Taylor was born in Natchez, Mississippi on April 12th 1915 (although some say 1917). He originally played piano but began playing guitar when he was 20. He moved to Chicago in 1942.
He became a full-time musician around 1957 but remained unknown outside of the Chicago area where he played small clubs in the black neighbourhoods and also at the open-air Maxwell Street Market. He was known for his electrified slide guitar playing, roughly (very roughly fair to say) styled after that of Elmore James, his cheap Japanese guitars and his raucous boogie beats. He was also famed among guitar players for having six fingers on his left hand. The ‘rough’ playing if anything, in my view anyway, increased the feeling of a driving energy. He did indeed have five fingers and a thumb on his left hand, although the ‘pinky’ was about half the size you might expect. He wore his wedding ring (and bottle-neck) on what would otherwise have been his fourth (little) finger.
After hearing Taylor with his band, ‘The House Rockers’ in 1970 at Florence’s Lounge on Chicago’s South Side, Bruce Iglauer at the time a despatch clerk for Delmark Records – tried to get him signed by his employer. Having no success getting Delmark to sign Taylor, Iglauer formed his own small record label with a $2500 inheritance and recorded Taylor’s debut album, ‘Hound Dog Taylor and The House Rockers’, on his fledgling Alligator Records in 1971. It was the first release on Alligator records (now a major blues label). It was recorded in a studio in just two nights. Iglauer began managing and booking the band, which toured nationwide and performed with Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton (not kidding with the ‘Big’ bit either!).
Their second release, ‘Natural Boogie’, was recorded in late 1973, and led to greater acclaim and touring. In 1975, Hound Dog Taylor and his band toured Australia and New Zealand with Freddie King, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
His third Alligator album, ‘Beware of the Dog’, was recorded live in 1974 but was only released after his death. More posthumous releases occurred as well, including, ‘Genuine House-rocking Music’ and ‘Release the Hound’; on the Alligator label as well as some bootleg live recordings.
Hound DogTaylor passed away on December 17th 1975, and was buried in Restvale Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.