Chicago blues icon Koko Taylor passed away on Wednesday at age 80. In my rather expansive music collection, I’m ashamed to say I’ve got precious little of her work, a compilation cut or two. But I do have a story.
In late September 1999, the aforementioned Nick Stone and I took a trip to the Midwest to see some baseball. The impetus was a chance to see a game at Tiger Stadium, which was in its final week of functionality. We began our trip in Cleveland, where we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and saw the Yankees beat the Indians in an 11-7 slugfest. From there we drove to Detroit, where we saw the Tribe bow to the Tigers, and then it was onto Wrigley Field for a pair between the Cubs and Cardinals.
Those are stories for another day, but back to the matter at hand, in looking for something to do on Saturday night, Nick and I discovered that Taylor was playing at some downtown restaurant/bar. It was a rather cheesy venue, too brightly lit, and by the look of things, so was Ms. Taylor. “Man, that’s a fucked-up hair situation,” I famously remarked, seeing her beaded, multi-colored wig as it shifted uneasily around her head while the 70-year-old legend belted out blues standards. Still, she had the joint shaking, no more so than when she got down to business with her most famous hit, “Wang Dang Doodle,” late in the set.
Here she is, performing it circa 1965, when she originally recorded the song, a Willie Dixon number originally written for Howlin’ Wolf:
It wasn’t baseball she was singing about, but you gotta love these lyrics:
Tell automatic Slim
To tell razor toting Jim
To tell butcher knife toting Annie
To tell fast-talking Fanny
We’re gonna pitch a ball
Down to the union hall
We’re gonna romp and stomp till midnight
We’re gonna fuss and fight till daylight
We’re gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long
Damn right. Rest in peace.