When I was in college, I thought "the blues" what what it was all about. I listened to my old man's 78's and learned to love Dinah Washington and Lady Day. I dug through the dusty bins at the Record Exchange in Stillwater and found the likes of Lonnie Brooks, Lonnie Mack, Robert Cray, and Bugs Henderson. We bought barbeque from a man whose pit was in the garage of his house. His "grand opening" included a blues band and the gospel choir from his church. The pit caught on fire one day and burned down his house. He knew the blues. We bought barbeque from his new house when he got resettled because the ribs was good and the music he played while cooking was even better.
Photo courtesy of wesh on flickr

At least one weekend a month, we all found ourselves seated somewhere, listening to the Brownston Blues Band. These guys provided a wall of sound from their little patch of stage. They always ended their second set with Koko Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle" which seemed to go on all night long (or at least 20 minutes). The lead singer was a black man who could shout the lyrics like Jay Hawkins or whisper them like a sonnet. They always joked on stage that they were going out to their van to pass around a bottle of MD 20/20 between sets. After a few months, we realized it weren't a joke and we joined in.

Of course we all loved Stevie. He played the blues and lived the life. His death was a blow to us all and we held a proper Irish wake in his honor. The following weekend, we listened to fellow Austinite Ian Moore play the most amazing set in Stevie's honor, capped off with a tearful rendition of "Sing Me a Blue Sky". I still cry when I hear that song. A couple years later, Dr. Dave and I road tripped to Dallas to lay a wreath on Stevie's grave for his birthday. We weren't the only people there–there were some locals with a case of Pearl and a guy who hitchhiked with his strat all the way from L.A. This was spontaneous–long before the Internet taught us about Flash Mobs.

Over time, I came to realize that the lyrics of the blues really didn't apply to me at all. I worked my way through college and into a series of jobs that has let me provide for my family pretty well. We've known loss and pain, but not so much that it has left us bitter and despondent. I still appreciate the music and some of it is timeless. Those first few bars of Texas Flood could probably start a hit song today if people still listened to music instead of watching American Idol.

Tonight I read of the passing of Koko Taylor and it brings a smile to my face as much as a tear to my eye. I miss listening to those old blues songs. I'll give them another turn and remember what it was like to not have a care in the world.

Rest in peace, Koko. Give the sinners and saints a little hell, girl, and wang dang doodle all night long.