Sunday 13th July
£20.00 - £35.00
"Otis Taylor's mixture of "trance blues" and tough social commentary remains unlike anything else in American music." - The Guardian
With Otis Taylor, it's best to expect the unexpected. While his music, an amalgamation of roots styles in their rawest form, discusses heavyweight issues like murder, homelessness, tyranny, and injustice, his personal style is lighthearted. "I'm good at dark, but I'm not a particularly unhappy person," he says. "I'd just like to make enough money to buy a Porsche."
Part of Taylor's appeal is his contrasting character traits. But it is precisely this element of surprise that makes him one of the most compelling artists to emerge in recent years. In fact, Guitar Player magazine writes, "Otis Taylor is arguably the most relevant blues artist of our time." Whether it's his unique instrumentation (he fancies banjo and cello), or it's the sudden sound of a female vocal, or a seemingly upbeat optimistic song takes a turn for the forlorn, what remains consistent is poignant storytelling based in truth and history. On his sixth CD, Double V, Taylor unleashes intimate tales as he produces an aural excursion inspired by an unconventional childhood.
Otis Mark Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948. After his uncle was shot to death, his family moved to Denver where an adolescent's interest in blues and folk was cultivated. Both his parents were big music fans; "I was raised with jazz musicians," Taylor relates. "My dad worked for the railroad and knew a lot of jazz people. He was a socialist and real bebopper." His mother, Sarah, a tough as nails woman with liberal leanings, had a penchant for Etta James and Pat Boone. Young Otis spent time at the Denver Folklore Center where he bought his first instrument, a banjo. He used to play it while riding his unicycle to high school. The Folklore Center was also the place where he first heard Mississippi John Hurt and country blues. He learned to play guitar and harmonica and by his mid-teens, he formed his first groups' the Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band and later the Otis Taylor Blues Band. He ventured overseas to London where he performed for a brief time until he returned to the U.S. in the late 60s. His next project became the T&O Short Line with legendary Deep Purple singer/guitarist Tommy Bolin. Stints with the 4-Nikators and Zephyr followed before he decided to take a hiatus from the music business in 1977. During this time he established a successful career as an antiques dealer and also began coaching a professional bicycle team. They ranked 4th in the nation and were known for having two of the best African-American riders in the country.
After years of prodding from his musical mentor (all-star bass player Kenny Passarelli), Otis returned to the stage. It was 1995, in an intimate room in Boulder Colorado's "Hill" district. He was joined on stage by sideman to the stars, Kenny Passarelli, and ace guitarist Eddie Turner. A magazine writer on hand reported: "The combination was magic, Taylor's unique singing style blended perfectly with Passarelli's rock steady virtuosity Turnet's rock-roll tinged riffs." Response to the "one-time gig" was so strong, Taylor decided to return to the music scene, playing select dates with Passarelli and Turner.
Two years later he released Blue Eyed Monster (Shoelace Music), which riveted the blues world and marked the emergence of a singer/songwriter who has, in his own words, "a way of saying something that seems to be more intense." Further, he says, "you can definitely see how I was forming. There was the Christmas song about a guy that killed his parents. Definitely getting ready to go that way, you know?" In 1998, he raised more eyebrows with When Negroes Walked the Earth (Shoelace) an album replete with unapologetic lyrics, stark instrumentation and a gut-wrenching delivery. Playboy magazine described it as "minimalist blues in the John Lee Hooker mode." Critics and music fans took notice and his talents as a vivid storyteller and accomplished guitar player were solidified. His gifts were further recognized in Summer 2000, with a composition fellowship from the Sundance Institute in Park City, UT.
If Taylor 's first two recordings cast a spell on the music world, listeners were officially entranced by White African (2001, NorthernBlues Music), his most direct and personal statement about the experiences of African-Americans. He addressed the lynching of his great-grandfather and the death of his uncle. Brutality became his concern in songs that fearlessly explored the history of race relations and social injustices. With this disc Taylor was officially blazing a trail. He earned four W.C. Handy nominations and won the award for "Best New Artist Debut."
White African was barely in record stores when he began writing the songs that would comprise Respect The Dead. Released in 2002, it made him a contender for two Handys in 2003; "Best Acoustic Artist" and "Contemporary Blues Album." Last year, he bent conventions again with his debut effort for Telarc Records, Truth Is Not Fiction. Here, Taylor took a decidedly electric, almost psychedelic path forging a sound which he describes as "trance-blues." Music critics were indeed captivated as the disc received lavish praise from USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, NPR and a nod from the Downbeat Critics Poll for "Blues Album of the Year."
He quickly followed up Truth with Double V, which marked his entrance as a producer and a collaboration with his daughter Cassie, who sings and plays bass. The album scored him a Downbeat Critics Poll win for an unheard-of second consecutive year, while Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Blender, and CNN all gave their thumbs-up. But perhaps the most meaningful accolade came from Living Blues Reader's Poll, which awarded Taylor (along with Etta James) with the "Best Blues Entertainer" title in 2004.
Telarc released Below the Fold, Taylor's seventh CD, in the summer of 2005. The album is a set of stylistically varied songs that point to a blues-based center but are awash with Appalachian country overtones and moody, psychedelic rock. Once again, the critics raved. Downbeat gave the album four stars, noting that Taylor "has a poet's soul, with a deep respect for the history of blacks in America and an unshakable curiosity about the human condition." Paste called him " a country-folk version of spontaneous, talking-blues master John Lee Hooker." The New Yorker dubbed his sound "Velvet Underground Railroad," and went on to proclaim that "he may drone but he never stays still, and when he moves he's always heading toward places you haven't seen." At year's end, Below the Fold landed in the number 12 slot on the Chicago Tribune's Top 20 album list.
And if the brilliant songwriting and the haunting voice weren't enough to turn the heads of audiences and critics alike, Taylor has also proven his instrumental chops with two consecutive Blues Music Awards nominations (2005 and 2006) for Best Instrumentalist in the banjo category.
In addition to traditional touring and recording, Taylor spearheads a Blues in the Schools program called "Writing the Blues." Conceived by his wife, he appears at elementary schools and universities around the country to offer advice, enlighten, and mentor students about the blues. "I start by asking them to write down what makes them sad; fears, disappointments, losses, whatever. It is just amazing to see some of these nuggets, these incredible thoughts. They are often simple sentences but so real, so sad, so true, so pure." For Taylor, it's an opportunity to connect with others and help others to connect with themselves. And, it allows him to do his part in ensuring that the blues, and the ability to share life experiences will continue in the next generation.
Taylor resides in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives with his wife.
MY WORLD IS GONE
VISIONARY SONGWRITER OTIS TAYLOR RETURNS WITH HIS POWERFUL AND UNIQUE BLEND OF ROOTS MUSIC AND NARRATIVE POETRY.
My World Is Gone explores the struggles of Native Americans with contributions from Indigenous frontman/guitar virtuoso Mato Nanji BOULDER, Colo. — Roots music visionary Otis Taylor’s 13th album, My World Is Gone, set for release February 12, 2013 on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group, is a lightning bolt of musical creativity and social commentary. Its songs crackle with poetic intelligence and a unique, adventurous sound that balances the modern world with echoes of ancient Africa, Appalachia and more.
To call Taylor a cutting edge artist is an understatement. Although his music is based in the blues and folk realm, his meticulously crafted recordings crash the barriers of jazz, rock, funk, Americana and myriad other genres to create a hybrid that Taylor labels “trance blues.” And that signature style serves as a backbone for his frank tales of struggle, freedom, desire, conflict and, of course, love.
The central theme of My World Is Gone was fueled by Taylor’s friend Mato Nanji, the singer-guitarist and cornerstone of the band Indigenous. “Mato inspired the entire direction of this album,” Taylor relates. “We were talking about history backstage at a Jimi Hendrix tribute concert that Mato had just played, and, in reference to his people, the Native American Nakota Nation, he said ‘My world is gone.’ The simplicity and honesty of those four words was so heavy, I knew what I had to write about.” Taylor had already begun composing new tunes with other themes for his follow-up to 2012’s critically heralded Contraband. Three of those — “Green Apples,” “Gangster and Iztatoz Chauffeur” and “Coming With Crosses” — appear on My World Is Gone.
But inspired by Nanji — who plays electric and acoustic guitars on six tracks and joins Taylor on vocals for several songs — and by his own understanding of Native American culture developed in part through dealing in Indian art as a young man, Taylor embarked on a soul-searching journey into the past and present, and into the psyche, of America’s indigenous people. “I’ve written songs about slavery, but here in America that’s considered part of the past,” Taylor explains. “What’s happened and what’s happening to Native Americans is still going on. A lot of people forget that. This is a reminder.”
With his customary brevity, power and grace, Taylor conveys his stories in intimate detail and uses his rich baritone voice to give his characters breath and humanity. The album starts on point with “My World Is Gone,” portraying how the gilded seductions of the white man’s culture undermined the Native American way of life. The melancholy in Taylor’s and Nanji’s vocal performance, as they sing from the perspective of an Indian tormented by temptation and loss, is buoyed by the gentle melodies of Anne Harris’ fiddle and Nanji’s electric and acoustic guitars — the acoustic six-string an Otis Taylor signature model, with only 14 frets, built by the premier instrument makers at Santa Cruz Guitars. Taylor revisits his song “Lost My Horse,” which originally appeared on 2001’s White African, with a new arrangement that features him and Nanji trading guitar and mandolin lines.
“In the days of the frontier, having a horse could be a matter of life or death, or comfort or poverty, and the horse has been an important part of Native American culture in the west, so the song fit perfectly,” he explains. “Sand Creek Massacre Mourning,” which recounts the murder of 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho victims by Col. John Chivington’s cavalry in 1864, rests on the backbone of Taylor’s banjo, his primary instrument. He’s played mostly electric banjos on previous albums, save for 2008’s roots-focused Recapturing the Banjo, but on My World Is Gone Taylor employs four-, five- and six-string acoustic models. “I wanted to get back to that organic sound, because the banjo’s spoken to me since I was a kid,” he says. “Its voice instantly brings you back in time, and so much of My World Is Gone is about history and tradition that its sound is perfect for these songs.”
Nanji again shares vocals with Taylor on “Blue Rain in Africa,” in which a Native American reflects on the survival of his culture, despite the odds, after seeing the birth of a white buffalo — a rare and highly sacred event — on TV. The song’s threads of hope are a striking contrast to “Never Been to the Reservation,” with its lyrics about “babies sleeping on the ground,” although both numbers benefit from Nanji’s burnished blues licks. While Taylor’s vision can be dark and ominous — the title “Coming With Crosses” is self-explanatory — his songs often celebrate hope and beauty in poignant ways. “Jae Jae Waltz” uses its spare construction of banjo, drums, bass and guest Ron Miles’ cornet to tell a story of a widow’s search for new love, and “Sit Across Your Table” celebrates the comfort and joy a workingman takes in his marriage. The song is also a surprising foray into untempered rock ’n’ roll, with a wailing guitar solo by Shawn Starski.
Starski and Taylor are versatile musicians who make their six-strings sound like an African kora on both “Green Apples” and the quirky Elmore Leonard-like tale “Gangster and Iztatoz Chauffeur.” Starski is the latest addition to Taylor’s touring band, which also includes Anne Harris on fiddle, Larry Thompson on drums and bassist Todd Edmunds, who has replaced Taylor’s daughter Cassie, a fixture of his earlier albums and groups. She now leads her own band, Cassie Taylor & the Soul Cavalry. Otis Taylor’s own parents were an important part of his musical foundation. His father was a passionate jazz fan who encouraged his son to become a musician. His mother has become the subject of several of Taylor’s songs. Although he was born in Chicago in 1948, his parents relocated their family to Denver when Taylor was a small child in part to protect their son from the harsh realities of urban living. In addition to listening to jazz in his father’s record collection, he fell deeply under the spell of the Mississippi Delta legend John Lee Hooker, whose spare, almost mystical sound still resonates in Taylor’s own work.
“I get a lot of my sense of space and my vocal phrasing from John Lee Hooker, whose music, especially his solo recordings, is so heavy and has so much space that it sounds like it’s alive,” Taylor explains. His other vocal totem is James Brown, whose shouts and howls inspire the thunderous vocal declamations that punctuate many of Taylor’s own recordings. As a young man, Taylor mastered the banjo and moved on to the harmonica and guitar. He performed with electric guitar virtuoso Tommy Bolin as T&O Short Line, and by 1974-76, he was playing bass as part of the Boulder-based rock group Zephyr. Taylor even jammed with Jimi Hendrix once and pursued his muse to Europe, but frustrations with the music business led him to retire from performing in 1977. He became a dealer in art and antiques, and pursued another of his passions, bicycle racing, as a coach. In the ’90s, the door to Taylor’s musical past was pried open by friends in the Boulder area, and in 1996, he independently released his debut album, Blue Eyed Monster. With the release of his next two discs, When Negroes Walked the Earth and White African, he began to shake up the blues world with his marvelously original music and his unflinching tales about racism, struggle and heritage. Over the years, Taylor has garnered more than a dozen Blues Music Awards nominations, and White African won Best Debut Album. He is also regularly nominated as an instrumentalist, and won a Blues Music Award for his imaginative banjo playing in 2009. Also, his albums Double V, Definition of a Circle and Recapturing the Banjo took Downbeat’s Best Blues CD awards in 2005, 2007 and 2008, respectively. In all, Taylor has won five DownBeat awards. He has also been nominated twice for the prestigious Académie Charles Cros award in France. Contraband won Downbeat magazine’s Critics Choice award for Blues Album of the Year.
His 2009 recording, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, was released in the same week that two of Taylor’s songs were heard by millions in Michael Mann’s blockbuster movie Public Enemies starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. In 2010, Taylor started his own annual Trance Blues Festival in Boulder, Colorado, which brings a broad cast of professional and amateur musicians together for three days of performances, jams and workshops. “The thing about music is that it’s not just a spectator sport,” Taylor says. “In a world where there’s a lot of misunderstanding, music can help people communicate and break down barriers, and start to really see each other for who they are.
“I write songs about people remembering, bearing witness,” Taylor continues. “I’ve learned that if you write about things that are important, people will listen. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the songs that I did for My World Is Gone. “I push myself to be prolific and to make every new album better than the last one for personal reasons, too,” he relates. “A few years ago I had a cyst removed that was attached to my liver and spine. It was a life-threatening situation — really painful. I didn’t know if I was going to survive the surgery. I came to grips with the idea that the albums I’m making are going to be my legacy. And I want the people who love me — my family, my friends — to be proud.”
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