Traveling Blues Queen Plans Festive Stop in Oxnard


Theoretically, the United States is an egalitarian society, but in the realm ofpopular music, royalty and titles abound.

Elvis was “The King.” Aretha Franklin is the “Queen of Soul.” James Brown, who dances better, is the “Godfather of Soul.” There’s a shrimpy Prince out of Minneapolis, and what the heck is a Duke of Earl?

But one thing is certain: It’ll be “Queen for a Day” on Sunday afternoon, when the “Queen of the Blues”--a.k.a. Koko Taylor--provides the soundtrack for the 10th annual Strawberry Festival in Oxnard.


Taylor lives in Chicago, and a lot of other places in between. Most of them are recommended by Tom Bodette, who leaves the light on for her.

Taylor does more than 200 gigs a year, which is no small feat. Often, gigs hundreds of miles apart fall on consecutive nights. Think about it: When those spandex-wearing rock stars tour for three months, they spend the next three months complaining and then take a year or two off to recuperate from counting too much money.

That scene is enough to give blues people the blues.

“Oxnard? Never heard of Oxnard. Is that where I’m playing?” Taylor asked during an interview from Chicago.

But does she mind? Nah. It’s good exposure.

“The blues has never gotten the recognition or the money that the rock bands make, but I think that’s starting to change,” she said. “I’m just doing what I want to do--nobody’s doing the blues the way I do them. And I love what I’m doing. It keeps my mind occupied and keeps my fans happy.

“You’ve got to love what you’re doing because it’s not an easy task riding thousands of miles and not getting rich, sleeping in a different motel every night.”

With so much road time, it’s perfectly understandable to not remember yesterday’s or tomorrow’s shows. But Taylor has played a couple of memorable gigs: one for filmmaker David Lynch and another for former first baseman George Bush. Taylor appeared in Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” a year or so after playing at Bush’s inauguration.


“It was a very great honor to do that one,” Taylor said about performing for the President. “Yes, the President and his wife showed up. They were there, but I didn’t see them dancing, just enjoying the show. It was myself and a lot of other artists.”

Taylor had another memorable gig six years ago in Florida, when the lights went out. Maybe George and Barbara danced at that one, but it was pretty dark so no one knows for sure.

“We were in this club and the lights went out five minutes before show time,” she said. “It was a real blackout and a sellout crowd. There was no power, no lights, no nothing.

“So we’re just sitting there waiting and I said, ‘Too bad we didn’t have some acoustic guitars.’ I just said it for a joke. Then some guy in the crowd said, ‘I got some acoustic guitars and I only live two blocks from here.’ We ended up playing the whole gig on acoustic guitars by candlelight.”

Before, after and since, Taylor is the most honored female blues artist. Not so surprising for one so queenly. She’s been nominated for seven Grammys, and won one in 1984. The blues community’s highest honor, the W. C. Handy Award, has been bestowed upon Taylor 12 times.

There also was that little matter of March 3, Koko Taylor Day in Chicago, when she was presented with a Legend of the Year award. In a traditionally male-dominated field, Taylor’s doing just fine.


“I think most women want to have families and a lot of kids,” she said, explaining the dearth of female blues artists. “Plus, this life is no bed of roses. My late husband traveled with me as my road manager from the first day. Every woman’s husband isn’t going to be for all that traveling.”

Taylor grew up listening to blues on the radio and singing gospel music every Sunday in church in rural Tennessee. She and her husband-to-be moved to the Windy City, home of long-suffering Cubs fans, in 1953. She got a job as a domestic, he got a job in a packinghouse, and soon they were married.

Hanging out at the local clubs and checking out the local bands, Taylor would sometimes get up and sing with such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and Jimmy Reed. And then. . . .

“Willie Dixon discovered me,” said the famous blues singer of the famous blues legend. “He heard me singing in a club one night when I was just sittin’ in with the Howlin’ Wolf band. I was just doing it for enjoyment, not for any money. He told me how great he thought I was and how the world needed more women singing the blues. He took me down to Chess Records for an audition and wrote my first song. That was the first big break.”

In 1964, Taylor recorded a Dixon song, “Wang Dang Doodle,” which became a million-selling hit. In 1972, Taylor formed her own group, the Blues Machine. Two years later she signed with the premier blues label in Chicago (and America), Alligator Records. It’s been blues on the road for nine months a year since then. Taylor’s 13th album of vein-popping blues belters is expected this summer.

“A lot of people who don’t really know about the blues think it’s an old, down-and-out, bedraggled, look-down kind of music. My blues isn’t designed for people to look down, but for people to get up and dance,” she said.


“This whole music thing is great to be in, but it’s sort of like a marriage. You’ve got to make up your mind to hang in there for better or worse. The honeymoon’s over, but I hung in there and paid my dues.”

Taylor, if she can find Oxnard, is due to take the stage at 1 p.m. For more information, call 385-7578.