Soul fans of a certain vintage will know and love ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ by KOKO TAYLOR. Released in that golden year of 1966, it became a mod soul anthem and few records before or after has ever managed to capture its delicious mix of good times and underlying menace. Sad, therefore, to report the passing of KOKO. She died on June 3, in a Chicago hospital – from complications following surgery. She was 80.
Born CORA WALTON on September 28 1928 on a farm near Memphis, she lived with her parents and five brothers and sisters in a wooden shack with neither electricity nor running water. Although never professional singers, her parents used to sing enthusiastically while working the cotton fields, and she began to sing gospel in church. She also soaked up the blues played on local radio, which she and her siblings would surreptitiously perform with improvised home-made instruments. By the time she was 11, both her parents had died and she too was forced to work in the cotton fields.
In 1952 she moved to Chicago with her husband, ROBERT “POPS” TAYLOR, a truck driver. She found work as a domestic cleaner, but at weekends the couple enjoyed visiting the city’s blues clubs. Encouraged by ROBERT, she soon began to sit in on some of the sessions, and one day in 1963, KOKO was spotted by WILLIE DIXON, then the leading writer and arranger for the legendary Chess label.
Initially however she recorded for the small USA label (debuting with the single ‘Honky Tonky’ in 1964) before moving to Chess. There, backed by BUDDY GUY on guitar, and with a stage name comprised of her newly-acquired marital status and a nickname recalling her love of chocolate, she gave Chess their last big hit with the aforementioned, DIXON-penned ‘Wang Dang Doodle’.
With the demise of Chess, however, KOKO was forced back to her cleaning job though still recording for small, local labels. In 1975 she was signed to Alligator for whom she recorded nine albums, eventually winning a Grammy in 1984. She performed incessantly and her status as a blues icon was cemented by cameo roles in three movies – DAVID LYNCH’S ‘Wild At Heart’, ‘Mercury Rising’ and ‘Blues Brothers 2000’.
KOKO TAYLOR is survived by her second husband, HAYS HARRIS, and her daughter… and of course ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ will live forever.