“Have some fun!”

Those were Hound Dog Taylor’s favorite words to his audiences, and in the history of the blues, few performers have so engagingly used the blues to further the cause of having fun as much as Hound Dog did. Had he never recorded at all, he would still be remembered in Chicago for the house-rocking good-time atmosphere he created wherever he played. People in the South and West Side bars and taverns who had been seeing him for years would still watch and laugh in amazement every time he took the bandstand, crowding the bandstand to get a closer look as Hound Dog, seated in a chair and stomping his feet, would sometimes be unable to finish a verse without breaking into laughter himself, invariably sending the drinkers and dancers home happy.

Hound Dog’s act was so infectious that a young neophyte in the blues business named Bruce Iglauer decided that Hound Dog was marketable far beyond the bounds of the black Chicago ghettos. Taylor became the first artist on Iglauer’s new Alligator label in 1971 and set the tone for the company’s “Genuine Houserocking Music” philosophy. Hound Dog only lived for another four years, but during that short time he made a huge impact on audiences around the world with his albums and his live performances. Taylor’s specialty was slide guitar – primarily in an uptempo boogie mode to keep his audiences dancing, but he also excelled at slow, intense slide numbers that plumbed the depths of the blues.

Hound Dog (real name Theodore Roosevelt Taylor) was born April 12, 1917, in Natchez, Mississippi-or so he usually claimed in interviews in the 1970s; an earlier account cites April 14, 1916, in Greenville, and on his Social Security application Taylor supplied the name of a nonexistent Mississippi town: “Lounder.” In some interviews Hound Dog would acknowledge Elmore James as an influence, but he might also claim that Elmore also learned from him. Taylor arrived in Chicago in the early 1940s but didn’t start performing regularly until 1957. After recording his first Alligator LP in 1971, he and his HouseRockers, Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey, toured widely, delighting new fans at primarily white nightclubs, college, and festivals. Despite his good-time reputation, he was a deep bluesman as well, as Bruce Iglauer recalled: “He was in direct touch with both the joy and the pain of life, and he knew you couldn’t ever entirely forget either one. His most raucous boogie and his most melancholy blues were the reverse sides of the same coin.” Taylor died on December 17, 1975. He was not a virtuoso, nor a master technician. But the few things he could play, he could play like no one else could. He told writer Bob Neff the way he would like to be remembered: “He couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good.”

— Jim O’Neal