Sat June 23, 2012
Marc On The Blues

Nine O'clock Blues: Koko Taylor

Koko Taylor was a Chicago style blues singer known for her powerful, rough vocals and traditional style.

That doesn’t come close to saying enough about the woman that was born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee, in 1928, daughter of a share cropper. A love of chocolate was the source of her nickname, Koko.

Like very many other blues artists, her love of music started with the gospel she heard in church, but she was also heavily influence by artists like Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson that she heard on the radio. Although the family was very poor, Koko collected a number of blues recordings which she would listen to over and over without ever imagining that someday she might join the ranks of her idols.

She married truck driver Robert “Pops” Taylor with whom she moved to Chicago in 1952. While Koko Taylor helped support the family by cleaning wealthy people’s houses during the week, she and Pops would spend the weekends frequenting the south side Chicago clubs where the hard edged Chicago blues style was being forged. Pops pushed her to start sitting in with the bands in the late 1950s, hence her career was launched and she never stopped until her passing in 2009.

Willie Dixon discovered Taylor in 1962 and he signed her to a recording contract and greatly expanded her performing options. Koko Taylor’s one real hit came in 1965 when she signed with the iconic Chess Records and recorded her version of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”. Although she never duplicated the success of that record, her concerts, club dates and festival appearances kept her Chicago’s powerful ambassador at the forefront of the blues world for the next four decades.

Nominated for Grammys and many other awards, Koko Taylor won 25 W. C. Handy awards, more than any other artist, and is listed as a major influence by artists like Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, Janis Joplin, Susan Tedeschi and Shannon Curfman.

In her final years Taylor continued to perform about 70 concerts per year and gave her last performance at the Blues Music Awards in May 2009, just before her death due to complications from surgery that June.

Known as The Queen of the Blues for good reason, she can be summed up very well by her quote, “Blues is my life.”

This week on The Nine O’clock Blues I’ll be playing a full set of music by Koko Taylor. Also on the show will be tracks from some more of the biggest names in the blues, including T-Bone Walker, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and B. B. King.


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