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“Give Me Back My Wig” — Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers

July 24, 2010

The song in my previous post was a prototype of “garage rock.”  I don’t think that “garage blues” is an actual musical genre — but if it were, then Hound Dog Taylor would definitely be its epitome. 

In the early 70’s — after college and before grad school — I lived in an apartment in Berkeley, California.  I had quite an interesting assortment of roommates; in the summer of 1973, one of them — his name escapes me, unfortunately — was a psychology major who also happened to be an excellent guitarist (that summer he was the opening act at a show by Old And In The Way, Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass side project).  One day he heard me playing slide guitar and turned me on to the album Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers.

I’d never heard anything like it… so raw and exuberant! 

Born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1915, Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor moved to Chicago in 1942 after “a harrowing encounter with the Ku Klux Klan in 1942 (he had a cross burned in his yard).” During the late 50’s and 60’s, he and his band — the aptly named HouseRockers, consisting of Brewer Phillips on second guitar and Ted Harvey on drums — became local favorites at Windy City juke joints.  

Taylor played various cheap-o Japanese guitars — a collection that Jack White (White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather) would be envious of — through a Sears Silvertone amp with cracked speakers, using a “brass-lined steel slide (made from the leg of a kitchen chair).”2

In 1971, a 23-year-old blues fan named Bruce Iglauer used his small inheritance to record that first Hound Dog Taylor album (above), which was also the first release on Alligator Records (the leading contemporary blues label).

Now, without further ado — from the South Side of Chicago to your computer, here’s “Give Me Back My Wig.”

Hey, what guy hasn’t been in this situation?  You break up with a girl and she refuses to return the wig you got her.  Jeez… don’t you just hate when that happens?

[On the other hand… let her keep the merkin.]

Of course, I couldn’t write about Hound Dog Taylor without mentioning his left hand.  Trust me — the picture below has not been PhotoShopped.

Actually, he was born with six fingers on both hands, but “one night, a drunken Hound would, with a straight razor, cut off the small extra finger on his right hand.”3

Given Hound Dog Taylor’s relative obscurity, it’s surprising how many blues performers have covered “Give Me Back My Wig,” most notably George Thorogood (who once opened for Taylor at a Cambridge, Massachusetts club)4 and Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Their versions are fine — technically better played and better recorded than Hound Dog’s — but, frankly, I prefer the raucousness of the original.

Since those days in Berkeley, I’ve taken guitar lessons and realize that my roommate was dissing my slide technique.  You’re supposed to use a finger to deaden the strings behind the slide, reducing overtones and thus giving you a cleaner sound — neither Hound Dog nor I were doing that.  Before he died in 1975, Hound Dog Taylor said, “When I die, they’ll say ‘he couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good!’”5  Amen!

  5. Ibid.

From → The 1970's

  1. John Allebrand permalink

    Mike, I wasn’t able to play the song (“file not found”). And I wanted to hear that original ‘rockishness’. Maybe the file has been removed; this blog post is a week and a half old.? I’m a sucker for the bang-it-out-on-whatever-strings-you-got Mississippi to Chicago blues.

  2. John Allebrand permalink

    I just went back in and tried again – it played this time. Just needed a little beggin’ I guess.

  3. CeeMcgee permalink

    Great tribute!!! Love reading the details that were long forgotten and too late for Lomax & Co. to collect and record. I can validate his before show routine – but it was a bit more healthy than mentioned here.

    Back in the early 70’s a few buddies and I drove down to Mankato MN to catch a live, outdoor show with six or seven other acts. Before stage time we were wandering around back stage and stumbled across this old cream top, fake woodie side, Ford station wagon. Inside was an unmistakable, unamplified, electric guitar with that even more unmistakable bottleneck.

    Myself and one buddy stopped by, bent over and peeked in to see Hound Dog jammin away in the front seat. He immediately invited us in. We shared two or three blunts before he reached back to the floor and opened up the jumbo Igloo (old and well travelled, but full of goodies.

    Out came two quarts of CC and loads of sixteen ounce beers (mixed brands.) We partied down, were deeply privileged to interview him about his career, his music, how he started that inimitable slide style, and just loads of other ditties.

    I’m here to tell ya he started with many more than one shot and one beer. We finally got over being starstruck after the third swig off the CC and the third brewski. He shared his secrets to our lead guitarist, showed us the extra finger, the scar, and how he used it. Let’s say it increased his stretch down the frets considerably and it allowed him to pull chords no-one else on earth could as he was long handed to start.

    It was a very special day, we spend the day down front (remember these days there was nothing called “reserved seating”. It was get there and hold your ground in front of the stage where the performers’ sweat flew and the shared spliffs came directly from the Dog himself.

    Thanks for the time to share, sorry about spelling errors as I am not going to spellcheck.

    I think you’ll get the idea anyway and long live the Hound in our hearts and memories – be it live or recorded. He was a great man who loved company and welcomed his public.


  4. Dwight permalink

    Thanks for the story and that picture of his hand. Somehow I always thought the lyrics said…Honey let you hair grow long. that’s what I sing when I do it, and I’ve always been fan of his sound.

    This is a shout out from the great high plains…about 20 miles west of Laramie WYO.

  5. I saw him around 1972 or 73 in Aurora, Illinois. I wasn’t old enough to get into the bar he was playing in, but somehow I got in! I sat in front and I had never and still haven’t heard anything like him! The way he played his guitar was unbelievable! I loved the raw blues sound and the fun everyone had listening to his music. I think he played some other kind of guitar that he kind of laid on his lap? I am not sure what it was, as it was so long ago. No, I was not drinking or anything else. Tonight, I was listening to the Sirius Blues Channel and Give Me Back My Wig was on! What a great rock and roll party song!

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