It’s time to shine the Vinyl Spotlight! Every now and then on Paloozapalooza, I like to focus on a random LP from my collection. This week, we have:
Hound Dog Taylor & the HouseRockers – Beware of the Dog (1976)
Hound Dog Taylor is an electrifying blues guitarist who had a long career of playing small Chicago clubs before finally getting a record deal in 1971, when he was well over 50 years old. In fact, his debut record, Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, is technically the reason Bruce Iglauer’s Alligator Records label even exists; Iglauer started the label primarily so he could share Taylor’s blues playing with the rest of the world.
Taylor sadly died from lung cancer in 1975 after releasing just two studio albums, and Beware of the Dog, a live album, was released after his death. Don’t worry, though; as Iglauer noted on the back of the album, he and Taylor finalized every detail about Beware of the Dog together when Taylor was in better health.
Now … let’s get to the music! Beware of the Dog is one of my all-time favorite blues records, with Taylor and his band absolutely scorching each song as if their lives depended on it. The first two tracks here, “Give Me Back My Wig” and “The Sun is Shining,” are also two of the best songs on the whole album. “Give Me Back My Wig” is raw and nasty, with Taylor playing so loose that you almost expect the whole thing to crumble at any minute. “The Sun is Shining,” meanwhile, slows things down a little; it’s a traditional blues ballad, sure, but Taylor’s playing is still so loud and distorted that you’re not about to mistake it for B.B. or Freddie King any time soon.
Another highlight is Taylor and his band’s instrumental cover of, believe it or not, the traditional song “Comin’ Around the Mountain.” Considering all the distortion and rapid energy, you’d think it was Neil Young up there on stage … but, of course, you’d be wrong.
Almost all of Beware of the Dog follows this same pattern: wild, wonderful blues guitar that makes you want to crank the volume up as loud as it will go. But then the album closes with “Freddie’s Blues,” which flips the script completely by taking the tempo down to a snail’s pace and letting Taylor’s charisma takeover. Not only does Hound Dog sing the song’s words, but he also incorporates drummer Ted Harvey into the equation, talking back and forth with him as the song moves along.
“Freddie’s Blues,” perhaps more than any other track on Beware of the Dog, reminds listeners just how damn beautiful the blues can be. I didn’t know much at all about the blues before I started collecting records, and I’m certainly glad I started collecting the genre when I did. I’ve now learned to bow at the greatness of B.B., Albert, and Freddie King, James Cotton, Mississippi John Hurt, Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Mack, and so many other legends … but one man stands out among the rest for being such a one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life personality: Mr. Hound Dog Taylor.
Listen to the album below …