Friday, December 26, 2014

Ten Questions With........George Taylor

George Taylor

Growing up in the south, one is exposed to a variety of music.....I listened to what my parents listened to on the radio (anything from Top 40 to country to easy listening), my uncle's old 8-Track tapes (anything from the Beatles to Sly & the Family Stone to Three Dog Night), and later listening to my own radio in my bedroom late at night (Top 40, R&B/Soul, etc..).  In my neck of the woods in Far East Mississippi, radio stations in the 70's were more diverse than they are would get rock, pop, R&B, soul, and the occasional country track on a given day, especially later in the evening.  There was even a station that played album tracks from several different genres, so there was plenty of different types of music to be heard.

Even though I might not have liked all the music I listened to, it did influence my tastes in music.  One thing I did figure out as time passed was that there was little difference in most genres other than instrumentation and presentation.  The songs covered a lot of the same subject matter, though one genre might lean toward music from Hammond B3 and horns, and the other used steel guitar, and another used harmonica, piano, and electric guitar.

For several summers when I was in college, I worked in a local grocery store.  For the first few years, the store played the typical background elevator music over the P.A.  The summer after I started listening to the blues, the store manager started playing country music over the P.A.  Whether I liked or not, I got a steady diet of country music that summer, and I realized over those three months that there wasn't much difference between country music and the blues.....just instrumentation and presentation....which led me to a greater appreciation of country music.  Heck, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard are as much blues men as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.  Just listen to the words that they write and sing.

Which brings me to George Taylor.  The Virginia native uses acoustic, lap, electric, and pedal steel guitar, fiddle, and Dobro in his brand of music, which blurs the line between country and the blues to the point that you can barely make it out.  He grew up listening to the popular music of the 80's, but discovered bluegrass and Americana during his college years in Tennessee.  From that point, he transitioned to the blues while traveling through the south, and now all of those genres influence his music.  He's a top notch songwriter, an excellent storyteller whose lyrics will really hit home for most listeners, whether you lean toward country or the blues.

Taylor's latest release, Rain or Shine, is Americana with a heavy base in the blues.  If you grew up exposed to all of these various genres, you will have no problem with George Taylor's brand of blues, his wonderful songwriting and musicianship and his honest, heartfelt vocals.  Taylor was nice enough to sit down with Friday Blues Fix for Ten Questions (give or take a few) and we appreciate him taking the time to do so.  When you're done reading, visit his website for more information and do yourself a favor and check out his music.  You'll be glad that you did.

Ten Questions With......George Taylor

Friday Blues Fix:  Do you come from a musical background?

George Taylor:  I may or may not have some distant relatives that had a significant impact on American music. But I haven’t wanted to know bad enough to pay Ancestry yet. My Dad was a mechanic by trade, built and drove drag cars and has an auto repair business in my hometown.  My Mom is a hair dresser.  My grandfather on my Mom’s side used to play guitar and harp when he was young. He was starting to talk to me about some stuff like that just before he died. He would tell me stories about barn dances in Richmond, Virginia and some of the performers he’d seen. He was a good man, my Grandpa. He served his God, Family and Country, gave the most beautiful prayer you’d ever heard, a real salt-of-the-earth kind of man.

FBF:  Growing up, what kind of music did you listen to?

GT:  Man, I’ve listened to most of it, I feel like, but I guess everyone feels that way. My first albums were Thriller, Born in the USA, and Huey Lewis' Sports. Shortly after that, I was dubbing my cousin’s Run DMC tape with “Walk This Way” on it.  My Dad listened to some great stuff and so I was exposed to it early on. He would always be listening to Elvis, Motown, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and CCR to name a few.  He has pretty fantastic taste in music and it had a huge influence on me.
We had to do a report during Black History Month in elementary school and I chose Marvin Gaye.  I read my report and decided to bring in a tape for them to hear and I performed lip syncing to “I’ll be Doggone.” Weird, who does that? I guess I should’ve known early on I had another calling than class clown.  

FBF:  Who are some of your musical influences as a musician, singer, and songwriter?

GT:  They’re changing over time. Just a few top of mind are Otis Rush, Jimmie Rodgers, Tom Petty, Howlin’ Wolf, Dylan, Townes, Sonny Boy, The Stones, Ryan Adams, Sam Cooke, Cash, Elvis, Dwight Yoakam, Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo, Scott Miller. I try to soak up as much as I can. It’s pretty amazing how your taste and appreciation changes over time.  I mean some stuff is timeless but not all of it. 

Taylor with legendary DJ Sonny Payne

FBF:  Can you tell us a little bit about your thought process when writing songs?  Do you do it in a structured way… many hours a day writing songs, or do things sort of happen spontaneously?

GT:  When I got serious about writing I had a lot of time on my hands. It’s good to set goals for how often you’d like to complete a song. I tried to write a song a week for a year a while back and got pretty close. I think time and freedom have a huge impact on being able to write effectively. Also, reading and putting stuff in your brain so you can get stuff back out. It takes a special combination of emotion and rationality to build a strong song, as well as the ability to remain creative and abstract at the same time.  You can’t force that type of thing.  You just have to feel it, submit to it when it’s happening and nurture it as well.  You have to make yourself available to it. It’s a gift, I believe. Usually, I start with a feeling and give that feeling a sound on a guitar or keyboard and then after I’ve got a melody, I’ll start the lyrics. Then once you've had that inspiration you just have to force yourself through all the lyric writing and editing.  It’s a balance of inspiration and perspiration.

FBF:  Do you write your songs based on personal experience, or from listening to other people and the world around you?

GT:  Both for sure.  Most of it comes from personal experience or stories I’m familiar with. I’ve done a bit of living. It helps to have those stories to draw from. I mean, I’ve never been a hobo, which I don’t really find particularly enticing, but I’ve been around a few places and met some characters. Also, it’s good to stay open to creating characters and stories as well, that’s fun to do. Just to let your mind run and go sometimes and then pull it all together. I’ve got a few more stories to tell.

FBF:  How did you fall under the sway of the Blues?  What is it about the music that draws you to it?

GT:  The honesty and raw emotion of the music and the lyrics hooked me when I first heard SRV as a kid. I noticed when I started writing that I was always writing songs that were mostly about hard times and hard luck anyway.  So when I got into vinyl records several years back and found a Lightnin’ Hopkins record in my Dad’s stack, it was over. It just seemed to fit me, I really relate to blues music. It takes a certain venue and audience to make you want to play your songwriter music.  The blues genre gives all the feeling but tells the stories in a simpler way most times. It doesn’t have to be so wordy and I can appreciate the economies of language of the genre.

FBF:  You moved to Austin, TX several years ago.  How did your time out there influence your musical style?

GT:  It’s like being a kid and growing a couple inches and not ever really noticing. Texas gave me the time, places, people and room to grow as an artist. There are so many creative people there. It’s a great place to be and to be yourself. You gotta buy into the mantra “keep Austin weird,” and be whatever you are.  I’d like to think I had as much or more influence on my style as Austin, TX did though.  I didn’t really fall into a crowd or scene there, so to speak. I made a few good friends, played a few gigs, paid some dues and really soaked up the culture of it all. I’d hear what other guys were doing but I still did my own thing. Not a whole lot moved me to want to do anything different. I picked up a few licks and probably talk a bit more southern. “Fixin’” is now in my lexicon, for instance. Texas reinforced my independence as an artist. They’re an independent and proud bunch down there, and I love it.  I think its badass and they should feel that way, it’s a special place.

FBF:  Why did you decide to return to Virginia last year?  What has changed with you and your audiences during your absence?

GT:  I didn’t want to leave Austin.  It’s my favorite town I’ve been to.  Money gets funny and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get along. I’m still working hard and waiting on that break. My audience hasn’t changed much other than it’s growing a bit, I’m grateful for that. Some of the best advice about music I’ve ever heard was “the guys that make it, are the guys that never quit.”

FBF:  Can you tell us about some of the songs on your new album, Rain or Shine?  I really like how you show with words and music that the line between country music and the blues is a blurry one.  Did you achieve what you set out to do with this release?

GT:  I was listening to a lot of Jimmie Rodgers and Howlin’ Wolf at the time. So that probably has quite a bit of influence on this record. I wrote “Goodnight” in about 30 minutes one Christmas holiday at home alone.  A few I already had like “Railroad Song,” it was the third song I ever wrote back in 04’-05’ when I started writing. When “Harvest Moon” happened I’d just convinced my girlfriend to buy me this old 1940’s Oahu student, square neck, lap guitar off craigslist for $100. I love old stuff with character and new gear has a way of inspiring you sometimes. So I figured out how to play it a little and that song just happened. I’d say it was a gift from God, but it’s about moonshining so I’m a bit leery of making that assertion. However, I do believe “Seat with Your Name” was a gift from above.  My inability to sing that song is what makes it special to me. I like to think you can hear and feel a sinner's suffering and contrition when listening to that one.

I appreciate the compliment there on balancing the country and blues line. These songs are all very organic and roots based.  That’s what we set out to do. I put together a list of songs I thought would work, of songs I’d been playing at gigs around town and stuff I was writing at the time. Then I brought it in the studio and played them on an acoustic guitar for Justin Douglas.  The ones he hadn’t heard or played with me already, and we decided what to cut.  We had a solid core of things we knew we wanted to record to start based on doing shows together. I’m real happy with how it turned out.  I mean it’s real songwriting, real vocals, real guitars and drums you know. No studio tricks or overproduction. That’s why I think it’s effective, it’s the real thing.

FBF:  Do you have any upcoming projects in the works? 

GT:  I’m getting settled back in Richmond, VA, making relationships and getting a roster together. I’m working on a plan for my next record. I’d really like to record again in 2015, we’ll see if I can sell enough copiers this year to get it done.  I can appreciate all the artists out there crowd funding and I might give that a go this time. But to this point I’ve felt kind of weird about it.       

FBF:  Musically speaking, what would you like to do that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?

GT:  I’d like to do a whole lot of things.  I’d like to get on some festivals, play some different venues, expand my fanbase and develop a support team for booking and management. But mostly I’d like to make more records, a full on blues record or two, a singer-songwriter acoustic record, I’d really like to do something more experimental as well. It’d be nice to catch a run of good luck and be able to afford to make these records for sure.  

FBF:  What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?

GT:  Most the time it’s blues, country, or rock and roll.  I’ve been listening to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Otis Spann and Curtis Mayfield the past couple days. I did listen to Pink Floyd, Coldplay and Death Cab the other day. It was one of those days at work that had me craving some calming music, or what I sometimes call hangover music.  I listen to most all of it and as often as I can. Mainly the blues though.  I just can’t quit the blues. 

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