Listen to this song by late-blooming bluesman and slide guitar-slinger Hound Dog Taylor. It’s the oddly titled ‘Give Me Back My Wig’ as taken from Hound Dog’s 1970 debut Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers on the label that was created in order to put it out; the now-legendary Chigago-based Alligator Records.
Hound Dog Taylor (neé Theodore Roosevelt Taylor, no less) was born in 1915 Mississippi, with a presidential moniker and six fingers on his left hand. His first record was put out in 1970, making him something of an undiscovered treasure when it comes to electric blues. He clearly draws from Elmore James, both in his vocal delivery and in his scrappy slide playing. Yet, his onstage energy and personality quickly gained him a following of his own.
Hound Dog moved to Chicago in 1942, where he made a name for himself as a club act. His command of the blues allowed him to make a few singles in the 50s and 60s, plus a few radio appearances. But, by 1970, Hound Dog was able to connect with the electric blues festival circuits and revival package tours that had helped folk-blues artists a few years before. In some ways, the timing was just right for him.
This tune in particular was one of his best-known numbers, and is something of a meat-and-potatoes 12-bar blues which is more than the sum of its parts because of Taylor’s personality which shines through. This is not to mention the tough-as-nails backing courtesy of the Houserockers, notable for supporting Hound Dog’s slide by means of only a second guitar and a drum kit. Jon Spencer, eat your heart out.
Hound Dog was also known for his use of cheap guitars, and an almost punk rock approach to the blues, with minimalist arranging and limited soloing. To me, it’s kind of ironic that his debut album was the flagship record for the birth of Alligator records, which to my ears have taken to building a catalogue of slickly produced contemporary blues and one dimensional blues-rock that is a little light on personality.
At the time of his death from lung cancer in 1975, Hound Dog was actively touring, yet having only released his third LP, the live document Beware of the Dog in 1973. A fourth was released in the early 80s, by which time he’d become the inspiration to many a young blues fan including one George Thorogood of “Bad to the Bone” fame.
7 thoughts on “Hound Dog Taylor Sings ‘Give Me Back My Wig’”
Hound Dog is great. I dare anybody to play so care-free and so liberal with their slide guitar intonation and still sound so dang wonderful. Everybody else just sounds out of tune and sloppy. Not The Dog.
You think The White Stripes listened to a Hound Dog album or two?
I think it takes a certain amount of care to sound that off-the-cuff, which I guess is pretty ironic. To me, this is where the blues should have gone, down this road rather than down a path which, in many cases and not all, often makes it sound like bland rock music.
And for sure, the White Stripes have clearly channeled Hound Dog’s spirit, if not in the actual sound of the music necessarily, but in their approach. Like Hound Dog, Jack White doesn’t play the top of the range guitar to get the sound he’s after. He plays a Danelectro on a lot of those early to mid Stripes albums, much like Hound Dog’s penchant for Japanese copies. Some of this may be for visual effect on White’s part. But, maybe not. The blues, after all, is best when more is made with less, which is why it falls so flat when it’s made to be too slick, or too showy.
Cheers for comments!
White plays Kay, Harmony and, to a lesser extent, Nationals more than Dan-Os. As one who plays them myself, I must say, you play these for the sound as they are a bitch to perform on. He also uses some old Silvertone amps which are nice and crispy.
Speaking of Harmony, my Dad had a Harmony Rocket that he used to play around the house when I was a kid. I was hoping he’d give it to me, but he sold it to a collector before giving me a chance to buy it off him. I’m still a little bitter. 🙂
I would have thought that the Danelectro’s would be easy to play, since it was my assumption that they are marketed as starter guitars for those who don’t have the cash to buy a Fender, or Gibson. I bow to your testimony, but I wouldn’t mind testing one out for myself. I’ve always liked the look of them, for one thing.
Danelectros aren’t bad and the newer ones are quite easy to play. I’m talking more about the old Harmony guitars — like the Rocket or the Hollywood — and the Kay guitars. They had Louisville Sluggers for necks. BTW, they are often branded as Silvertones (for sale from Sears) or Airlines (for sale from Montgomery Wards) and these are the versions that White is often seen playing.
Jack White: guitarist of the people. 🙂
I’m looking forward to seeing the documentary with him, Jimmy Page, and the Edge: It Might Get Loud.
I’m trying to remember what it was like to play my Dad’s Harmony. The neck wasn’t an issue, that I recall. It was more about the faulty electrical system that would give you small, but painful, electric shocks every so often. Still, I loved that thing. It was the first electric guitar I’d seen up close, a monster of a thing with loads of mysterious dials on it that did god knows what. And the sound!