August 23, 2017

Key to the Highway 

Hound Dog Taylor    
Earl Hooker    
Sunnyland Slim                                                                                                       
I felt a bit under pressure while preparing this show because, in my always so humble opinion, the Chuck Berry show last time was as good as I expected it to be, meaning possibly the best I have done in almost thirty years.  In order to avoid that type of letdown, I decided to go with the most distinctive sounding Blues guitarist in my library, Hound Dog Taylor.  I am pairing him up today with another slide guitarist, Earl Hooker, (although I find their sounds to be totally different) mostly because I had a bio all ready for use, or so I thought.  Turned out I had increased the number of sources I use since writing it.  I could have filled the three hours with just their music but felt a change of pace was required, so the piano of Sunnyland Slim (born Albert Luandrew) serves that purpose well, particularly by slowing down the tempo considerably.  I’m sure you will enjoy this show, but what do I do next time?
I first came across Hound Dog Taylor when I went on a record buying spree to Mill Valley with a couple of friends from San Jose’s row of hippie shops on San Fernando Street near the University around 1972.  With me were a clerk from Underground Records and the man I will always consider my mentor, Bob Sidebottom, who ran the Comic Collector shop but was also a bigtime Jazz and Blues fan, so much so that he named his daughter Parker after the legendary alto sax player Charlie Parker.  Anyway, working my way through the record bins I come across just about the homeliest guy I’d seen with a big grin on his face and a guitar in his hands.  I’d never heard of the guy or the record label but Bob was familiar with him and his opinion was good enough for me.  It was one of my best decisions yet.  His sound still reminds me of someone playing through torn speakers.

Theodore Roosevelt Taylor’s date of birth is in question, either 1915 or 1917, in Natchez, Mississippi.  His first instrument was piano but at age twenty he took up the guitar.  He moved to Chicago in 1942 but didn’t become a full time musician until fifteen years later, playing the usual house parties, club gigs and in the Maxwell Street Market, long a haven for aspiring musicians in the Chicago area.

Taylor had made a few appearances on Sonny Boy Williamson II’s King Biscuit Time before his move to Chicago, and he did do a few recordings beginning in 1960 for Bea and Baby (including a version of Take Five which he redid for his second album) and the Marjette label as well as a couple of singles for Carl Jones’ labels in 1962 (one backing Homesick James), but it was his live performances in the Chicago area that earned him significant respect, ultimately leading to his being chosen to participate in the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival European tour, performing with Little Walter and Koko Taylor.  Perhaps his best chance for success was in 1969 when he laid down five tracks for the Checker label, but none were released.

In 1970, Bruce Iglauer heard Taylor and the Houserockers, a three piece group which also included drummer Ted Harvey and second guitarist Brewer Phillips behind Taylor’s Elmore James-tinged slide guitar, at Florence’s Lounge, and recommended them to his employer at Delmark Records but, when nothing came from his suggestion, shipping clerk Iglauer took a $2,500 inheritance and put out the first Alligator Records release simply titled Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers.  Iglauer took on the full business side and got Taylor a nationwide tour with Muddy Waters, Freddie King and Big Mama Thornton, with the LP Live at Joe’s Place being recorded in Boston in 1972, followed up by two more albums from the same venue.  I have never seen them but have read that the sound quality is extremely lacking.

Late in 1973, the band was back in the studio and their second album, Natural Boogie, was also a success.  Once again, the band went on the road, then recorded the live album Beware of Dog in 1974, but neither it nor a collection of outtakes from the first two studio albums were released before Taylor’s death from lung cancer in 1975.  The compilation album was titled Genuine Houserocking Music, which became sort of a mantra for the Alligator label.

In Taylor’s last year, his ensemble played Australia and New Zealand along with Freddie King and the duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.  He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984.  Alligator put out Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute, fourteen tracks with different artists (Luther Allison, Elvin Bishop, and All Music’s biographical contributor Cub Koda among others) in 1997, then a deluxe edition in 1999 and Release the Hound in 2004.  Houserockers Phillips and Harvey went on to back another of Chicago’s slide guitar masters, J.B. Hutto, on at least one album.
It is likely inevitable that Earl Zebedee Hooker (January 15th 1930 - April 21st 1970) would be caught up by the lure of the Blues, what with his father playing harmonica and guitar, his mother having sung with the renowned traveling troupe, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, John Lee Hooker being a first cousin, and moving to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta at the age of one.  Earl took up the guitar seriously after hanging around Robert Nighthawk's music store about 1945, and left Chicago around 1946, traveling to Helena, Arkansas, where he performed with his mentor or Sonny Boy Williamson II, including sometimes on Sonny Boy’s King Biscuit Time on Helena’s KFFA radio.  He spent a couple of years with Nighthawk touring the South.  By the end of the decade he wound up playing in Ike Turner's band, attempting to establish himself on the Memphis music scene in 1949, then taking to the road again, this time fronting his own group.

After his earliest recordings from a Florida nightclub (Race Track Blues and Blue Guitar Blues) were released on King in 1952, as well as backing vocalist / harmonica player Little Sam Davis for Rockin’ in 1953, Earl went into Sam Phillips’ Sun studio on July 15th 1953 and laid down about a dozen tracks but none of the recordings were released at the time.  Hooker then hit a dry spell as far as recording was concerned, ending with a single on Argo in 1956, four tracks on C.J. in 1959 and a session in 1960 for Bea and Baby.  Earl had an aversion to taking the microphone, quite likely due to his stuttering, so many of the releases were credited to the vocalists rather than Hooker.

Earl hit his stride when he teamed up with Mel London and his Chief and Age labels between 1960 and 1963, not only recording under his own name but also backing many of the labels’ other artists.  On August 8th 1960, Earl and Junior Wells recorded Galloping Horses a Lazy Mule along with Junior’s classic Messin’ with the Kid.  A couple of months later, October 17th, the pair were back to lay down an instrumental, Universal Rock.  Earl and Junior were longtime friends, not only playing on the streets but sometimes playing on the streetcars all across town to evade the truant officers.  Indeed, it was Junior who brought Earl to the label and their first session in 1960 created Junior’s Little by Little, reaching #23 on Billboard’s R&B Hot Sides the next year.  Riding on the success of Wells’ Messin’ with the Kid, May 3rd 1961 saw Earl cut his instrumental version, Rockin’ with the Kid.  Also included today are a couple of tracks done in 1962, These Cotton Pickin’ Blues and How Long Can This Go On.

Another track Hooker recorded on that May 3rd session was Blue Guitar, and Chess Records got London’s approval to use the instrumental as Muddy Waters’ backing track for You Shook Me, with lyrics by Willie Dixon.  The song’s success led to more backing track purchases and Muddy released You Need Love and Little Brown Bird, the instrumentals taped in July 1962.  In 1965, Earl found his way onto the BBC show Ready Steady Go with the Beatles.  The late 60s saw him popular on the college and festival circuits.

Always able to earn his living through his music, Earl made himself into an extremely versatile guitarist with forays into Country & Western and Jazz.  Hooker suffered from an early age serious attacks of tuberculosis, and his constant touring and recording didn’t mitigate the problem.  After losing a year in the hospital to treat a particularly severe attack, at which time he took up using the wah wah peddle, 1968 began the most productive studio work of Earl's career.  Based on a recommendation from Buddy Guy, Arhoolie Records' owner Chris Strachwitz went to Chicago to check him out, where they wound up recording the album Two Bugs and a Roach.  The following year, Earl came out to California to make a second album, Hooker and Steve, for Arhoolie.

There were also some live club recordings that were caught in the late sixties.  Earl made his farthest tour from home in November of 1969 when he went on the annual American Folk Blues Festival concert series.  Back in Los Angeles, he teamed up with producer / pianist Ike Turner on a fine instrumental album, Sweet Black Angel, for Blue Thumb, but a few months later, he succumbed to complications from his tuberculosis in Chicago at the age of 41.  

When he was voted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013, it was noted that "Earl Hooker was the 'blues guitarists' guitarist,' the most respected six-string wizard in Chicago blues musicians' circles during the 1950s and '60s."  Perhaps the best way to summarize would be with B.B. King’s statement that, "to me he is the best of modern guitarists. Period. With the slide he was the best. It was nobody else like him, he was just one of a kind".

My favorite reminiscence of one of my on-air gaffes is when I misspoke and said that John Lee and Earl were not related.  I knew better, but sometimes your brain doesn't click on all cylinders.  Very quickly, I received a call from Michael Osborn, at that time John Lee's lead guitarist, to politely tell me something to the effect of, "John just wanted you to know Earl was his cousin."
Since it is still relatively new, I thought I’d mention that KKUP is now streaming on the internet and, while it is still in a developing stage, we have been putting out the word.  I’m not all of that good with high-tech stuff, but it seems pretty easy to access.  If you go to our website at you will see on the home page a strip of options immediately above the pictures of the musicians the next to the last option being LISTEN ONLINE.  By clicking this, it brings up a choice of desktop or mobile.  I can only speak for the desktop but after maybe a minute I was receiving a crystal clear feed.  As already mentioned, this is still a work in progress and we are currently limited to a finite number of listeners at any one time.  I mention this so you will be aware to turn off the application when you are not actually listening.  (I put the player in my favorites bar for the easiest of access.)  Now we can reach our listeners in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, even my family in Canada.  Let your friends elsewhere know they can now listen to your favorite station, and while they have the home page open they can check out our schedule.
She’s Gone
Walking the Ceiling
I Held My Baby Last Night
Taylor’s Rock
It’s Alright
Wild about You Baby
It Hurts Me Too
44 Blues
55th Street Boogie
   Hound Dog Taylor   38mins

I’m Going Down the Line
Guitar Rag
Galloping Horses a Lazy Mule
Universal Rock
These Cotton Pickin’ Blues
Rockin’ with the Kid
How Long Can This Go On?
   Earl Hooker
You Shook Me
You Need Love
Little Brown Bird
   Muddy Waters

Boogie Man
Woman I Ain’t Gonna Drink No More Whiskey
Nervous Breakdown
Get Hip to Yourself
I Had it So Hard
Hard Time (When Mother’s Gone)
Gonna Be My Baby
   Sunnyland Slim

Take Five
Hawaiian Boogie
See Me in the Morning
Sitting at Home Alone
Roll Your Moneymaker
Goodnight Boogie
   Hound Dog Taylor

Two Bugs and a Roach
Wah Wah Blues
Off the Hook
Anna Lee
Earl Hooker Blues
You Don’t Want Me
The Hook
   Earl Hooker

Give Me Back My Wig
The Sun is Shining
Dust My Broom
Rock Me
   Hound Dog Taylor

No comments:

Post a Comment