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Three Big Mamas
by Haven James

Event: Women of the Blues

Five-time Grammy Award nominee Koko Taylor will headline the big "Women of the Blues" show at Columbia-Greene Community College this Friday, April 3. The all-star lineup of Taylor, Rory Block, and Beverly "Guitar" Watkins will each perform a set of their music at the college's Arts Center Theater.

A Grammy for "Best Blues Album of the Year" in 1984, 15 W.C. Handy Awards including "Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year" of 1997, a million-seller single on Chess Records and seven albums on Alligator Records should convincingly answer any question as to why they call Koko Taylor the "Queen of the Blues." Cora Walton made her way from the church choirs of Memphis, where she was raised, to the bright lights of Chicago,
Beverly "Guitar" Watkins Koko Taylor Rory Block
where she emerged in the '60s as Koko Taylor under the guidance of the great Willie Dixon. It was Dixon's song, "Wang Dang Doodle," that put her on the Hit Parade in 1965. Taylor put together her own band called The Blues Machine in 1972, and they'll back her Friday night at Columbia-Greene.

Mississippi Delta-style blues artist Rory Block, also a W.C. Handy Award winner for "Best Acoustic Blues Album of the Year" in '95, will play vintage selections from her deep-rooted years with the masters as well as songs from her new album on Rounder Records. As part of the "Woodstock Family" of musicians, Block has appeared frequently with many local artists and is currently on the roster at Jane and Happy Traum's Homespun Tapes with four instructional videos plus a new deluxe CD/book package called Classics of Country Blues Guitar.

Happy Traum offered some perspective on the evolution of women and the blues, pointing back generations to singers like Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey as well as great female guitarists like Memphis Minnie and the Gospel diva, Sister Rosetta Thorpe. Both Happy and brother Artie Traum have played extensively with Rory Block, in concert and on their former WAMC radio show, Bring It On Home (Rory's included on the Bring It On Home anthology released by Columbia/Legacy). "What makes her unusual to me is that she balances a very contemporary sound with this really traditional blues style," says Happy. Rory, he adds, "has something that I think very few others have, and that is, first of all, she's a combination of really being schooled in the old-style traditional country blues. She studied directly with some of the real masters like Son House and Skip James. She has that side of her which is very, very traditional, and then, she also is very contemporary and writes her own songs ... dealing with women's issues and the issues of being a mother. A lot of these things are also very contemporary and now."

Block's history is well-known to local folks, but if you want to get specific, she has a great new website complete with autobiography, discography, photographs, etc. at It's well worth checking out. Her stories of hours spent with Son House, the Reverend Gary Davis, and many of other legends of the blues add further credence to Traum's summary remarks: "She's not just an imitator of the old blues ... In recent years she's developed a stature that goes beyond that."

Opening the "Women of the Blues" concert will be Beverly "Guitar" Watkins. Originally from Georgia, she's a veteran of the blues scene in the South and has been doing the festival and club circuit as a solo performer. Watkins has worked with artists like James Brown, B.B. King and Ray Charles, and will play this venue accompanied by Dan "Mudcat" Dudek on guitar.

The college's theater is a good room to hear music and this is truly a big show of big mama blues. Tickets may be gone by press time, but call (518) 828-4181--even if they're sold out, you can sometimes get standing-room-only entry at the door.

Haven James has been a consistent contributor to the Music & Arts scene around the Hudson Valley and beyond for almost a decade through his column, Werewolves of Woodstock, published weekly in the Woodstock Times

A writer, musician, philanthropist, and Mac addict; he lives reclusively, high atop Overlook Mountain with his son and a menagerie of animals, both wild and domesticated. Though currently unmarried, rumors abound as to his intimate relationships with Madonna, Sandra Bernhardt, and Eli Bach; though he insists these notions to be pure hearsay. His identity has remained a mystery to all but the closest of friends as he often travels in disguise and appears unannounced and undercover at concerts and venues in a dedicated effort to get the real story.

Go to the Werewolves of Woodstock page for more articles by Haven James.
Haven James can be contacted at

Posted on April 6, 1998

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