Fifty years after he visited a South Side Chicago bar to see Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers and began a “lifelong adventure” as a record label man, Bruce Iglauer saw the band GA-20.
The adventure continues as contemporary listeners discover a historic sound.
A trio named for an amplifier produced from 1950-61, GA-20 plays raw and raucously with the same instrumentation — two guitars and drums — as Hound Dog Taylor’s band, the first to be recorded by Iglauer’s Alligator Records.
“GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It… You Might Like It!” — will be released Friday, Aug. 20, on its label Colemine Records in partnership with Alligator.
“It still sounds like us,” said GA-20’s Matthew Stubbs. “It doesn’t sound like a totally copycat-type thing. But we wanted to use the same instruments and record live like Hound Dog, (guitarist) Brewer Phillips and (drummer) Ted Harvey did.”
Born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1915, Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor was a charismatic, spontaneous and hard-drinking performer with six fingers on his left hand, the fifth being unusually long and conducive to slide guitar playing. He had an irresistible smile and delivered notes as sharp as Lake Michigan’s biting Hawk. The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau compared Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers to the purest of punk rock bands, saying the Chicago trio are “the Ramones of the blues.”
“That whole band was unique the way they played together,” Stubbs said. They were very interactive. Hound Dog would play something, and Ted Harvey would react, almost like a jazz sensibility but obviously very raw.”
As Charlie Musselwhiite’s guitarist for the last 13 years, Stubbs’ musical credentials are blues as can be. That led to his collaboration with bandmate and fellow guitarist Pat Faherty.
“Pat and I met while I was doing some gigs around Boston when I was off the road a few years ago,” he said. “He was diving deep into blues at the time and I was seeing him around a lot. He asked for references, who to listen to, the real stuff. We became friends on that basis.”
Stubbs and Faherty started GA-20 in 2018 in Boston, coincidentally the city Taylor played the most outside of his hometown Chicago. Drummer Tim Carman was added in 2019. GA-20’s first album, “Lonely Soul,” was released in October 2019. “Live: Vol. 1” came out in 2020 and debuted No. 1 on Billboard’s Blues chart.
Artists generally don’t want their music to be categorized, and that attitude goes all the way back to the early 20th century when Picasso was irritated when his work was labeled “cubism.” But Stubbs is proud of his colors. “We’re a blues band,” he said.
The first GA-20 albums were in the style and spirit of late-1950s to early ‘60s Cobra and Chess records, Stubbs said.
Unless they are at a blues festival, members of GA-20 often get similar questions. “What kind of music is that? What do you call it?” They wouldn’t even know it was blues,” Stubbs said. “They hadn’t listened to this style. Vintage, classic, traditional Chicago blues, whatever you want to call it. We’d say, ‘It’s blues,’ and they wouldn’t believe us. In their minds, blues is Eric Clapton or Joe Bonamassa, and that’s much different from what we’re doing and what Hound Dog did.”
When he attended a GA-20 show, Iglauer’s mind must have taken him back to 1970 and the Florence Lounge on South Shields Avenue where he’d see Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers every Sunday afternoon. GA-20 also blasts a simple, infectious, in-your-face groove.
In his book, “Bitten by the Blues,” Iglauer wrote, “There are musicians who can play all of Hound Dog’s notes and who understand his technique. But they can’t play with Hound Dog’s attitude, rhythm and drive.”
Iglauer could not convince his boss, Bob Koester, who owned the Chicago label Delmark, to record Hound Dog. So he did it himself, starting Alligator Records, which has gone on to release more than 350 records for many of the nation’s best-known artists, including blues greats Musselwhite, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks and Albert Collins. Iglauer strives to seek young artists who will continue to move blues along and into the future.
Iglauer emailed Stubbs about making a record with Alligator. However, GA-20 has a long-term deal with a Loveland, Ohio-based label, Colemine Records.
“It wasn’t something we could do exclusively with Alligator but I went back and forth talking with Bruce and I kind of had this idea — because I knew it was going to be the 50th anniversary Hound Dog — of maybe doing a tribute record. We were off the road and had already recorded two other records that are not out yet. So we just had time to do something fun.
“I approached the owner of Colemine, Terry Cole, and floated the idea by him and he loved it. So I facilitated a meeting with Bruce and Terry and pitched them on the idea of partnership, both labels getting behind this idea. The 50th anniversary of Hound Dog’s first record and the birth of Alligator and also Colemine putting it out because they’re our label and our support system. Both Terry and Bruce liked the idea.”
“GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It… You Might Like It!” includes five songs from Alligator’s debut, the eponymous “Hound Dog Taylor and The HouseRockers.” Both of those records open with “She’s Gone.” The others are “It’s Alright,” “Phillips Goes Bananas” (Also known as “Phillips Theme.”), the Elmore James’ tune “It Hurts Me Too” and the most famous Hound Dog song “Give Me Back My Wig.”
There are four songs from Hound Dog’s second album, 1974’s “Natural Boogie.” They are “Sitting At Home Alone,” “Sadie,” “See Me In The Morning” and the 45 flip side of James’ “It Hurts Me Too,” “Hawaiian Boogie.”
Although Taylor often played songs by James, he said he was not influenced by the better-known fellow slide guitarist, according to Iglauer. “He sometimes claimed Elmore (who was three years younger) learned from him.”
GA-20 plays one song from Hound Dog’s third album, the Grammy Award-nominated “Beware of the Dog!” As with many of Hound Dog’s songs, “Let’s Get Funky” has phrases, not verses. Faherty screams between his slide guitar riffs and driving percussion: “It’s alright. I tried. Do you hear me? Try it again. You know what she told me? I want you to try it this way. You might like it.”
Along with a sexual inuendo, there’s a message for the listeners who don’t know about this type of music: “Try It… You Might Like It!”
“If you say blues to most people under 40, what they think blues is in their mind is not what blues is in my mind,” Stubbs said. “They’ve never heard those early records. Or they might hear it in a movie and they like it but they just don’t know what it is.”
Taylor played Japanese-made Kingston Kawai Teisco electric guitar with four pickups. Brewster played notes and rarely chords on a beat-up Fender Telecaster guitar. Harvey played a snare, two cymbals and a bass drum.
“We wanted the same guitar so sonically we were in the same ballpark,” Stubbs said. “We had two months to prep for the recordings and we bought a bunch of these old, cheap Teiscos. It was trial and error. Pat would buy it and we plug it into amps and A-B it with those first two records. And we used very similar guitar amps.”
GA-20 has three upcoming performances including a virtual show “Love From RELIX Studio on Aug. 25” to coincide with week’s release of “GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It … You Might Like It!” GA-20 starts an ambitious tour Sept. 28 in Washington, D.C. to Nov. 27 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
‘GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It … You Might Like It!’
Label: Colemine Records in partnership with Alligator Records
Release: Aug. 20. 2021
Band website: Ga20band.com
Live video performance: Aug. 20 on The Blues Kitchen
- Vinyl reissue
Hound Dog Taylor & The HouseRockers
Label: Alligator Records
Notes: Originally released in 1974 as the fourth title in Alligator’s catalog, this is the first vinyl pressing of ‘Natural Boogie’ in more than 30 years. It features genre classics including ‘Sadie,’ ‘Take Five,’’ Roll Your Moneymaker’ and ‘See Me In The Evening.’ The album was originally produced by label president and founder Bruce Iglauer, who supervised its remastering.
Related story links:
– HouseRockers’ drummer Ted Harvey dies at age 85. LINK
– Book review: ‘Bitten By The Blues, The Alligator Records Story.’ LINK
– 50 Years of HouseRockin’ – Q&A with Bruce Iglauer. LINK