Saturday, May 4, 2013

Music Reviews- Hound Dog Taylor, Paul O'Dette

Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers
I've written a lot about blues musicians who didn't fit the stereotype of wild and crazy drunks. Well of course there are people who not only fit the stereotype, they helped create it. Whether he was playing live or in recording in studio Theodore Roosevelt "Hound Dog" Taylor was rarely without a bottle of whiskey and often somewhat buzzed if not technically drunk during performances. He routinely got in arguments and fights with his band's other guitarist, Brewer Phillips, whom he loved and hated in equal measure. Driving across country to make gigs Taylor would occasionally slap the sleeping Phillips across the back of the head telling him to "Wake up and argue!." They often traded insults and had fistfights. This friendly and not so friendly rivalry took a deadly wrong turn once. When Phillips joked about how he used to know the current Mrs. Taylor when she was allegedly in a different line of work, an angry Hound Dog shot Phillips twice with the intention of killing him. Phillips survived and the two men repaired their friendship shortly before Taylor died of lung cancer. Presumably Phillips thereafter refrained from discussing the sexual history of his buddy's wife. I don't know. I know that Taylor didn't shoot him again. And if that's not real friendship I don't know what is.

Hound Dog Taylor (he may have gotten the name after the Klan chased him from Mississippi for practicing vigorous consensual integration with a Caucasian woman during her husband's absence) may often have been drunk, was possibly illiterate and could certainly be occasionally violent. But he was also, despite his protestations to the contrary, one of the best slide blues guitarists around. There were plenty of more technically advanced guitarists. Taylor himself said that when he died people should say of him "He couldn't play for s*** but he sure made it sound good!". But as far as emotion and tone he was unique in music. Taylor had a very rough and nasty guitar tone, one which provided a nice complement to a nasally tenor voice. With the possible exception of Elmore James (Taylor's primary influence), there was no other contemporaneous blues guitarist and few rock ones who played with such massive distortion. Taylor was really more of a rock-and-roll guitarist in many ways. He was joined on stage in his gleeful abandon by the aforementioned Brewer Phillips on guitar and Ted Harvey on drums. Harvey also provided back up vocals and shouts of encouragement when Taylor or Phillips was really hitting the note.
Harvey had previously played with Elmore James. The group had no bassist. They didn't need one. Phillips would often tune his guitar down and provide a pseudo-bass tone. Phillips also played the rhythm lines and occasionally took solos or played lead. If Phillips had been in another group he would have gotten even more attention as he was a very fine soloist and pretty good blues singer. Harvey's frantic drum patterns never let up. He was infamous for even playing in time while he was technically asleep. Sometimes it sounded as if there were more than three men in the band. Harvey put out a lot of sound. He was an extremely busy drummer and the band's secret weapon. Taylor would play a feedback riff on one string, slide on another and trade basslines with Phillips all at once. Taylor could be almost incoherent when he wasn't singing, telling and laughing at jokes before he even reached the punchline. Often the jokes weren't necessarily that funny. Taylor had polydactyly  and once famously and likely drunkenly removed at least one extra digit with a razor blade. He was just that sort of bada$$. Words like primitive, archaic and brutal were often used to describe Taylor's music; one person called his group "The Ramones of the Blues". Taylor's sound was, despite mixes of relatively cheap and/or shoddy American and Japanese gear, not especially easy for others to duplicate, though many tried.

Freddie King's hit "Hideaway" was based on (i.e ripped off from) a Taylor instrumental. Most of Taylor's music was well suited for dancing. Like many other bluesmen, no matter how long his solos became (and he would sometimes go off the deep end) he and his bandmates usually kept the groove going, one way or another. I liked his voice. It wasn't as deep as Howling Wolf's but it had that grit and strength which is not easy to find. Check out Taylor's tongue in cheek tribute to Howling Wolf "The Dog Meets the Wolf" where he tries to sing in Wolf's gruff gravelly baritone. It's funny and respectful.  My favorite Taylor song is "Sadie". Other blues songs share some lyrics with it but as far as the pain of unrequited love and the embarrassment of being insulted by the other person's honey, "Sadie" says it all. And if you want something slower give "Things Don't Work Out Right" a listen. It's a long slow philosophical blues about the ups and downs of love. Taylor uses a tremendous amount of feedback and tremolo on this tune. At points his guitar sounds like a horn or a singer. "It Hurts Me Too" is an Elmore James piece where Taylor lets his guitar sing portions of the verses. So turn up Taylor's music loud. If you drink, open up a bottle of something. Have a laugh and shake your moneymaker like it's your last time shaking it. Cause one day it will be.

She's Gone  Sadie   I'm Wild About You Baby Jam (Live in Ann Arbor)    It Hurts Me Too
The Dog Meets The Wolf  What I'd Say   Let's Get Funky
Kitchen Sing Boogie (Phillips on lead)  See Me In The Evening
Things Don't Work Out Right   Phillips Crawl (Phillips on lead)  .44 blues

Paul Odette Lute Works Volume 1, Johann Sebastian Bach
I don't usually find much value in saying that so-and-so was the greatest when it comes to discussing art. That said though certainly Bach was among the world's greatest composers. His music has a lot to offer and can be arranged or played for a seemingly infinite variety of instruments and choirs. Although Bach was best known as an organist, he also wrote for other instruments, especially the lute. But his lute music was usually written for keyboards or even occasionally violins or cellos. It's a bit of a mystery why Bach did this or if he played the lute himself.  So almost all of Bach's lute music must be significantly rearranged to actually play on the lute as the voicing between keyboard and lute are significantly different. The lute is arguably a forerunner/great-uncle of the guitar and is closely related to the Levantine/Arabian/North African instrument, the oud, which is basically a fretless lute.

With that sort of ancestry it makes sense that one of the better interpreters of the music which Bach wrote for lute or for lutelike harpsichords, is Paul O'Dette, who started out as an electric guitarist mostly working in a popular context before switching to lute and embarking upon a long and rewarding career as a classical lutenist.

Even if you've never heard Bach (which I find implausible) or you don't like classical music (which would be a shame) you could do worse than to listen to O'Dette's interpretations here. And if you like classical music and/or are a Bach fan you will love this CD and probably go searching for more of O'Dette's work. The production is pristine. You're right there in front of O'Dette's lute. There aren't any mistakes, at least not any that anyone who's not an award winning musician would notice. It's fantastic music and awe inspiring technique. You can literally hear each individual note bloom and decay because of the microphone placement and recording venue, not because of any electronic slight of hand. The CD recording has a nice little natural reverb with very lush sound. Hopefully you have a decent sound system because this CD begs to be heard on something with a little power and gain.

Partita in E (Gavreau en Rondeau)   Loure of Partita  Partita in E: Minuet 1 and 2

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