An ode to Koko, Jamboree and Fridays at the Fort

The late, great blues singer Koko Taylor

by Chris Aaland

"No more signatures, close the door, and where’s my money?” I heard the Queen of the Blues issue that 13-word half-command/half-query in her raspy, trademark howl near the backstage entrance to the Miller Middle School Auditorium on March 26, 1997, in a Durango Society of Cultural & Performing Arts show. Koko Taylor never signed my albums, but she did sing to me.

One of the greatest voices in American music was silenced last Wednesday when Koko died at age 80 of complications from a surgery to correct gastrointestinal bleeding.

During her career, she received 29 W.C. Handy Awards and one Grammy, accepted a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, was inducted into the Blues Music Hall of Fame, earned a Chicagoan of the Year distinction and brought South Side blues to millions across the globe. She shared stages with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi and Shemekia Copeland all cited her as a major influence. She will be missed.

To paraphrase the late, great Jerry Reed, while bluegrass gets the goldmine during June’s festival spree across the San Juans, blues gets the shaft. Still, Koko’s wail stretches beyond blues and into rock, R&B, funk and hip-hop territory. Listen and you’ll hear her voice this weekend in countless performers around the region.

The third annual Silverton Jamboree takes place Friday through Sunday at the base of Kendall Mountain and in late night juke joints up and down Greene Street. No doubt Koko left her mark on Rick Miller, Mary Huff and Dave Hartman, the swampy, bluesy, surfy, country-fried trio better known as Southern Culture on the Skids, which headlines what’s billed as “The Southwest’s Highest Festival.” With apologies to Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Elvis Costello and David Byrne, both of whom play Telluride Bluegrass in a week, SCOTS is the best act coming around this festival season. The Jamboree also welcomes Mountain Heart, Tony Furtado, Papa Mali, Mama’s Cookin’, the Soul Rebels Brass Band and many more. Durango is well represented, too, with Aftergrass, Strange New Shoes and A-Dub-Rock Band all appearing.

You can also hear echoes of Koko at the inaugural Palisade Bluegrass & Roots Music Festival Friday through Sunday on the banks of the Colorado River at Riverbend Park. While heavy on bluegrass, old-time and folk, the lineup includes vocalist extraordinaire Mollie O’Brien, guitarist Catfish Keith and eclectic string wizard Danny Barnes, all of whom quote the blues. Others to appear in Palisade include the Kruger Brothers, Kane, Welch & Kaplin and Cadillac Sky. This festival was formerly known as the North Fork Valley Bluegrass Festival, but moved north from Hotchkiss and deeper into Colorado’s wine country this year.

Durango’s favorite hip-hop act, the Crown City Rockers, brings the noise to the Summit at 10 p.m. Sunday with opening act Afro Classics. CCR has played Durango twice before, as has their MC, Rashaan Ahmad, and Afro Classics’ Scarub. CCR blends funk-drenched grooves, classic soul samples, live instrumentation and old school rhymes.

Fridays at the Fort, a free summer music series, kicks off from 5-8 p.m. this Friday at the Community Concert Hall with bluegrass from the Badly Bent and special guests Wild Mountain. The Badly Bent was the hardest working band at last weekend’s Pagosa Folk’n Bluegrass Festival, with four sets, a handful of workshops and hours of campfire jams underneath the awning of Mark Epstein’s camper.

KDUR’s Jonezy mixes vinyl just like a real DJ this Saturday at the Starlight, giving dirty house music and MEDS to the masses. The Starlight’s musical menu this week also includes regular standbys like Salsa Night tonight, FAC with Doug Phillips on Friday and Musica Del Mundo on Sunday.

Reeble Jar, a funk, nu-jazz and breakbeat band from Eugene, Ore., plays at 10 p.m. Friday at Steamworks.

The Summit brings new local band Audio Chronic to their stage tonight, the Formless with History Of and Versa Vice on Friday and Fort Collins rockers James & the Devil on Saturday. I saw the latter’s Rocky Mountain fiddle rock at Purgy’s Slopeside last January and was impressed with their Panic-style Southern grooves.

Donna Nazario will augment the Assortment with her harps and vocals from 6-8 p.m. tonight at Durango Brewing Company. The four of them played as the Renovators for a couple of years.

If you’re up at Vallecito this weekend, check out the Schank House, which serves up guitarist/vocalist Pete Giuliani on Friday and High Altitude Blues on Sunday.

Local guitar god Gary Cook appears on the July 2009 cover of Flatpick Guitar. The national magazine features Cook’s career from childhood through winning the National Flatpick Guitar Championship twice as well as his many years with the Bar D Wranglers.

In memory of the late, great Koko Taylor, I’m choosing five favorites from her career for this week’s Top Shelf list:

1. “Wang Dang Doodle.” Koko’s debut single for Chess Records in 1965 is the definitive version of the Willie Dixon classic. Sorry, Howlin’ Wolf.

2. “Hey, Bartender” from “Blues Deluxe.” Recorded live at the 1980 Chicago Blues Festival, the Queen screeched Floyd Dixon’s lyrics like she was dying of thirst.

3. “That’s Why I’m Crying” from “I Got What It Takes.” A desperate woman is wronged in this 1975 slow blues.

4. “Beer Bottle Boogie” from “Queen of the Blues.” Beer Bottle Boogie, indeed, can save your soul, as it did in ’85.

5. “Force of Nature.” Koko rocked harder than most of the boys on one of just two albums she released in the ‘90s. •

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