That’s my favorite line from my favorite Koko Taylor song — “I’m a Woman,” which sounds like an answer to the Muddy Waters/Bo Diddley number “I’m a Man.” I started listening to the blues while I was growing up. It started with a fascination with Billie Holiday, which led me to listen to Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey.
Grammy Award winner Koko Taylor, dubbed the “Queen of the Blues,” died yesterday in her native Chicago following complications from her May 19th surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding, the singer’s official Website posted yesterday. Taylor was 80. Born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee, Taylor and her powerful, gritty voice began performing at blues club in the late 1950s. Taylor was most well-known for her 1965 hit “Wang Dang Doodle,” a song penned by legendary bluesman Willie Dixon, who helped her secure a contract with Chess Records.
In 1975, Taylor signed with Alligator Records, and released nine albums during her tenure there. Nominated for eight Grammys over her career, Taylor won the award for her guest appearance on the Blues Explosion compilation in 1985. Taylor was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1997 and was awarded the Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Ward in 1999. Earlier this year, Taylor performed at the Kennedy Center Honors to honor Morgan Freeman.
The blues program was the second most coveted by the deejays, with jazz being the first, and I was fortunate enough to get to sub on the blues program once or twice. Once I’d quickly run out of the stuff I knew, I started pulling things at random from the blues stacks, and Koko Taylor was among them. I recognized “I’d Rather Go Blind” from the Etta James version, so I played it.
Taylor belongs to a class of singers who don’t have what you would call conventionally “pretty” voices (Nina Simone, Tina Turner, and Janis Joplin come to mind) but have voices that make you listen — the kind that knock your ass back in your chair and say “Now listen to this.” And you were always glad you did.
I was fortunate enough to see Taylor perform, when she and her band came to the UGA campus and gave a concert on the outdoor stage. Somehow I made it to the foot of the stage, and I stayed there the whole time; shouting, dancing, and sweating as Taylor worked the crowed into a frenzy. Born the daughter of sharecroppers, Taylor’s heritage wasn’t that far from my own, but the crowd that night was made up of all kinds of students, and she managed to connect with every las one of them through her music.