Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers

  • Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers [Alligator, 1971] A-
  • Natural Boogie [Alligator, 1974] A-
  • Beware of the Dog [Alligator, 1976] A-
  • Genuine Houserocking Music [Alligator, 1982] B+
  • Deluxe Edition [Alligator, 1999] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers [Alligator, 1971]
This had been around for a while when, in a low mood, I innocently put it on after three sides of Warner Bros. rock and roll as folk Muzak--the new Youngbloods, the new double Stoneground. Yawn, sigh, and then pow--electronic gutbucket from the Chicago blues bars, the rawest record I've heard in years. Taylor makes a neoprimitivist showboat like James Cotton sound like a cross between Don Nix and the Harmonicats, and about time. N.b.: a guitar-playing friend tells me the axe Hound Dog brandishes on the cover is the cheapest you can buy. A-

Natural Boogie [Alligator, 1974]
Taylor is a spiritual and cultural miracle. Only John Lee Hooker is as unselfconsciously inelegant, and Hooker doesn't have Brewer Phillips's bass and Ted Harvey's drums to turn his blues into rock and roll. All three players are absolutely comfortable with their severe formal limits--their simplicity is unerring. Yet given the limits all three are virtuosic and expressive, especially Taylor, whose runs, slurs, and stutters move the groove as they personalize it. Taken together, his singing and his slide mine the guttural for all the music in it, and when he does a slow one you believe. A-

Beware of the Dog [Alligator, 1976]
Released posthumously, this live album was in the works well before Taylor's death--it's a celebration, not an exploitation. There's no real gain in spontaneity--how could there be? But for those who like their blues on the hot side, it's where to start. A-

Genuine Houserocking Music [Alligator, 1982]
The HouseRockers were the Ramones of Chicago blues, cutting three wonderful, virtually indistinguishable albums before Taylor left this self-composed epitaph in 1975: "He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!" His secrets were cheap equipment, a slide fashioned from the leg of a kitchen table, and the most enthusiastic reliance on "Dust My Broom" since Elmore James. It's completely fitting that this all-new album should be almost as fine as the two that came out of the twenty-cuts-a-night 1971 and 1973 sessions from which it's culled, yet somehow reassuring that it doesn't quite match up. Taylor slurs too much, quite a claim in this context, and "What'd I Say" and "Kansas City" are bar-band throwaways, by which I mean that George Thorogood, Taylor's chief epigone, could do them better. B+

Deluxe Edition [Alligator, 1999]
The six fingers on Taylor's hands abraded his vibrato almost as good as 10-dollar guitars and cracked amps, which is a good thing, because in the end he found his hero Elmore James a bit of a fancy man. Filling out a trio with another guitar and a drum kit, he blasted Maxwell Street with a scrawny sound the booklet swears was "huge," which is another way of saying "Play Loud." From the "It Hurts Me Too" that howls out crucial lines in a prearticulate slide to the joyously unforgiving "Give Me Back My Wig," this is the house-rockin' music nobody else ever got right, as perfect in its way as Jimmy Reed, or the Ramones. A