Matt Rogers – Goodnight Boogie: A Tale Of Guns, Wolves, & The Blues of Hound Dog Taylor
272 Pages Paperback Edition
If the only thing that Theodore Roosevelt Taylor did during his career was to serve as the inspiration for Bruce Iglauer to start his Alligator Records label for the sole purpose of recording Taylor, that alone would be enough to guarantee the guitarist a well-deserved place of honor in the history of blues music. But, as author Matt Rogers makes abundantly clear, there is plenty more to the story of an artist who’s influence still reverberates almost 50 years after his passing, as witnessed by the band GA-20 recently releasing a full album tribute to the iconic blues man.
Born in Mississippi in 1917, Taylor had a familiar upbringing – parents that were sharecroppers, learning music in church, and not getting much of a formal education. After a disagreement, his stepfather forced the nine year old Taylor to leave home. He went to live with his sister, who had a house nearby with a piano. That became Taylor’s first instrument. Once he became confident about his abilities, he began to play house parties and juke joints, sometimes using a mule and wagon to haul the piano across fields to his next gig.
By the time he was 20 years old, Taylor had made the switch to guitar, which was far easier to transport. He learned by watching other area guitar players, eventually shifting to slide guitar just as Robert Johnson had done. Being born with an extra digit on each hand certainly helped his slide work. Taylor had heard plenty of Johnson’s music growing up. He claimed to have taught a youthful Elmore James how to play Johnson’s classic, “Dust My Broom,” which later became a huge hit for James, much to Taylor’s dismay.
In 1942, Taylor left Mississippi after an armed confrontation with a local white man who suspected that the guitarist was interested in his wife. The next day, a posse of the Ku Klux Klan appeared in his yard, setting a cross on fire. Taylor slipped out the back, managing to sneak away. He quickly decided to take a long bus trip to Chicago where he could stop looking over his shoulder.
Once he arrived, it took a few years of playing clubs to start to get noticed. He recorded several tracks for small record labels, which helped him get better gigs. While playing a gig at a West side club, Taylor meets guitarist Brewer Phillips. The two quickly learn that they speak the same musical language. Several years later, Taylor makes the decision to ask drummer Ted Harvey to join his band. Harvey had been backing Elmore James until his untimely passing. The final piece was in place. Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers were ready to take on the world.
With Harvey laying down a driving beat while Phillips added bass lines and fills on his guitar, Taylor had the perfect band for his raucous style. Playing his inexpensive Japanese guitar through a worn amplifier cranked to the point of distortion while sitting in a chair, Taylor seldom failed to turn an audience into a swirling mass of dancers. The trio was soon filling any venue that booked them, gaining a reputation as the band to beat in town.
With the release of their first album on Alligator, and Iglauer’s guidance, the band’s popularity spread quickly, leading to better bookings, including festivals and European tours. The music was raw and intense, the money was right, so the future looked promising.
At least until Phillips and Harvey decided that they deserved a bigger share of the money coming in. Taylor had been a heavy drinker all of his life, and Phillips was in the same league. They would get into arguments time and again, with Iglauer and Harvey doing their best to smooth things over, especially when the disagreements occurred on stage. It all came to a head late one night with near tragic consequences.
The release of the band’s second album, Natural Boogie in 1974, kept Taylor in the spotlight. Rolling Stone magazine did a feature piece on him, a high honor for any blues artist. Soon he and Iglauer started working on tracks for a live album, a recording that promised to capture the band at its houserockin’ finest. Then Taylor began to feel poorly, and a few short months later he was gone.
The foreword, written by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, describes the lasting influence Taylor had on Auerbach’s style. Additional praise at several points comes from another famous slide guitarist, George Thorogood, who spent a career trying to emulate Taylor’s sound. It is a tale with many surprising twists and turns, told in fine fashion by Matt Rogers, making this fascinating biography a highly recommended addition to your blues library!