WES RACE INTERVIEWS HOUND DOG TAYLOR circa 1974!
Wes Race - Hound Dog, when did you start playing?
Hound Dog Taylor - In 1935 around Tchula, Mississippi
WR - Who'd you see and who were your influences?
HDT - All Of Them. Names like Elmore James, Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Rogers, Skip James and I saw John Lee Hooker. We all came through there together.
WR - Where'd you play, in what type of places?
HDT - No amplifier's or nothing like that. We just played in the house; Called it Barrelhouse.
WR - Why'd you decide to come North?
HDT - Well that's a different story you see. At that time a colored man didn't have no breaks. If anything would be said about a colored man that's what white men would do with it. It was a lie in the first place. About five hundred of them around my house lookin' for me. It was about a white woman. So I cut out. Straight to Chicago at 41st and Indiana around '43 or '44. I been here ever since.
WR - Was it hard trying to adjust yourself to big city life.
HDT - No, I didn't have to adjust myself to anywhere. I've always had a mind of my own cause I raised myself. See I didn't have no daddy, I had a step daddy when I was nine years old he put me out; so, I've got my own mind. People say this and that, how come the whites don't like the black, anbd black don't like the white. Well, I got my own mind; everybody's alright with me. I never had no problem. When I was a kid I'd hit the highway down south with my guitar on my back. I played for whites and I played for colored. See ain't nobody ever done me wrong. Everybody seem the same to me. Just like I look at you. Person to person you know.
WR - So how'd you get up to Chicago?
HDT- Took a Bus. From ten at night til seven in the morning. I'd hid out and laid down in the highway by the weeds. I got on the bus and went to Memphis and sat on a little bench you sat in on that side where the Negro is supposed to sit They had soft seats with a lot of space on the white side.
WR - Why'd you come to Chicago?
HDT - My sister was already up here. So I got off at Rooosevel t road. Rode down to her street on some of them red street cars. The old ding dong ones.
WR - So you worked a couple years up here didn't you?
HDT - I worked at an ice cream factory on West Madison for about three years making butterscotch. Went to Americn Television til about 1957.
WR - "Who were some of the musicians you saw up here in Chicago in the early 1950's."
HDT - "Muddy Waters was on Ashland at the Zanzbar." Little Walter was with him and Jimmy Rogers too. Boy, they had the place jumping. & 35th and Indiana, Smitty's Corner, was jumping too. The Plantation was on 31st where the Original Sonny Boy got killed. And there was a place upstairs on 47th where I met Little Walter. Around that time I worked with a harp man named P.T. Hayes. He weighed 260 a great big cat. We played on the South side mostly.
WR - Did you ever get over to The Blue Flame?
HDT - Yeah, I played there along with Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. Buddy Guy was playing there, I was playing down the street at a plac called Peppers. Buddy was sittin' outside playing; he had one of those long chord things. I told Buddy I" got a cat that can tear you up." He said bring him here. We went to the West Side and got Magic Sam. Magic Sam came over and tore him down. Ever since then we Been buddies. Anytime you see Buddy Guy he'll say "where's Hound Dog at?" Magic Sam before he died that cat could natural born wail. He was one of the best. After that day they were buddies and they knew that one couldn't mess with the other cause he coldn't do nothing with him. And I went in their with my little junk and tore them all down. Now I'll tell you one thing - Where you go people can play a whole lot of guitar but they don't put anythng in it. When you're playing music and you play the way I do , you watch the people's feet behind the table. If you're playing a tune and nobody's doing anything but look at you then you're not getting to them. Stop it take another tune and when you look under the table and see them people pattin' their foot When you see that foot movin, man, you keep it there. You can play so much guitar til the strings jump off. But if you aren't gettin' to the people you ain't doin' nothing. Wen you see that foot a movin' you got it made. That's what I look for. I've walked into a place where cats are wailing down and nobody doin' anything you know. I don't care what you do. You can blow your breasts out and make a guitar and you won't get a hand no way. But when you get them movin' you can make a mistake, cover it up,and they'll still be with you. Now you take this boy over here on California and Madison Guitar Jr. (Lonnie Brooks)) Now he's like me. He'll play a song about two minutes. But he'll keep playing til he finds out what the people's wants. And that's where he'll keep it at. He's been there about four years, he's been doing something right.
WR - How Long have You Been Playing At Florences Lounge?
HDT - Since 1968. And on Sunday's it's so crowded you can't get in. You see when I first started playing,about about two to three people came in. Next Sunday 10 or 15. Then 25 -30. She was losin' money at first but she kept it up. The average Negro if he doesn't make a thousand dollars right then no deal he won't take it.
WR - When did other musicians start coming in?
HDT - About six months after we started the crowds started coming in. They'd come in and try to take me. And the more they tried to take me the more they were building the place up. Until Florence dies I'll be there. Some cats would go in there and try to play under me(for less money) She still wouldn't do it. She said I got my band with Hound Dog. Some people, after you build their place up, will let you go for a cheaper band, But the crowd is gonna fade away Because they don't want to hear that band yo hired. They want to hear the originals. So boy when I came up from Mississippi I was ready.
WR - How'd you get your nickname Hound Dog?
HDT - Well that's another story. Say, you don't want that in the interview case it was bad. You know if you do somethings wrong then they'll say something about you. Just like if you were going with two sisters how'd you feel?
WR - How do you write your songs like "Give Me Back My Wig."
HDT - I just lay in bed at night. Now I got a new song "Sadie." I was just layin' in bed at night asleep and sat up and looked around and I could hear it so good like somebody was playing it. Then I got my guitar and I played it. I heard all my songs coming at me in my head. Now you take this boy Elmore he beat me to Chicago. He put out all my stuff, I did that stuff in Mississippi. He went to school for music like B. B. King. After he heard me he changed his style. People say I play like Elmore. Well he plays like me. I been playing that way all my life. Now I'll tell you one thing. You find me anybody that can pull a slide like I can. Cause I been doin' it all my life. I can pull slide like nobody's ever heard about. The average cat can't do that. Now you take John Littlejohn he plays some of them couuntry blues songs but he can't make it.
WR - What about some of Chicago's other Slide Guitarists?
HDT - J. B. Hutto can play some of it. but sometimes he's weak on it. Slide's gotta be strong. If you don't now what you're playing it can mess you up. Now take Homesick James but he sometimes gets off and it's hard to get back on. Earl Hooker now he can play just like B. B. King do. Earl Hooker was good. He was next to me.
WR - What do you think of soul music?
HDT - Good, yeah I love it.
WR - Then why don't you play it in the clubs?
HDT - See, I don't have anybody to play it with. Brewer Phillips can't play soul music. Now Ted Harvey can drum it. See, I just put my tremolo on & I can sing it alright. Now if I had a bass man. But right now I got two guitarists and a drum. If I had a bass man too I could play it just like anybody else.
WR - How do you feel about white guys playing the blues?
HDT - I'll tell you one thing that cat from overseas (Long John Baldry perhaps) real big cat came down to Peppers, he didn't have no shoes and he had a buddy of average size they're the white blues I heard. They was outasite. Now as far as white people playing blues, they havn't got that Oooomph or that thing to it. They can play it but something is gonna be weak the voice or something They're getting to it though. The white is turning black and the black is turning white. You take the average Negro nowadays he's playing something out of his style And the white is coming into Blues. I'll tell you one thing if the Negro keeps on messing up the white is going to take the Blues from the Negro. And that's all the Negro has left for him is the Blues. If he gives that up he won't have nothing left man And the Negro can play the Blues, Jack. Cause he's had the Blues all his life. That's his only style You go over to where I'm working tonight and some cat'll try to get up there and sing something he doesn't understand himself. You take B. B. King. He's about the biggest blues man in the world right now. He's playing his music the Blues. So you stay with your style and you got it made. Look at Louis and Dave Myers. If Lois would really play the Blues he'd be out of sight. Look at what he plays though. Don't nobody come around him. He ain't playin' nowhere. When he gets on stage He doesn't play his style he doesn't know what he's doin'. So when you play the Blues you can get high. Now you take Count Basie or somebody note reading this thing or Louis Jordan (he couldn't note read either) but they were playing a different style but it was their own bag understand. So you can take somebody else's tune but change it to your own style.
WR - You've mentioned that you played piano.
HDT - I first started out playing piano in Mississippi. Used to haul it on a flat wagon and keep it in a picnic lot. The only trouble is you can't carry one of them big Grand's with you to save your life. I started playing guitar cause you can take it anywhere you want to take it. Piano's too heavy, you put it on your back and you ain't goin' nowhere.
WR - How do you like the piano players you're hearing in Chicago today?
HDT - Otis Spann was about the best. Now this bushy head cat who played with me this summer (Big Moose Walker) is real good. Sunnyland Slim is real good. But his music hasn't moved since 1931. Just like my guitar player now Brewer Phillips. He just plays 1932 on up.
WR - You mentioned efore that you played with Blues ladies?
HDT - That was in the 1950's with Big Maybelle out on Kedzie Avenue. But it got so bad they had to let them go. You know how colored peple is. I played with her about two months. Last time I played with her was out on South Chicago at the Clock Lounge. Willie Mabn's playing out there now.
WR - You like playing for white audiences?
HDT - Yeah, I want to get up on the north Side so bad it's pitiful. You know where we were that Sunday. Up at Alices Revisited on Wrightwood. I think Johnny Twist might e playing there now I wanta go north so bad it's a cryin' shame.
WR - What about when you were over in Europe?
HDT - Yeah it's real nice but you can't have no fun. Over there they talk about coming to the states to have some fun. But over there you don't know nothin' brother. Fun's out of the question. All you do is go play your gig go back upstairs in the hotel and go to sleep, or look out the window. You make a little money. If you go to the lobby they'll just look at you. Nobody comes to you and says 'come on let me show you the town.' They come over here and there's aways somebody to show them around. When they come here they've got a better break than we've got over there. Room cost 50 to 60 dollars a night and just stay four hours. Now Hamburg Germany is the best place you can go. Hamburg's alright. You can meet a ot of friends there you know. Now the rest of the paces are okay but they'll talk to you and you'll beat your brains out to understand what they're saying. You can't order anything to eat or a shirt to wear and always have to call somebody in to understand what they're talking about. When yo get on the bandsand and play all they go by is the music. Cause they don't understnd what you're saying anyway. Now they like the sound they go for it. If you put the music to them and they like it boy you got a standing ovation....
WR - Who Went To Europe With You In 1967?
HDT - Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Skip James, Bukka White, Koko Taylor, Little Walter, Odie Payne, Mahalia Jackson and her group a whole bunch of us.
WR - Who was the best harp player you've ever heard?
HDT - Little Walter, that's it and that's all of it brother! One thing, now people say you can't take it with you, well he sure took it with him. A whole lot of people say Shakey Head Horton, Big Walter, was best but he couldn't touch him. See Big Walter ain't got the Ooomph but he could blow don't get me wrong. Now Wolf can blow his thing but he doesn't have it. Little Walter can blow anything any tune he wanted. Now Willie Dixon is taking 'Horton with him everywhere he goes but he's using the man. I'd used to work down here at Rose & Kelly's & I'd put something on Big Walter he couldn't take. Now over seas with Little Walter when I'd shake it he'd take every drop of it. If I pushed him he'd pull it right back to me. If you put it on Shakey head too much he'll get mad and quit. Now young Carey Bell's bad too. Carey's got a different thing of his own But he wants everybody to stop and let himblow his harp. Sometimes when he let's himself down you can fill in but he don't see it. If you get too loud he'll stop blowin' and turn around and look at you. If he makes a mistake it's alright cause I cover it up. I can take my slide and cut that harp anytime I get ready. Little Walter wouldn't do that. The harder you played the harder he'd blow that harp. We was in Frankfurt Germany - Koko Taylor was singing, Little Walter looked at me and I can always get a nod you know. Walter looked around at me and I taken off, Koko was messin' up. Somebody had to take over. When I hit about four bars I put it down then Little Walter took off. Koko got mad, she turned around and started off the bandstand. The man in charge talked her into going back up but when she got back up there they started throwin' paper at her. But she was wrong, after Walter had taken over it was going to come back to her anyway.
WR - When you first recorded your 45's how'd the record companies approach you?
HDT - I was playing for Cadillac Baby on 47th and Dearborn and so he said "Hound DogI like that song. I want you to put out 'My Bab's Coming Home' and 'Take Five.' I said 'anytime.' So the next week we went down to Jackson Street on the third floor and we had a whole audience just like a tavern and I was pretty high anyway; we'd had a fifth of whiskey. Oh Man, we had a ball. The man recording the thing was out there drinking with us too and we about didn't have time to cut the thing so Cadillac said come one let's cut Hound Dog while he's feeling good. I went down and cut some for Chess before he died. But you know Chess he'd got so big he got everybody he already wanted. After he died Willie Dixon tried to run it bt he wasn't educated enough. You've got to have good sense for them things. His son came in and I cut a few things for him ("Sittin' All Alone" "Watchout" "Down Home Special") with Shakey Horton, Lafayette Leake, Willie Dixon, Lee Jackson and others.
WR - I think your drummer Ted Harvey's one of the best drummers around. How come he's never recorded before?
HDT - Yeah he is about the best now. Fred Below's goin' down. He drinks too much. He can't hold his whiskey now. Below used to be the best in town. Now as drunk as Ted gets he shuts his eyes and keeps chewing that gum. He can work out for you. As long as he hears you he knows exactly where it's at and what's to be done about it. Now take Phillip he's good but he doesn't know where it's supposed to be at when he gets drunk; he's out of it. He's liable to do anything or go anyway.
WR - Where'd you meet your present band at?
HDT - I met Phillip arond August on West Madison. Ny son Leo, he plays guitar, some of the best you ever heard, Leo Taylor. We were playing and Phillip was in the alley drinking whiskey. I asked my son to come play with me and he said 'I don't want to play but I got a boy that's good. We went out and found Phillip sitting outside near a post drinking whiskey. I worked him that night and the cat was pretty good.
WR - Where has yor present Houserockers group played in the city?
HDT - Everywhere! We played on live Broadcast's for Bg Bill Hill at The Copa Cabanna Club. We left there and went over and broadcast over on Cicero. One night we broadcast way south of the city at The Phoenix Club but they couldn't hear us on the station. Big Bill Hill used to be big in Chicago.. Everybody was listening to him in the day time. But all you can do is hear him at night now. I think he messed up with hs boss man. So they gave him a rotten deal lettin' him broadcast late at night when everybody's supposed to be in bed. They oughta forgive him if he'd apologize. When he was on the air he told the boss where to kiss at.
WR - Will you ever go down South again?
HDT - If Bruce my booking agent sends me down there. I won't go on my own. I ain't been South since the 1940's. It's different now. I wouldn't have no problem down there though. At that time back in the 1930's and 40's it was rough. When I was down there I picked cotton for about two years. Then I started chauffering I first drove a tractor. When you'd put me on a job I'd work. I burned up the man's tractor. So he flagged me down and yelled "cut if off." Then I started driving a truck. Finally I got to chauffering with white shirt and necktie. I wasn't getting paid nothing about two to three dollars a week. From sunup to sundown. After that trouble started I had to cut. You see, his son before he was married I'd drive for him at night. He was courtin' this chick and I would take them in the hills and everywhere. And she would have a buddy. I'd take them to parties. I couldn't go in you know. I'd sit out in the car. And this chick kept runnin' to the car. So I had my jug with me; corn whiskey you know. One night she came, out opened the door, and jumped in there. There wasn't no difference. I don't know who detected it. Somebody must have been outside so that's where the trouble started and I had to cut. I took them home but next night with all those people around it was out of sight. I was in the woods looking at them.
WR - Were were all your friends at that time.
HDT - Ain't no friends about it. Nobody'd back you up. Everybody'd run like scared rabbits. That time a white man could go into your house grab your woman even if she was sick, drag her out of bed, and make her go out in the field. And you better not say nothing. Now that's why it's so bad right now. See a lot of people up here are from Mississippi and they'll take it out on white men up here when they oughta be taking it out on people down there. Take you now. There's a lotta blocks you can't go on here. That's wrong. Why get hard on somebody you don't even know? At that time you couldn't even speak to one. But I played for them around Lexington and Durant. They'd come and get me sayin' "Boy come on." When I'd get tired I'd go in back by myself and drink my whiskey. They were doin' the barn dance then jumping up and down like fools. Looked just like monkey's kickin' their heels. Then they'd take me home. But I didn't mind it as long as I got my jug no way. Sometimes they'd give me two dollars that was big money. Sometime people don't understand that a Negro's got a different mind, they don't see it. It'll be a thousand years before they educate them the way they want them to be. Some Negroes, once they get educated, just try to help themselves. If he knows more than I do he's gonna keep me down there. They say on Tv that a Negro's gonna be President. No, not in the next Thousand years. Ain't no way possible. Some Negroes ain't got no sense. They just get mad at you and shoot you. I wouldn't even vote for a Negro for President cause if he was elected the world would go upside down.
WR - What about if Martin Luther King was alive?
HDT - Now that's a different story. Look here, Martin Luther King could have run it but he didn't have the weight behind him to do it. Now you take Jesse Jackson. He's pulling the people's leg, man. Jesse Jackson's a con man.. He talks about everything under God's sun except negro neighborhoods. They'll throw paper and cans around and bust your window, steal your battery, then knock you in the head. He won't say anything about it. He won't say let's get together. Let's stop this. Let's try to be human beings. If all the people didn't know me you couldn't come over here, they'd run you ragged just because of your color. I haven't heard him say anything like that. You take a man who's got five or six kids who get jumped on walking home by them big hat son of a guns called the 'Panthers or The Black Stone Rangers how'she gonna eat? Jesse hasn't said nothing about that at all.
Many thanks to Wes Race...