Koko Taylor: Fiery, legendary staple of American music

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Koko Taylor. When you’ve said that, you’ve pretty much said it all. The fiery vocalist – who still has yet to cool off – is a legendary staple of American music. She has a new album, Old School (Alligator Records), her first in seven years. And judging from the quality, it’d be a shame if we had to wait seven more years to hear from the Queen of the Blues again. Insight News caught up with the illustrious Ms. Taylor during her current tour. Her throat was a bit scratchy because she’d been out the day before on a publicity walk (sponsored by Koko Taylor’s Celebrity Aid Foundation in conjunction with the Chicago Health Department) to provide health screening and testing for blues musicians who don’t have insurance. It didn’t keep her from being very gracious in reflecting on her craft and career.

INSIGHT NEWS: You wrote the lion’s share of “Old School.” You went to the [blues great] Willie Dixon catalog, though: “Don’t Go No Further” and “Young Fashioned Ways.” Why those particular tunes?

KOKO TAYLOR: Well, it [wasn’t] that they were the only two to pick from. Dixon has a lot of music that I love and appreciate doing. “Young Fashioned Ways,” that’s the way I feel. I wrote my own song, “I’m A Old Woman Built on a Young Woman’s Frame.” So that just kind of hit home with me. Then the other one was more or less picked by my manager, Bruce [Igluaer, Alligator president] . . . I was pleased to record it.

IN: Did you and Willie Dixon jam together and such?

KT: Yes, we did songs together. And some shows. Dixon wrote my material for me. He’s the man that taught me how to write songs. He was the person that encouraged me, to let me know I could write and that I should start writing my own material. And to never record [an album] without putting some of my own writing on it. It was Dixon that actually got my career started. Because of Howlin’ Wolf letting me sit in on his shows, that’s where Willie Dixon heard me and it was because of [him] that I got my first contract.

IN: What made you starting singing?

KT: [It] has always been a part of my life, my siblings. We grew up in church.

IN: What about Muddy Waters?

KT: I got a chance to go onstage with Muddy and the Wolf. Just hangin’ out. I was in Chicago, listening to the blues. I loved the blues, but Down South we didn’t get to hear a lot of the blues. Because again, I grew up in church and my father wouldn’t have us listening to the blues. So I would sneak and hear [it]. When I go to Chicago, it was my opportunity to listen to the music I loved.

IN: How does it feel to be an American institution?

KT: It feels good. I don’t let it go to my head, but I appreciate my fans and I appreciate
my family for supporting me.

IN: Here in America, Black people don’t seem to appreciate the blues the way white folk do over in Europe. Except in a Black town like Chicago . . . Do you agree; disagree?

KT: I agree. But then, the bottom line is, when do the Blacks get to be educated about the blues? They read and see everything about every type of music except the blues. There’s no blues radio stations. If it does, it comes on in the middle of the night when everybody’s gone to bed, or one day a week. So what do the young people know when they are not educated about the blues? If they don’t get to hear it, then they really can’t appreciate it.

IN: What’s next?

KT: Well, I think the next thing on my agenda is to do a book and to just hang in there and keep doing what I love to do.