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  • Writer's pictureAngie Jackson

Blues in the 'Zoo

Inspired by a Dance with Koko the Queen

What went down in the back of the house

According to Wikipedia, the definition of “The Blues” is: “Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm, and blues, and rock and roll is characterized by specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues chord progression is the most common. The blue notes that, for expressive purposes, are sung or played flattened or gradually bent (minor 3rd to major 3rd) in relation to the pitch of the major scale, are also an important part of the sound.” Sounds pretty difficult and complicated; but, if you presented this definition to any blues aficionado/player/singer, they would look at you with a blank stare. Most would probably correct you by saying, “honey, you thinkin’ too much. Blues gotta come from within, from the soul. You gotta FEEL it and you gotta LIVE it. That’s all I know.” Many years ago, I worked at one of the best blues clubs in Chicago. Originally, this masterpiece of a music venue was Famous Dave’s Rhythm, Blues and BBQ, located on Clark Street just south of Chicago Avenue, across the street from Blue Chicago. After two years, the club merged with the original “Chef” himself, Isaac Hayes, to become Isaac Hayes’ Music, Food, Passion with Famous Dave’s BBQ. The club was an enormous 2-story structure with a stage to house at least 12 musicians. The seating area was decorated and set to resemble being below Chicago’s famous EL train tracks. An enormous square bar with a tin roof meant to resemble a Delta-Blues juke-joint was at the other end facing the stage. Oh yes, I was home in Sweet Home Chicago and I was ready to hang my bartending hat here for quite some time. I crossed paths with many of the great blues players at this entertainment venue. Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, Lonnie Brooks, Buddy Guy, you name them, I probably poured their beers, mixed their drinks, ordered their food, chased after them to pay their tabs, listened to their sets, and wished them well when they left, even if they stiffed me. Although each one of these artists gave me great memories, one encounter with a legendary performer gave me an unforgettable experience that I will never forget. I smile fondly when I think of this memory. The club was hosting one of the pioneers of the Chicago blues scene, the Queen of the Blues herself, Koko Taylor. We had a back stairway area where artists entered and exited the Green Room. The back stairwell area was a space allotted for artists and employees to smoke. I was back in this area taking a break when I heard the band begin playing one of Koko’s most signature songs, “Wang Dang Doodle.” I love this song and didn’t want to miss one of my idols perform this live at the venue I happened to be working at. I came running out of the back stairway area which led to the kitchen area entrance where artists entered the stage. I was grooving along, dancing to the music when I looked up and saw Koko Taylor standing in front of me smiling. She said to me with a sly grin on her face, “Girl, you got some smooth moves!” and began dancing with me. What a thrill! I was happy just to be able to see her and now I was dancing with her in the kitchen area of the club I worked at to her most famous song. We briefly danced together, both smiling and laughing when I said, “sweetheart, you probably should go out there and get on stage. I think the band is waiting for you.” She replied again with a little smirk, “They can wait. I’m busy.” What a thrill to continue dancing for another minute or so with the Queen of the Blues herself, KoKo Taylor! The time came when the Queen needed to be on stage. I promptly kissed her hand and said, “You are fabulous! Thank you for spending a few minutes with a fan.” She smiled, continued dancing through the doorway, turned to me, and blew me a kiss as she grabbed her microphone and began singing and heading towards the stage shaking her wang dang doodle like no other.

Yes, I got a little witchy with the Queen of the Blues in the back of the house that night. On another note, that blues club was haunted and cursed.

Kzoo Koko Taylor

Mixing it up with two local liquids crafted in Kalamazoo, one being sweet and spicy, and one being spirited, you pretty much have the Queen of the Blues soul in your cup.

2 oz. Kalamazoo Stillhouse Vodka

2 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters

Water Street Coffee Joint Cocoa Del Sol,


Prepare cocoa as directed on the package. Add vodka, stir and add marshmallows on top for good measure. Toast them with a culinary torch if you desire. It’ll Wang Dang Your Doodle for sure. If you want to get fancy about it, go down to Cherri’s Chocol’art on the Kalamazoo Mall and find a decadent garnish. Treat yourself!


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