KOPN History 1978
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KOPN History 1978

1978: KOPN becomes the site of a federally-sponsored VISTA Community Outreach Project to involve seniors, youth, and low-income communities with radio production and programming. Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor performs the first of several benefit concerts for the station.

Queen of the Blues visits KOPN

KOPN: How did you get into singing?
Koko Taylor: I've always loved singing. What really influenced me ever since I can remember was singing blues and gospel. I grew up singing in church. I also would listen to records, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Minnie and Sonny Boy Williams. When I moved to Chicago in 1953, I started sitting in with these people, going to clubs and learning about being a singer. It was definitely a dream come true.
KOPN: Did you have people supporting you? Going from a church in Memphis to Chicago clubs is quite a jump.
Taylor: It wasn't really a jump. When I was in Memphis I was singing blues and gospel. Then I came to Chicago when I got married. Liking to sing I just kept going from place to place and meeting all the musicians I'd heard about for years.
KOPN: How'd they take you?
Taylor: They were really good about it. They thought it was nice to have a woman there singing the blues.
KOPN: Were there any other women in the clubs at the time, singing?
Taylor: No, it was just all men singing the blues.
KOPN: Who were some of your big influences?
Taylor: Sonny Boy Williams and Elmore James. Howlin' Wolf was my big influence.
KOPN: What about Willie Dixon?
Taylor: Willie Dixon was the man who heard me and first started talking to me about recording. He was the A&R (artist and repertoire) man for Chess Records at the time. He got me started in the recording business.
KOPN: Where did he see you first?
Taylor: It was a small club on the Chicago south side. Willie said I had the voice to sing the blues. He was really interested in recording me for Chess because there were no women singing the blues at the time.
KOPN: When was that?
Taylor: The early sixties, I first recorded n 1964.
KOPN: For Chess?
Taylor: Chess was the only thing happening for the blues back then, just like Alligator Records is the only thing happening today.
KOPN: How long were you with Chess?
Taylor: Eight years.
KOPN: What were the royalties like?
Taylor: I don't even know what that is, except for the meaning of the word.
KOPN: You wrote "Wang Dang Doodle" which was a million-copy seller. You don't get anything for that?
Taylor: No, I just enjoyed singing and was glad to do so. I still get a chance to do what I want to do.
KOPN: How much time did you spend on the road?
Taylor: Not as much as I do now, which is nine months a year.
KOPN: It must be very tiresome working like that.
Taylor: Yes, but most of the places I go I run into such nice people--the beautiful audiences that I entertain are the ones that keep me out there. It lifts me up. Even if I'm tired I just keep going.
Koko and the Streek
KOPN: There is a price of being on the road. So many women blues singers did it, but it took its toll on them.
Taylor: It might take its toll on me in the future, but I won't cross a bridge until I get to it. Right now I'm mot even close to the bridge
KOPN: In New York there were some big Chicago artists like Little Walter Horton and Sunnyland Slim playing and audiences not responding at all.
Taylor: Well they didn't have me there. I say that for one reason. The people you mentioned are good, but the audience...well, if you put enough fire under them they're going to move. The more they sit, the harder I sing.
KOPN: What were your tours like in Europe?
Taylor: The Europeans are really fantastic. People really dig the blues. I don't really understand it. I often wonder how they communicate with our music; how do they know what we're singing about, but I've learned on thing over there, that they know you're doing a good job or not--if they've got an artist they really like, you can tell--they have them back.
KOPN:Audience changing. Middle class whites are now listening to the blues in Chicago.
Taylor: I'm glad. When I first started I was singing for all black audiences in black clubs, but in the last seven years my audience has been white and I'm glad it made the change. Today the black people go to discos and they don't listen to the blues, they don't like the blues...most of them are ashamed of the blues. They don't want to hear it anymore. They don't realize what they're doing is running away from their own heritage. If it hadn't been for the change, the way things are today, there wouldn't be no bread and butter on my table.
KOPN: There is also a new area of women's music and women's lyrics. But I'm appreciating the singer, it doesn't matter what they're singing about.
Taylor: I don't care if it's a woman or man if they're a good artist.
KOPN: Someone like you would be overlooked by women who see things through the lyrics. There are a lot of people offended by blues lyrics.
Taylor: Because of the themes you talk about in the music. But I think it's all in digging the music and digging the artist.
KOPN: You've been in Columbia once before. Do you think tonight's concert will be a good one?
Taylor: Oh yes. I'm not going home until they're on their feet.

This interview, although done in 1979, is with Koko Taylor. Koko began doing benefit concerts for KOPN in 1978.