Koko Taylor, singer and survivor of the grittiest Chicago blues, died yesterday (June 3) at age 80 following surgery for gastro-intestinal problems. She may be best known for her first hit, “Wang Dang Doodle” which she recorded in 1966 and performed with Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica for the American Blues Festival in Germany in 1967, as featured here on Youtube. But the vocal track on the clip is too far off from the visual, so I prefer this video of a song I can’t identify with raunchy rhymes and for the great good humor with which she talks about work life and growing up as a child of sharecroppers in Shelby, Tennessee.
Ms. Taylor — born Cora Walton and nicknamed Koko for her love of chocolate — had a soulful vigor which made her a wonderful entertainer, and she was tough enough to participate in the integration of blues audiences in the ’60s. She tells many stories in an interesting interview conducted by James Plath for Clockwatch Review in 1994-95; she appeared in three movies and on tv with Taj Mahal. In ill health for the past decade, she nonetheless performed at the Kennedy Center last December in honor of Morgan Freeman, and May 9 2009 in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards, where she was named Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year.
I’m a woman, I’m a rushing wind
I’m a woman,I can cut stone with a pin
I’m a woman, I’m a love-maker
I’m a woman, you know I’m an earth-shaker
She was an indefatigable road warrior, returning to health after a car crash while on the road in 1989 that was fatal to her husband Robert “Pops” Taylor and almost to her. Nominated for Grammies several times, she wracked up a record 29 wins of W.C. Handy Awards, received an National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004 and inspired a couple of generations of blues women (and men), black and white, in the same way she spoke of being inspired by Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.
In 2008, the Internal Revenue Service said that Taylor owed $400,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. Her tax problems concerned 1998, 2000 and 2001; for those years combined, her adjusted gross income was $949,000.
Imagine the Bush administration IRS coming after a 79- year-old diabetic blues singer who’d had multiple heart attacks, was confined to a wheel chair and wore an ileostomy bag. They weren’t nothing but hound dogs, snoopin’ ’round her door. Think the IRS is high class? Well, we see through that. Rest in peace, Koko — they won’t dog you no more.