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Hound Dog Taylor - Release the Hound

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Artist: Hound Dog Taylor

Album: Release the Hound

Label: Alligator

Review date: Jun. 14, 2004

“When I die, they’ll say he couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good.”

The above quote by Hound Dog Taylor is probably my favorite in all of music. It’s been rolled out innumerable times over the years and predictably forms the crux of Alligator’s marketing material for Release the Dog. But even with all the wear and tear the self-deprecating words of wisdom never lose their luster, especially when coupled directly with the sounds they reference.

Hound Dog Taylor was among the most visceral and electrifying performers in the entire history of Chicago Blues. Hell, while we’re at it let’s expand that superlative statement to the Blues writ large. His scalding slide runs, sketched from protean Mississippi riffs in much the same manner as Elmore James, could set the sort of cheap amplifiers he preferred to crackling and even combusting. Here on this new trove of unreleased live and studio burners jagged porcupine patterns spill out from his six-fingered hands as they twist and peck at the strings of a tremolo-injected Teisco SS-4L guitar. Completing the package is the nasally braying bite of his pipes, often soaked in an inhibition-diminishing bourbon brine, shouting with the same raspy intensity of his frenzied fret work.

A guy with this much personality had to have a back-up band to match and The Houserockers definitely passed muster in this regard. Brewer Phillips, manhandling his guitar and gouging out crunching bass fills while drummer Ted Harvey kept a trip-hammer beat on splintery snare and stomping floor toms. There’s nothing quite like Taylor and Phillips in tandem, as the opening fuzz-fest “Wild About You Baby” (recorded, along with five other cuts, at the Smiling Dog Saloon in Cleveland, Ohio in 1974) makes blisteringly clear. “Sen-Sa-Shun,” drawn from an Evanston, Illinois gig eleven months earlier, shows off Phillip’s own rousing mettle in the lead. He rips through the fast, Freddie King-styled shuffle and leaves a pile of crinkled ferrous notes in his wake as Taylor chisels out a chugging bass line beside him.

Phillips also takes the wheel on his own numbers “One More Time” and “Phillips Screwdriver,” each clocking in too briefly at under three minutes. “She’s Gone” works off the simplest boogie center as Taylor laments being left in the lurch by his woman over a buzzing swarm of stinging guitars and skull ratting sticks. Improbably, the ante ups further with a 1971 Harvard concert takedown of “It Hurts Me Too,” where his acid-laced slide makes cinder-rimmed Swiss cheese of the stage speakers.

A flameout rendition of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” again from the Smiling Dog gig, hits another high as Taylor and Phillips try their damndest to outdo each other. Harvey holds the beat, but barely as the barbed-wire licks launch from either side of the stage with his kit caught in the crossfire. “The Dog Meets the Wolf” blows the sockets in a gruff, swaggering send-up that could easily trump most of the Fat Possum roster in the unabashed badass bluesman department and would undoubtedly make Chester Burnett proud. “Walking the Ceiling” features a wild man solo from Harvey moving from brittle stentorian snare to leathery jungle toms and back again.

The Air Guitar World Championships, held this year in Oulu, Finland, are still several months away. That leaves plenty of time for me to work up my chops on a few of these numbers for an audition entry. With Hound Dog’s help and a little luck, that classic quote just might apply to me, too.

By Derek Taylor

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