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FEATURES -- Koko Taylor CBG Staff Tribute

KOKO TAYLOR, "QUEEN OF THE BLUES"

September 28, 1928 – June 3, 2009

Chicago Blues Guide staff pays tribute

The news of Koko Taylor’s death hit us hard at Chicago Blues Guide. We felt that the best way to deal with this huge loss and our grief was to remember the good times we’ve all had, thanks to the Queen of the Blues. Here are the fond remembrances of our staff, and a couple of CBG friends, as we pay tribute to our late royal lady. She will be missed, but her music and her memory will remain eternal.

 Koko Taylor, Memphis 2009

Koko Taylor at the 2009 Blues Music Awards in Memphis.  Photo by: Tim Holek

 

Tim Holek, blues journalist/photographer www.timholekblues.ca

On June 3, 2009, we lost a blues monarch. It was only a few weeks prior to this that my wife and I sat with Koko Taylor at the Delta Music Experience table during the 30th Blues Music Awards in Memphis. When we arrived at the table, we introduced ourselves to the Queen and told her how honored and privileged we felt to be sitting at her table. She sure seemed to have a grand time that evening. She mingled with the fans, won another BMA, and performed a fiery version of Wang Dang Doodle with her powerful voice that could reverse the natural flow of water. Her daughter, Joyce “Cookie” Threatt, who was also at the BMAs, mentioned to us how amazed she was at the love, respect, interest, and support the blues fans and industry continued to have for her mom especially now that she was 80-years-old. We will remember that evening forever.

I had the extreme pleasure to see and hear Koko Taylor perform many times at various clubs and festivals over the years. She was truly one of a kind and she always had a top notch band on record as well as in performance.  Her life was an amazing tale of talent, hard work, perseverance, and dedication. The Queen is gone. May her memories and music last forever.

 

Mike O’Cull, writer/musician/instructor www.myspace.com/mikeocullmusic

 I remember seeing Koko Taylor and her band on Valentine’s Day at Chord On Blues in St. Charles, IL sometime in the mid 1990’s. One of my best friends was head chef there at the time and my then-girlfriend and I scored a prime table for dinner and her show. The food was great, but once Koko hit the stage, the menu was forgotten. She was absolutely on fire that night and proceeded to rock the large crowd that braved a frigid February night to see her and her Blues Machine perform. The interplay between her and guitarist Vino Louden created a lightning rod in the room and, to this day, it remains one of the best blues shows I have attended. After the gig, my friend took us backstage and we met Koko and her husband and they were both sweet, friendly, and accessible. Koko may be gone, but her music and her memory will live forever in the hearts of her fans and admirers. I personally hope, once we all meet up yonder, to get my turn to back her up at that Great Gig in the Sky. RIP Koko.

 

Bill Dahl, music historian/journalist/author www.billdahl.com

There will never be another undisputed Queen of Chicago Blues, and before Koko, there really wasn't one either. She's fated to be the one and only, and the blues world will revere her regal reign forever. 

Marie Dixon, Cher, Koko Taylor

 Marie Dixon, Cher, Koko Taylor

Liz Mandeville, blues musician/writer/painter www.lizmandeville.com

When I was a young blues singer, just starting out 25 years ago, Koko Taylor was Queen of the Chicago club scene. She was regularly featured at Wise Fools Pub on Lincoln Ave, and the Kingston Mines, among other venues. I had the pleasure and honor of sharing the stage with her on many occasions.

One night at the Wise Fools, I ended my set with Howlin’ Wolf's tune "EVIL", introducing it as a song I'd heard on Koko Taylor's latest LP on Alligator. I told the people "Stick around now because the Queen is about to ascend her throne and you will be amused!"

Koko and her then husband, Pops Taylor, who was her manager at that time, invited me to sit at their table. Koko was, as always, very gracious, complimenting me on my rendition of her tune.

Pops, who was a real character, told me "Liz, I'm going to marry you! You need me to jump start your career!"

"But Pops," I responded, "You're already married to Koko"

Pops slapped the table with his hand, as he said "Damn, baby, Koko won't mind!"

We all laughed; they were very warm, loving people.

It seemed that when misfortune hit Koko Taylor, she always turned it around and came back stronger and better than ever. Like the time in the late '80's, when her tour bus skidded off a slick mountain road in Tennessee and went over the side. Koko was in a hospital in Dalton, Georgia when friends who lived there called and told us to pray for the Queen. Of course we did, and she came back and continued to tour and amaze the people with her powerful presence for years after that.

She was a ground breaker for women in the blues. She was a singular talent, with a gut bucket voice that was like no other. She was gracious and always a lady. Her aura will shine over the music and Chicago forever.

Koko Taylor 2005

Koko Taylor, 2005 Chicago. Photo by: Tim Holek 

Karen Brault, blues woman, After Midnight  Blues Band http://www.myspace.com/aftermidnightblues

Words cannot express how great a loss that we bear over our beloved Koko. As great as her name, so was the love for her by so many.

Our hearts are heavy and filled with thoughts and prayers for Koko, for not only have we lost the Queen of Blues, but we have all lost a deeply loved and greatly cherished lady.  We all loved her as our very own.

 Family, friends, Chicago, and the world over will greatly miss Koko. But she will always be with us because we all loved her so, and she truly loved so very many in return. And such a bond can never be broken, nor shall she leave our hearts, even into eternity.

Rest in peace, dear Koko.

 Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor

Lonnie Brooks & Koko Taylor. Photo by: Jennifer Wheeler

 

Jennifer Wheeler, photographer  www.myspace.com/photographer1234

I remember getting a call at work sometime in the mid -1990s from Koko Taylor because I had requested her to sing a song at my birthday party that I was planning at her gig in Lyons, Illinois.  I was in shock.  The song I wanted her to sing was "Time will Tell".   She said she just got off the red eye flight from L.A. after attending the Grammy's.   She called to say Happy Birthday to me and that her band did not know the song well enough to play it and was apologetic.   I remember for my birthday I got the first ticket on sale with a No. 1 on it and that night paid  $5 for an 8 by 10 so I could get her autograph and meet her backstage.   I must not have had a good camera back then because I actually paid for an 8 by 10.  This shows how much of a fan I was and always will be.

 

Bob Corritore, blues musician, club owner, DJ  www.bobcorritore.com

 I first heard Koko Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle" in the early ‘70s on the radio in Chicago. It knocked me out and I was a Koko fan from that point on. I first started seeing her perform live in 1974. She used to play regularly at a North Side Chicago bar called Biddy Mulligan’s. She had a great band with Johnny Twist on the guitar, and later Johnny B. Moore. She would tear the house down regularly. I was just 18 and 19 at the time. I often sat with her and her husband Pops on the breaks. Such friendly, wonderful people!  They used to let me play a number or two with the band before she hit the stage. One night Pops asked me to come to a band rehearsal to audition. He said that they were thinking about adding another piece to the band. I was still very young at the time, with plans for completing college, and my parents would hear nothing of this, and refused to lend me the car. I really would not have been of the level of playing needed to pass an audition at that point. I still have the torn note card with Koko's number that she gave me to set this up.

 I went to the 1975 PBS filming of the Blues Summit Concert with Koko, Muddy, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon, Johnny Winter, Dr. John, and others. Once at Biddy Mulligan’s, Paul Butterfield came by and sat in with Koko and her band for a set. Years later after I moved to Phoenix and opened up the Rhythm Room, I was able to book Koko a number of times. It warmed my heart to present her with a photo of her and her late husband that I had taken years before at Biddy Mulligan’s.

            In 2005, I had one of the greatest thrills of my life which was taking Koko into Rax Trax studio in Chicago and recording a song with her. I put together a great band that included Bob Margolin, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Bob Stroger and Little Frank, and we knocked out a killer version of "What Kind Of Man Is This". I had arranged this recording session through my friend Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records who, knowing how important this was to me, was gracious enough to allow me this honor - with the stipulation that I not release the cut for 5 years (I hope to put it out next year). This recording session was a true satisfaction, because I always wondered what would have happened if years before I had gone to that rehearsal. I had this special time with Koko, and it produced a beautiful recorded cut that can live on forever. In the last 5 years, it seemed like I was regularly meeting up with Koko and her family. This would happen at a wide range of places: at the Chicago Blues Festival, where she would have a booth each year, the Blues Music Awards, the Scottsdale Music Festival, the Lucerne Blues Festival, the Grammies, etc. One time (must have been 2006) at the Chicago Blues Festival, Cookie (Koko's daughter) had my lovely Kim and I stay with Koko for a few hours, and we had such a wonderful time in the green room of the Petrillo Bandshell as Koko sang us some of her favorite tracks from the then forthcoming Old School CD. Just a month ago, she was the highlight performance at the BMAs, as she sang "Wang Dang Doodle" with The Mannish Boys. Koko has been a constant in my life. She has always stood for the tough, real deal Chicago blues, while having a heart of gold, and a simple joy in performing her music. I will miss her greatly.

 Bob Corritore, Koko Taylor

Bob Corritore and Koko Taylor at the 2007 Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland. Photo by Cookie.

  

Eric Steiner, President, Washington Blues Society (www.wablues.org)

         Koko TaylorKoko Taylor’s music has been a part of my life since 1974.  Over the years, I’ve seen her in clubs and festivals, and each performance was special.  Seeing Koko Taylor at this year’s Blues Music Awards was a gift:  she sang Wang Dang Doodle with Randy Chortkoff and his Mannish Boys, and none of us knew that this would be the last time.  That night at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, Koko lost none of the fire and spice that I first saw in her in the 1970s.

         One of my favorite Koko Taylor performances was captured on the Blues Deluxe compilation on Alligator Records from the 1980 Chicago Fest.  This was my last major local show I saw before I relocated to the Pacific Northwest.  The LP is a good one; Koko belts Hey Bartender exceptionally well, and it’s got a great version of Sweet Home Chicago, too. 

         The day Koko passed, NPR featured a touching tribute to her.  I did the freeway crawl after work and put in Blues Deluxe.  By the time she was asking for her drinks in Hey Bartender, I looked up in the rear view mirror and noticed tears that I didn’t know were there.

         Off stage, she was always very quiet and gracious, but on stage, and I’ll steal one of her Alligator album titles to close this remembrance; Koko Taylor was a true Force of Nature.

koko taylor, willie kent sing

Willie Kent, Koko Taylor, 2005 at Blue Chicago benefit.  Photo by: Jennifer Wheeler

Linda Cain, publisher/managing editor, Chicago Blues Guide

My close encounter with the Queen of the Blues took place in the ladies room at the original Blue Chicago club when it was on State and Walton. It was October 23, 1987, back when the venue first opened and I was working for owner Gino Battaglia as the club publicist.

In those days, Gino and I would put our heads together to come up with special blues events to help put Blue Chicago on the map. That night was one of them -- a double bill starring Koko Taylor as the headliner and Valerie Wellington as the opener.

Unfortunately one of Koko’s band members never showed up. The club got a call from someone saying that he had either been in an accident or had taken ill, I don’t recall exactly what happened.

So here was Koko in the ladies room, putting on her makeup and fretting over her show, while Valerie was on stage. She was not in a good mood, understandably.  I didn’t wish to bother her given the situation. Plus, I was in awe of Koko. This was the Queen of the Blues standing right next to me!  Hearing her sing always sent shivers down my spine.

 I briefly gave her my condolences for her band member and told her about the publicity in the newspapers that I had gotten for the show.  Koko’s mood quickly changed. Her face lit up. She smiled and thanked me. I’ll never forget that mega-watt smile and her warm, down-home manner.

They were able to get a substitute at the last minute and the show went on.

            That was the only time she played at the original Blue Chicago club, but Koko’s influence remained at Blue Chicago, which became known for featuring female singers.

There was a blues revival in the ‘80s, thanks to Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.  In Chicago, there seemed to be a bumper crop of female blues singers of all ages. Willie Kent brought many of them to sing with him at Blue Chicago. Bonnie Lee, Patricia Scott, Kanika Kress, Nora Jean Bruso, Karen Carroll, Gloria Hardiman,  Shirley King, Big Time Sarah, Shirley Johnson, Audrey Queen Roy, Pat “Soul” Scaggs, Zora Young, Mary Lane, Katherine Davis, Gloria Hardiman, Joanna Graham, Gloria Shannon, Peaches, Liz Mandeville, Lynne Jordan, Chick Rodgers, Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Grana’ (rhymes with Rene) Louise and many others played at the Blue Chicago clubs. I interviewed these ladies and wrote their bios for our press releases. Without a doubt, most of them became blues singers because of Koko Taylor’s breaking down barriers for women in Chicago’s male-dominated blues scene.

The second time Koko performed at Blue Chicago was in 2005. It was at “the big club” located at 736 N. Clark (at Superior) and it was an unpaid performance because Blue Chicago was holding a benefit for Willie Kent to help pay for his medical bills. The blues community turned out in force to support Willie. But it was Koko who stole the show, singing and dancing with Willie and moving about the club as she partied with all of her friends.

Back in 1987, I was too shy to ask Koko for her autograph that night. But Gino got it for me.  Koko signed one of the club’s promotional postcards with a picture of her and Valerie and the title “Earth Shakin’ Blues”. It is framed and hanging in my office.  Thank you, Koko, for all that you did for the blues and for your fans. I know you and Willie Kent are dancing and singing in blues heaven. 

Willie Kent, Koko Taylor dance

Copyright: 2009, Chicago Blues Guide

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