KOKO TAYLOR: What It Takes: The Chess Years (Label: Hip-O Select)

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KOKO TAYLOR: What It Takes: The Chess Years

Earlier this year, blues queen, Koko Taylor, died as a result of complications from surgery aged 74 (though some sources listed her age as 80). A sharecropper’s daughter originally born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee – her nickname, ‘Koko,’ was inspired by the singer’s love of chocolate – Taylor’s raspy, booming vocal delivery continued the tradition of Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie while influencing everyone from Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt to the current young queen of the Stateside blues scene, Shemekia Copeland. Like so many US blues artists that emerged in the 1950s, Taylor fortunes changes when she moved from the Deep South to Chicago and it was there, in the Windy City, that she was discovered by songwriter Willie Dixon, who took the soulful, raw-voiced singer to Chess Records in 1962. Dixon penned and produced Taylor’s only R&B chart hit, ‘Wang Dang Doodle,’ which was a massive Top 10 US smash for Chess’s Checker subsidiary label in 1966. It’s the killer cut on a freshly-minted Hip-O Select anthology that is actually an expanded version of a deleted ‘Best Of’ set first issued in 1991. Although Taylor only scored a solitary hit single, she was patently never a one-trick pony and during her fruitful seven-year tenure with Chess served up a welter of ballsy, rambunctious blues sides: like the visceral ‘What Came First The Egg Or The Hen,’ the soul-tinged ‘I Don’t Care Who Knows,’ ‘Insane Asylum’ – a combustible duet with gravel-voiced Willie Dixon – ‘Don’t Mess With The Messer,’ ‘Bills, Bills and More Bills,’ ‘Fire’ and ‘Blues Heaven.’ The latter title appositely sums up this sterling collection, which celebrates the music of one of the blues idiom’s greatest female practitioners.
(CW) 4/5