Alligator Records, Chicago's leading contemporary blues label, might never have been launched at all if not for the crashing, slashing slide guitar antics of Hound Dog Taylor. Bruce Iglauer, then an employee of Delmark Records, couldn't convince his boss, Bob Koester, of Taylor's potential, so Iglauer took matters into his own hands. In 1971, Alligator was born for the express purpose of releasing Hound Dog's debut album. We all know what transpired after that.
Named after President Theodore Roosevelt, Mississippi-native Taylor took up the guitar when he was 20 years old. He made a few appearances on Sonny Boy Williamson's fabled KFFA King Biscuit Time radio broadcasts out of Helena, Arkansas, before coming to Chicago in 1942. It was another 15 years before Taylor made blues his full-time vocation, though. Taylor was a favorite on Chicago's South and West sides during the late '50s and early '60s. It's generally accepted that Freddy King copped a good portion of his classic "Hide Away" from an instrumental he heard Taylor cranking out on the bandstand.
Taylor's pre-Alligator credits were light — only a 1960 single for Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby imprint ("Baby Is Coming Home"/"Take Five"), a 1962 45 for Carl Jones' Firma Records ("Christine"/"Alley Music"), and a 1967 effort for Checker ("Watch Out"/"Down Home") predated his output for Iglauer.
Taylor's relentlessly raucous band, the HouseRockers, consisted of only two men, though their combined racket sounded like quite a few more. Second guitarist Brewer Phillips, who often supplied buzzing pseudo-basslines on his guitar, had developed such an empathy with Taylor that their guitars intertwined with ESP-like force, while drummer Ted Harvey kept everything moving along at a brisk pace.
Their eponymous 1971 debut LP contained the typically rowdy "Give Me Back My Wig," while Taylor's first Alligator encore in 1973, Natural Boogie, boasted the hypnotic "Sadie" and a stomping "Roll Your Moneymaker." Beware of the Dog, a live set, vividly captured the good-time vibe that the perpetually beaming guitarist emanated, but Taylor didn't live to see its release — he died of cancer shortly before it hit the shelves.
Hound Dog Taylor was the obvious inspiration for Alligator's "Genuine Houserocking Music" motto, a credo Iglauer's firm has followed for four decades and counting. He wasn't the most accomplished of slide guitarists, but Hound Dog Taylor could definitely rock any house that he played. ~ Bill Dahl