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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Long live the queen

By Danny Letz

The queen took the stage Friday night, and though not flanked by knights or any men at arms, she had no problem raising the daunting 103-degree heat to a boil. All she needed was her well-oiled machine.

Koko Taylor, the undisputed queen of the blues, played to a packed audience at Red Butte Garden’s outdoor amphitheatre for its yearly Blues at the Butte concert.

Accompanied by her renowned Blues Machine-a five-man ensemble rounded out by two guitarists, a drummer and an organist-Taylor set the lush greenery aflame, threatening at times to raze the garden to the ground with her voice.

Taylor, however, wasn’t the only cook in the kitchen Friday.

She was preceded by Ogden’s own Legendary Porch Pounders (the duo of Dan Weldon and Brad Wheeler), who rocked the audience and set the fires rolling as they sang the body electric with only a guitar, harmonica and their namesake porch board-the wooden box Weldon uses as a substitute for a bass drum or an authentic Mississippi porch.

The Sister Wives Band followed The Porch Pounders, and this group of four local ladies kept the audience alive with its true and heartfelt blues. The Wives wailed and made sure that every bigamist in the audience took note of their unfettered wall of bluesy sound.

And then, her Blues Machine in place and running, Koko took the stage.

Playing through a set that would make a woman half Taylor’s 77 years break under pressure, Taylor rounded out the evening with a performance of “Wang Dang Doodle”-the most renowned and popular song of Taylor’s career-and it sounded every bit as raw and full of grit as the original recording released nearly 40 years ago.

Though occasionally taking a moment to sit and rest her knees, Taylor’s voice belied any inward fatigue she might have felt. Every scream and every blood-boiling roar laid aside any doubts that the audience was in the presence of greatness, that this woman was the most decorated artist-male or female-in the history of the blues and that she deserves of every decoration. You don’t become the queen for nothing, and Taylor proved on Friday just what it takes to assume the throne.

And as people in the audience began to dance and throb like parishioners at a revival meeting, Weldon-the guitar and vocals half of the Porch Pounders- turned to me.

“It’s almost like they’re going to start speaking in tongues,” he said, smiling and fidgeting with his black bowling shirt with “Reverend” embroidered over the breast pocket.

“Brad (Wheeler) and I call it ‘the trance,'” he said.

Which is an apt description. The trance-like movements of the audience on Friday night-an audience made of predominantly middle-aged white people from the middle to upper classes-was a strange sight indeed.

And how is it that a genre of music started as an outlet for the emotions and feelings of poor black farmers and sharecroppers in the southern United States, and later in the industrial areas of Memphis and Chicago, is still musically relevant and broadly popular today?

Weldon offers an answer.

“It connects right to the gut. It’s not so cerebral like other music that seems to be flavor of the moment,” he said.

His partner, the harmonica-wielding Wheeler, agrees.

“The best blues comes from the gut. Just like you can’t make soup without water, you can’t make any American music without some element of the blues,” he said.

This explains the broad appeal of blues to people all across the socio-economic spectrum. Weldon and Wheeler’s vision of the blues presents a musical genre wherein the connection to the audience is felt through mutual struggle.

Blues requires not just a simple understanding of the musical language, but an ability to use that as a means to tap into that gut reservoir and allow the audience the catharsis it so desperately needs. That’s how the blues survives.

And though the styles of Friday night’s performers spanned the entire gamut of variation in musical interpretation of the blues, the common attribute among every artist was the smile plastered across his or her face-from the Porch Pounders and the Sister Wives to every cog in Taylor’s Blues Machine. They were singing the blues, but you couldn’t tell it from looking at their faces.

Speaking from beneath his trucker hat and button-up blazer, Wheeler explained again, much like a modern-day philosopher.

“It’s like a famous line from a blues song, ‘I’m laughing just to keep from crying.’ That’s what the blues is about,” he said.

So here’s to laughing, at the expense of being blue.

Lisa Teran

Blues singer Koko Taylor sings at Red Butte Garden’s “Blues at the Butte” last Friday. The event was part of the 2006 Outdoor Concert Series at Red Butte Garden, which is hosting a variety of performers through Aug. 27.

Lisa Teran

Koko Taylor & Her Blues Machine guitarist Vino Louden plucks the strings with his tongue during a brief guitar solo at Red Butte Garden last Friday.

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