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Alligator Records, Chicago's leading contemporary blues label, might never have been launched at all if not for the crashing, slashing slide guitar antics of Hound Dog Taylor. Bruce Iglauer, then an employee of Delmark Records, couldn't convince his boss, Bob Koester, of Taylor's potential, so Iglauer took matters into his own hands. In 1971, Alligator was born for the express purpose of releasing Hound Dog's debut album. We all know what transpired after that.
Named after President Theodore Roosevelt, Mississippi-native Taylor took up the guitar when he was 20 years old. He made a few appearances on Sonny Boy Williamson's fabled KFFA King Biscuit Time radio broadcasts out of Helena, Arkansas, before coming to Chicago in 1942. It was another 15 years before Taylor made blues his full-time vocation, though. Taylor was a favorite on Chicago's South and West sides during the late '50s and early '60s. It's generally accepted that Freddy King copped a good portion of his classic "Hide Away" from an instrumental he heard Taylor cranking out on the bandstand.
Taylor's pre-Alligator credits were light -- only a 1960 single for Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby imprint ("Baby Is Coming Home"/"Take Five"), a 1962 45 for Carl Jones' Firma Records ("Christine"/"Alley Music"), and a 1967 effort for Checker ("Watch Out"/"Down Home") predated his output for Iglauer.
Taylor's relentlessly raucous band, the HouseRockers, consisted of only two men, though their combined racket sounded like quite a few more. Second guitarist Brewer Phillips, who often supplied buzzing pseudo-basslines on his guitar, had developed such an empathy with Taylor that their guitars intertwined with ESP-like force, while drummer Ted Harvey kept everything moving along at a brisk pace.
Their eponymous 1971 debut LP contained the typically rowdy "Give Me Back My Wig," while Taylor's first Alligator encore in 1973, Natural Boogie, boasted the hypnotic "Sadie" and a stomping "Roll Your Moneymaker." Beware of the Dog, a live set, vividly captured the good-time vibe that the perpetually beaming guitarist emanated, but Taylor didn't live to see its release -- he died of cancer shortly before it hit the shelves.
Hound Dog Taylor was the obvious inspiration for Alligator's "Genuine Houserocking Music" motto, a credo Iglauer's firm has followed for four decades and counting. He wasn't the most accomplished of slide guitarists, but Hound Dog Taylor could definitely rock any house that he played.
Theodore Roosevelt "Hound Dog" Taylor (April 12, 1915 - December 17, 1975) was an American Chicago blues guitarist and singer.
Taylor was born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1915 (although some sources say 1917). He originally played piano, but began playing guitar when he was 20. He moved to Chicago in 1942.
He became a full-time musician around 1957 but remained unknown outside of the Chicago area where he played small clubs in the black neighborhoods and also at the open-air Maxwell Street Market. He was known for his electrified slide guitar playing roughly styled after that of Elmore James, his cheap Japanese Teisco guitars, and his raucous boogie beats. He was also famed among guitar players for having six fingers on his left hand.
After hearing Taylor with his band, the HouseRockers (Brewer Phillips on second guitar and Ted Harvey on drums) in 1970 at Florence's Lounge on Chicago's South Side, Bruce Iglauer - at the time a shipping clerk for Delmark Records - tried to get him signed by his employer. Having no success getting Delmark to sign Taylor, Iglauer formed a small record label with a $2500 inheritance and recorded Taylor's debut album, Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, on his fledgling Alligator Records in 1971. It was the first release on Alligator, now a major blues label. It was recorded in a studio in just two nights. Iglauer began managing and booking the band, which toured nationwide and performed with Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton. The band became particularly popular in the Boston area, where Taylor inspired a young protégé named George Thorogood. A live album Live At Joe's Place documented a Boston appearance from 1972.
Their second release, Natural Boogie, was recorded in late 1973, and led to greater acclaim and touring. In 1975, Taylor and his band toured Australia and New Zealand with Freddie King and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. His third Alligator album, Beware of the Dog, was recorded live in 1974 but was only released after his death. More posthumous releases occurred as well, including Genuine Houserocking Music and Release the Hound, on the Alligator label as well as some bootleg live recordings.
Taylor died of lung cancer in 1975, and was buried in Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
Taylor was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984.
George Thorogood dedicated "The Sky Is Crying" (song 9) to "the memory of the late great Hound Dog Taylor" on his Live album (EMI America CDP 7 46329 2).