Wang Dang Doodle (1964)

Koko Taylor

Written by Willie Dixon
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Wang Dang Dixon and KokoIf Rock-N-Roll’s evolution could be turned into a chemical formula, the general direction of the reaction would proceed from the Blues, Jazz, Boogie, Swing, Jump and so forth toward Rock-N-Roll. The old would influence the new. But for a few years in the early to mid-60s, the direction of the flow changed occasionally and Rock began to influence the other genres, most specifically the Blues.

“Wang Dang Doodle” is a primo example of this reversing current. It was written by Willie Dixon for Howlin’ Wolf. The Wolf released it in 1961 to little acclaim and miniscule sales. The problem was that Howlin’ Wolf played it as a straight up Blues song and what became known as the Blues Revival, (begun in Britain), was yet a few years off.

C’mon and get your wang dang doodle

Howlin’ Wolf denounced the song as a “levee camp” song. Dixon himself regretted ever writing the song – for a while anyway.

Wang Dang levee repairmen 1935

Men repairing levees
in Louisiana, 1935

Levee camps were foul places where mostly black workers were sent to serve labor sentences instead of jail time. Those who went voluntarily were literally dirt poor. Pay was minimal; conditions were unsanitary; the weather down along the lower Mississippi in the Delta was hellish. The men were treated as poorly or worse than slaves. Big Bill Broonzy’s song, “I Wonder When I’ll Get To Be Called A Man,” sums it up with:

I’ve worked on the levee camps, and axer gangs too 
Black man’s a boy, don’t care what he can do 
I wonder when, I wonder when 
I wonder when will I get to be called a man 
Do I have to wait till I get to be ninety-three?

“Wang Dang Doodle’s” lyrics portray the violent side of the camps, which had a “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” aspect to them. Fights over money, fights over women, fights over hootch, fights over looking at somebody the wrong way.

As The Wolf performed it, “Wang Dang Doodle” was nothing more than a work camp song. (A wang dang doodle is a brawl, rumpus, or rhubarb of some kind.)

Willie Dixon brought Koko Taylor, known as the “Queen Of The Blues,” to the famed Chicago label, Chess Records, in 1964. While Taylor was a monster in the Blues field, she couldn’t quite pass over the barrier of “race music” that still existed in the early ’60s. Dixon had faith. As often happens, faith is rewarded through an unforeseen agency.

Wang Dang Koko portrait

Koko Taylor at 30 in 1958

In late ’65, Taylor and Dixon laid down a track that transformed Rock-N-Roll and in a flash, modernized the Blues. Without this “Blues Rock” work, and that of Big Mama Thornton (first to record and release “Hound Dog” – before Elvis), we would not have had Janis Joplin, nor Amy Winehouse, nor late-’60s’ Tina Turner. It’s also easily argued that performers like Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”) and Dusty Springfield blossomed from the same tree.

Koko Taylor knocks the shoes, socks, pants and underpants off of “Wang Dang Doodle.” At times, Dixon himself sings a duet with her. The song rumbles through a few verses of Urban Blues. It boogies with a couple of mysterious, film-noir guitar chords.

Gene Barge bawls out a red-hot warning during an all-too-brief saxophone solo, one of the finest you’ll hear before the styles changed.

Lafayette Leak plays the piano like an alley cat on the keys, fingers dancing sneakily across the board.

Koko’s vocals are coarse and belligerent. She manages to convince us that for the Saturday-night men street fighting is a form of entertainment as acceptable as dancing, singing and chasing women. She actually celebrates the toughs who head out, intending to mix it up.

Tell automatic Slim
Tell razor totin’ Jim
Tell butcher knife
Toting Nanny
wan dang loopTell fast talking Fanny
We’re gonna pitch a ball
Down to the union hall

We’re gonna romp
And tromp till midnight
We’re gonna fuss
And fight till daylight
We’re gonna get your
Wang dang doodle

All night long
All night long

The lyrics go on to name more and more fighters and their girls, exhorting them at every turn to show up for the free-for-all:

Tonight we need no rest
We’re gonna really
Throw a mess
We’re gonna knock down
All the windows
We’re gonna kick down
All the doors
We’re gonna get your
Wang dang doodle

All night long 

The line “All night long” is repeated over and over until we really believe her.

Dixon fully embraced the song in his later career. (He died in 1992.) It became Koko Taylor’s signature song and never failed to bring down the balcony. A purer, bluesier version can be watched during Taylor’s performance of “Wang Dang Doodle” at the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival. She is backed by harp player, Little Walter, who, truth be told appears a little lackadaisical.

wang dang queen of the blues

Koko eventually was known as “Queen of the Blues”

Almost anyone is liable to cover it live. The Grateful Dead included it in their act for many years and often did a terrific job on it. (See video section) Warren Zevon, Savoy Brown, and The Pointer Sisters all have had a go at it.

Good as some of those versions may be, they are, as Bob Dylan put it, “crying like a fire in the sun.” (From “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”)

Koko Taylor’s version howls far too fiercely for other renditions to stand up to it.

 

 

 

mangoids
  • Koko Taylor has won 25 W.C. Handy Awards for Blues recordings and performances, a record.
  • A polka master by the name of Jimmy Sturr recorded a version, which, not unsurprisingly, is hard to find. 

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