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Hound Dog Taylor Biography

Birth Name: Theodore Roosevelt Taylor

Born: April 12, 1915 in Natchez, MS, USA

Died: December 17, 1975 in Chicago, IL, USA

Years Performed: Full-Time – 1950s to 1975

Hound Dog Taylor was born Theodore Roosevelt Taylor, named after the US President. He was born with six fingers on each hand.  Growing up in the Mississippi Delta, his childhood was not an easy one. When he was only 9 years old, his step father supposedly packed up all of his things in a brown paper bag, stood in the doorway with a shotgun, and told Hound Dog to “cut out”. That’s the way the story goes anyway. From info I’ve gathered from people who knew him, this story may or may not be true. But he did go to live with his older sister around that time in his life.

The first instrument Taylor learned to play was not the guitar, but piano, which he learned as a kid. He first picked up the guitar while in his teens but didn’t start to seriously play until he was around 21. At that time he started playing all over the Delta, not only playing guitar, but piano, too. He also appeared a few times on the legendary King Biscuit Flour radio show of KFFA in West Helena, Arkansas, with Sonny Boy Williamson.  In 1942, Taylor, always the ladies man, was chased out of Mississippi one day by the Klan after having an affair with a white woman. He spent the first day hiding in drainage ditches and then the next day he headed for Chicago. He never went back. Although he continued to play his guitar semi-professionally at night, he spent the first 15 years in Chicago working several different non music jobs. In 1957 he was building TV cabinets when he decided  to become a full-time bluesman.  At this time he also changed his playing style. Where he once played standard and E tunings, he now was playing an increasingly more bottleneck style. This change came about by his being heavy influenced by the then emerging Elmore James.

Early on he garnered a huge local following with his wild live shows, most of the time he would be sitting on a folding chair, stomping both feet, throwing his head back in a frency, drinking Canadian Club and puffing on his cigarettes, urging the crowd to get up and dance, as he blared away on his guitar. Taylor became one of Chicago’s most loved bluesmen and a local  favorite on the South and West sides of town. It was during this time that he picked up the name “Hound Dog”. He was in a club one night chasing a couple of women around when a friend called him a hound dog because he was always on the hunt for woman. The name stuck. It was also around this time when one night, a drunken Hound would, with a straight razor, cut off the small extra finger on his right hand.

Hound Dog’s band, the HouseRockers, would come about slowly. In 1959 while playing in a West Side tavern, a guitarist named Brewer Phillips (also born in Mississippi) gigged with the Dog for the first time. The two became quick friends and Phillips would become the HouseRockers second guitarist.

In 1960, Hound Dog cut his first single,”Baby Is Coming Home”/”Take Five”, for Bea & Baby. But outside of Chicago, the single went no where. In 1961, Freddie King became a star with the song “Hideaway”. A good portion of this song was copied from an instrumental King heard Taylor cranking out in a nightclub. Hound Dog never did receive composer’s credit for the song, but didn’t seemed to be bothered by it either, as King was only one of several bluesman who borrowed from him. In 1962, Hound Dog’s second single, “Christine”/”Alley Music” was released by Firma Records, and then in 1967 a third single for Checker, “Watch Out”/”Down Home” came out. But like his first single, these tunes went unnoticed.

In 1965 Ted Harvey joined the HouseRockers as their drummer, replacing Levi Warren. He and Hound Dog had first met in 1955 when Ted was backing Elmore James. At James’ funeral in ’63 the two met again, which lead to Ted finally joining up. At this point (and from there on) there was only three HouseRockers. Hound Dog on the slide and vocals, Phillips (nobody ever called him by his first name) played the bass on his six string and on occasion would play the lead. With Ted on the drums, the three sounded like a much larger band. They were loud and the Dog could get distortion out of his guitar like no one else could, in part thanks to his cheap amps. But he also could get his guitar to cry unlike anyone else. He was truly a gifted slide player and was at his happiest when he played live with his band. The HouseRockers never rehearsed before any shows. They also were big drinkers and as a rule played only after a reasonable amount of alcohol was consumed. During any given show, Hound Dog would first drink a straight shot of whiskey, chasing it with a mixed drink. He then would down a whole glass of beer. All three drinks were drank rapidly, one after the other. After that he was ready to play! Hound Dog would start off a show usually saying something like “Hey, let’s have some fun!”, and did they ever! They would play all night, six and seven hour shows were normal – if the joint would stay open that late for them. By the late ’60s Hound Dog had a regular gig at Florence’s Lounge on the South Side of Chicago.

In 1969 things would start to change for the Dog. He would meet his future manager and the one man who believed in him, Bruce Iglauer. Iglauer met Taylor in a club called Eddie Shaw’s, where Hound Dog would join-in to jam with other bluesman. Yet Iglauer would not actually get to hear Hound Dog play with the HouseRockers until the next year when he moved to Chicago and finally dropped-in on one of their gigs. He was hooked on the HouseRockers instantly. Bruce tried to get his boss, Bob Koester of Delmark Records to sign Hound Dog, but failed. So what’s a poor boy to do? Well he had just received a small inheritance of $2500 and decided to record Hound Dog himself. With that Alligator Records was born. It was not Iglauer’s attempt to start a new label, it just turned out that way.

Recorded live in the studio in just two nights during the spring of 1971, Hound Dog’s debut album captured all of the energy of the band. Hound Dog used his $50 Japanese electric guitar and Sears Roebuck amplifiers with cracked speakers for the recording. For under $1000 the master tape was made and with the remainder of  Iglauer’s inheritance 1000 copies were pressed. Within a year the album, titled Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, was the biggest selling blues record on an independent label, selling 9,000 copies. One song on the album, the Taylor penned “Give Me Back My Wig”, would in time become his best known song.

Hound Dog and the HouseRockers began touring the US around the album’s release and gained new fans. They then toured Australia and New Zealand.  Yet nothing about Hound Dog’s show changed.  He would still play the same songs the same way on the same old, cheap Japanese guitars. A bass player was never added as no one could keep up with him on a bass guitar.

Hound Dog’s second album,  Natural Boogie was released in 1973 and was filled with more great slide guitar. All the songs for this second album were recorded and mixed at the same sessions back in ’71 that produced the first album. Yet this new album had it’s own, somewhat different feel to it. Hound Dog himself liked this album better that his first. The album got more positive reviews, as did Hound Dog in general.

In early 1975 it was decided that a live album would be put together. Hound Dog was at the height of his success and was now starting to get better gigs, and his music continued to sell even more. But sometimes things just don’t go the route planned and it seemed from out of nowhere trouble was brewing. Although Hound Dog and Phillips were closest of friends, they had gotten into numerous fights throughout the years. One day in May ’75 while Phillips was visiting Hound Dog along with Son Seals at the Hound’s apartment, a drunken fight broke out between Phillips and Hound Dog. It seemed Phillips said something insulting about Hound Dog’s wife Fredda, so Hound Dog left the room, and then returned with a .22 rifle. Aiming for the couch, he hit Phillips twice, once in the forearm and once in the leg. Seals then took the gun away from Hound Dog. Luckily, Phillips would recover and be okay, but Hound Dog would not. Phillips pressed charges and Hound Dog was supposed to be tried for attempted murder. But the Dog, a heavy smoker, was sick, very sick. He was dying of lung cancer. Instead of facing a trial he landed in the hospital. On his deathbed, his last wish was granted when Phillips visited him in the hospital and forgave him for the shooting. Hound Dog Taylor passed away the very next day, December 17, 1975.

In 1976, the live album Beware Of The Dog was released. Recorded from three shows, one at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, January 18, 1974 and the others at the Smiling Dog Saloon, Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 22-24, 1974. The album helped fans who never got to see him live, get a feel for what they missed. A very strong and entertaining live album, the best of his releases.

There would be three more Hound Dog albums released by Alligator Records. In 1982 Genuine Houserocking Music, which consisted of yet more unreleased tracks, came out. Then Hound Dog Taylor: A Tribute was released in 1998. The album was just that, a tribute, with other bluesman covering the Dog’s songs.  Amongst others on the album,  Son Seals, Luther Allison, and old friend George Thorogood, who was a roadie for Hound Dog back when he first toured the US East Coast. Finally, in 1999 a Hound Dog Taylor box set was released, titled Deluxe Edition.

Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey continued to both work with each other, and also gig separately after Hound Dog’s passing. They released a double album together in 1995 called Good Houserockin’. Phillips passed away in 1999 of natural causes.