Last Saturday I was driving; an already long trip was made longer by heavy traffic and intermittent rain. I hadn’t seen my lover in a week.
While taking a deep breath, I stumbled across a radio show on one of the “local college stations” – 89.9 FM WKCR. The program was called Something Inside Me. It’s a truly wonderful blues show featuring electric and acoustic blues, and includes detailed information about the recordings, and all sorts of anecdotes and stories about the artists.
For the first time, I heard KoKo Taylor. Now, I am wondering how it is that I’ve made it thus far into my life without hearing her sing. My only consolation for finding her now is … having found her, which is in itself a gift. I can’t really describe why hearing KoKo Taylor sing touched me so deeply, but it did.
When I had some time, I looked up some information on KoKo, and discovered that behind her amazing voice was a beautiful, tremendous soul. I also came across a really good interview of Koko by James Plath: Queen of the Blues: KoKo Taylor talks about her Subjects. I’m going to transcribe a little of the interview here:
CLOCKWATCH: Some articles and Who’s Whos indicate that you were born in 1938, while others say 1935.
TAYLOR: Now . . . when was I born (laughs). Why don’t we go with ’38.
CLOCKWATCH: Then in 1953, when it’s generally acknowledged that you came to Chicago, you would have been only fifteen ?
TAYLOR: Well, the truth is, I came to Chicago when I was eighteen years old, but the truth is, as long as we talkin’, I might as well tell you that most womens don’t like to tell their age. And I’m one of them that don’t, because usually as a whole they say the truth will set you free. But sometimes, the truth will mess you up if you talkin’ about they age (laughs), so I just wanted to make that statement. You know, I just did a new CD on Alligator, Force of Nature, and there’s one song that I wrote myself and it’s titled “I’m Your 63 Year Old Mama.” And everybody talk to me or say anything about that song, the first thing they headline is, I’m sixty-three years old. And, really, it made me feel like I wished like I hadn’t wrote that song. And this is the truth, because they want to title that with my age, you know what I’m sayin’? I don’t get upset about it or anything, but I just don’t especially feel like my age has to go all over the world in every part and every detail (laughs).
CLOCKWATCH: In another interview you talked briefly about being the daughter of sharecroppers in Memphis, Tennessee.
TAYLOR: Yes, that’s very true. My father, my mother were sharecroppers, if you know what that means. They were people that lived in the country on a cotton farm and this is what we did as us kids grew up. We grew up workin’ in the cotton field, pickin’ cotton, choppin’ cotton, or gardening–hogs, cows, chickens, and all this kind of carryin’ on. But it was a good life, growin’ up in the country, it was one that I enjoyed, one that I always remember and refer to. In a lot of ways I miss that. But we was a poor family. We was a family that, you know, my father and mother, they didn’t have nothin’, but they always said, “Money is not everything. What’s really’s important if a family has love. Where there is love, there’s richness,” and I always felt very rich because we had a family of love. And even right today, without my mother and father, I have a family here with my daughter, my son in-law, my two grandkids–now I got a brand new great grand-baby in the family–and, I mean, it’s plenty love. We still don’t have nothing, we still poor, but we loves each other and we have each other to embrace. And I feel very proud of that, because there’s a lot of people that I meet out here on the road . . . .
I talk to people. People come up and talk to me. I was down in Charlotte, North Carolina just a week ago, and this lady came up to me and she say, “Could you sing a song for me?” she say, “And I don’t know what to tell you to sing.” She say, “I just know that I’m very depressed.” She say, “I don’t have nobody.” She say, “I don’t think it’s nobody in the world really loves me or care about me.” She say, “So if you could just find a song that might would help me,” she say, “I would appreciate it.” So I did this song, “I’d rather Go Blind.” When I finished, she came over to me and she was cryin’. Now, I didn’t know what to sing. I was gonna sing “I’d Rather Go Blind” anyway; even if she hadn’t said nothin’ to me, I was gonna do this song. She came over to me and the lady was cryin’ and she say, “That song that you sung, it fitted my predicament,” she say, “and it really touched my heart.” She say, “How did you know that’s what I wanted you to sing?” And I told her, I said, “I didn’t know what you wanted me to sing, but every song that I do, I try to do something that will reach out to someone, touch someone, because this is how I feel, and this is how I want it to be.”
In other words, my career, my singin’, a lot of people ask me, “What is the blues? What does your music mean to you?” To me, my music is like a therapy. My music is healin’, you know? It’s healin’, it’s therapy, it’s encouragement. I try to sing the type of songs that make people happy. I try to sing a song that’s gonna touch somebody, to make them look up, pep up, feel good about themselves, encourage them–have a lyric that will encourage them in some way or another–and that’s what this song did to this lady. And I was so touched by what she said, how I made her feel, until I almost had tears in my eyes, because I feel good when I feel like I have did somethin’ to help somebody–if it’s no more than make them feel happy or feel wanted, or feel loved, or feel that somebody, somewhere, really care for them. And these are the type of things that keep me going strong, keep me influenced with my fans and with younger people and older people.