On April 12th 1915 Theodore Roosevelt Taylor entered this world and took his name after the US president. He was born with a deformity and had six fingers on each hand. His sixth finger was no more than stump. Like anyone growing up in the Mississippi Delta, his life was not one you could call easy. It wasn't for anyone in those days with World War I still in full swing. When Theodore was nine years old his father packed up his belongings into a brown paper back and told the boy to get out, or so the story goes. Around this time he went and lived with his older sister.
Taylor didn't start out on the guitar it was the piano he learned to play as a boy. In his teen years he picked up the guitar but didn't take the instrument seriously until he was in his early 20s. He began to play both his guitar and the piano around the Delta, even appearing a few times with Sonny Boy Williamson on a local radio show.
One day in 1942 he ended up being chased out of the Delta by member of the clan for having an affair with a white woman. He found his way to Chicago but he never looked back. He continued to play his guitar as a semi-professional but he also worked many other jobs. In 1957 Taylor decided to dedicate himself to the blues. At this time he picked up the bottleneck style due to being influenced by the playing of Elmore James.
Taylor played wild shows and sat in his chair chugging back Canadian Club whiskey and puffing on his cigarettes. He was always urging the crowd to get up off their feet and join in. Taylor became one of Chicago's most beloved blues players and it was here due to his woman chasing that he picked up the name “Hound Dog” since he was always on the hunt. The name stuck and Theodore Roosevelt Taylor became Hound Dog Taylor. One night as he staggered around drunk he used a straight razor and sliced off the small extra finger on his right hand.
His band the House Rockers developed slowly and in 1959 while playing in a tavern on the west side a guitar player named Brewer Phillips gigged with Taylor and soon became the House Rockers second guitar player. In 1960 he cut his first single called “Baby Is Coming Home"/"Take Five” but the single went nowhere fast. He released a few more singles but these too went nowhere. In 1965 Levi Warren a new drummer, joined the band. Phillips would play the bass on his six string guitar and the trio sounded larger as a result. Hound Dog would drive distortion out of his amplifiers like no one else due to the fact that they were so cheap they naturally distorted for him. Hound dog was a truly gifted slide player and the band grew close. They never did rehearsals and drank heavily together never playing as a rule unless they had consumed their drinks. The three of them threw back the alcohol and lost themselves in the music of the blues, often playing all night. It was a party for Taylor and the band, like all good music is. By the late 1960s a regular show occurred at Florence's Lounge on the south side of Chicago.
By 1969 things began to change for Taylor and he met his future manager Bruce Iglauer. Unable to get Taylor a recording deal he signed him himself and Alligator records was born. In the studio in 1971 Taylor debut album captured the energy of the band. He used a $50.00 Japanese guitar and Sear's Roebuck amplifiers proving that you can play the blues on anything, if you have the talent, and Taylor did. $1000.00 got the master tape done and within one year Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, was the biggest selling blues record on an independent label selling over 9000 copies. One song called “Give Me Back My Wig” appeared on this album and would become his signature song. The band toured around the US gaining new fans with overseas stops in New Zealand and Australia. Taylor never changed, he kept his cheap guitars and amplifiers and still it sounded good, real good.
In 1973 the Natural Boogie album was released featuring more amazing slide guitar playing and the album received good reviews. Taylor was happy with the new album and his new success. In 1975 a live album was purposed since Hound dog was at the height of his career and receiving better gigs. Like many things in life sometimes things don't go your way. Although Hound Dog and Phillips were close friends they had fought over the years and in May of 1975 when Phillips was visiting Hound Dog Taylor an alcohol fueled fight broke out. Taylor left the room and returned with a .22. He aimed for the couch and hit Phillips twice, in the leg and forearm. Son Seals who was there with them took the gun away from Taylor. Phillips recovered from his injuries and pressed charges against Taylor. Although Taylor was supposed to be tried for attempted murder he never made it. He was sick and ended up in the hospital the years of heavy smoking catching up with him in the form of lung cancer. Dying he got his final wish when Philips visited him in the hospital and forgave him for the shooting. The next day, December 17th, 1975 ole Hound Dog Taylor died.
In 1976 the live album Beware of the Dog was released the result of the recording of three shows. The album let fans know what they missed in Taylor’s live playing, an incredible blues player. Three more live albums would follow that one by Alligator records. Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute was released in 1998 with Luther Allison, George Thorogood,and Son Seals appearing on the album.
My Thoughts on Hound Dog Taylor
I love the blues produced by Taylor, he was an incredibly gifted player. I wrote this so other guitar players can understand that it's not your gear that matters. Taylor used a cheap Japanese guitar and pathetic Sears amplifiers. He had no Marshall stack, and no shiny Stratocaster. He played from his gut, he left nothing on the table, and he blew people away. He didn't complain, he just played from his heart and brought his blues to the world. Your music comes from within you, your guitar is just a tool for those sounds. When you feel it, you can play it on anything and make it sound good. If you are young you should investigate these old blues players because they will amaze you like no one else can. Without these blues men the rock and roll we love today wouldn't exist. Take your guitar and find that music inside your soul, It's there locked inside waiting to shine. Play it like Taylor did whatever your style, and leave nothing behind.