Koko Takes a Hungry Crowd
Koko Taylor: Queen of Raw and Rowdy Blues
by Catharine Richert

If Koko Taylor taught at the School of Badass, she’d be your favorite professor. The first African American woman to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, Taylor strutted her stuff (in head-to-toe sequins, no less) along with her Blues Machine in front of students and parents alike this past Saturday night. As junior Jason Goss said, “It was aggressive, raunchy blues. Blues so raw, it would rip the panties off a nun.” Fortunately, there were no nuns in the audience, so high-velocity flying underwear was not a danger.

What was dangerous, however, was Taylor’s band, The Blues Machine. Opening the show with “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” a raunchy blues tune, which was made even more so by the Machine’s lead guitarist. During a breakdown in the middle of the tune, he displayed some unusual guitar playing antics by strumming the instrument with his tongue. Sexual innuendos aside, the words to this piece were enough to get most audience members going. “I don’t want you to make my bed/ I don’t want you to rub my head,” growled the guitarist into the microphone, “I just want to make love to you.” His performance was nothing short of shady.
When Taylor took the stage, opening with “You’d Better Leave My Man Alone,” she made it clear she is not one to mess with. Singing, “You play with fire/You’re gonna get burned/Girl, you’re in the right school to learn” with such vehemence, it seemed that Taylor was singing the song for the first time.

Indeed, the blues is something Taylor feels so naturally she’s certain she was born with it in her blood. “I was born with the blues, and I’ll probably die with it,” Taylor said. Taylor was not without inspiration in her career, though. As a child growing up in Memphis, Tenn, Taylor listened to the local radio station, WDIA. “They didn’t play nothin’ but the blues. Real Mississippi blues,” Taylor said. But it wasn’t until her move to Chicago where she was first heard by blues god Willie Dixon.
He was so enamored by Taylor’s voice that he signed her, recorded her and wrote her first hit, “Wang Dang Doodle.” He also motivated Taylor to begin writing her own music. Taylor reiterated the advice Dixon gave her, saying, “All you have to do is put words together, make ‘em rhyme, have them make sense. A song tells a story.”

This support from the blues community boosted Taylor’s career immensely. Her performance proved to be a testament to her legendary status in the musical world as well as a tribute to the people who influenced her career. Her rendition of B.B. King’s “The Blues Hotel” was one of the highlights of her show. Paired with the song that made her famous, “Wang Dang Doodle,” wrapped up Taylor’s portion of the show with bawdy energy only the blues can release.

But despite the up-beat nature of the performance, it was obvious that Taylor’s voice was not what it once was. No longer able to cover a wide vocal range, Taylor’s singing was hoarse and sometimes inaudible. With such an extensive accompanying band, the Blues Machine’s sound added a complexity to the performance that took away from the blues’ mystique. It was hard to imagine this music being played in a dark roadhouse or somewhere on the Delta with such a modern sound.

This did not stop Taylor’s audience from screaming, clapping and dancing for more. Playing with such energy, animation and sweat, Taylor and her Blues Machine made it clear that they love what they do. And the audience loved them for it.

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