickname). Traveling to Chicago with 35 cents and a box of Ritz crackers.
As you can imagine, the pressure is pretty real at the time to find work and figure out a way to make things happen. But then again, pressure is what transforms a lump of coal into a diamond! While “Pops” her husband finds work at a packing plant, she starts cleaning houses for a living during the day while checking out the blues clubs at night. After a while, her husband urges her to start sitting in with the local top blues bands and soon is in demand as a guest artist.
It’s on one of these evenings that she’s performing, that she’s approached by composer Willie Dixon. Impressed by her live performances, he offers her a recording contract and starts producing her singles, two albums and her 1965 hit and signature song “Wang Dang Doodle.” Shortly after finds a home at Alligator Records in 1975, where she releases the Grammy-nominated “I Got What It Takes.” Between 1978 and 2007, She records eight more albums for Alligator, made numerous guest appearances on various albums and tribute recordings.
Along with several Grammy Nominations. Furthermore, during her 40-plus career, Taylor received every award the blues world has to offer. In 1997, she’s inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame and, in 1999, Taylor receives the Blues Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009 Taylor performs in Washington, D.C. at The Kennedy Center Honors honoring Morgan Freeman.
Finding Her Place in a Male Dominated World
As I wrote at the beginning of the blog, Taylor finds her success by breaking the barrier of the blues being a male dominated world along with a few other notable shouters, singers and more. Going from small clubs around Chicago’s South Side to traveling all over the world playing festivals and concert halls worldwide! Sharing the stage with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and rock superstars and Robert plant and Jimmy Page. All I can say is who sang the loudest on these pairings?
I’ve seen Koko Taylor several times in south Florida once at a place called Musicians Exchange, a great blues and Jazz bar. As well as seeing her at Sunfest in West Palm Beach Florida. Needless to say, she didn’t disappoint, and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to see such an amazing artist performing live.
To this day, the chance to see her perform live on stage out of all the live shows I’ve seen over the years, this one still stands out for me. Because it was that good! She left this world at age 80, on June 3, 2009, in Chicago. While we lost an icon, we can still listen to all the great blues she brought to the table. She’ll still be inspiring generations to come. For those of you who have seen her live, tell us about your concert experience seeing Koko Taylor!
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