[click "Play" to hear Otis Taylor messin' with Susan Viebrock]
Blues, the ultimate roots music, still has legs, very long legs, and singer/songwriter/troubadour/storyteller Otis Taylor is one reason why.
Draw a straight line from the dawn of the blues, Delta growl of Charlie Patton through Robert Johnson to the electric South Side bands of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and eventually you will wind up at the feet of the likes of the Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie Raitt (another superstar on Telluride Blues & Brews program) and Aerosmith. The genre emerged out of the twin historical injustices of racism and slavery, yet it appeals to people who will never ever pick a boll of cotton except to clean off makeup or a cut. A minimalist talking blues artist with a hypnotic beat, Taylor is the natural heir of John Lee Hooker. However, rather than being a guardian of the agony and the ecstasy of the tradition, he is a true destroyer of the form and living proof tough love works. Taylor is widely considered a maverick who has moved the genre more than a few country miles into the future. He describes his sound as “trance-blues.”
Telluride Blues & Brews Festival director Steve Gumble brought Otis Taylor to town for the first time in the late 1990s and wound up becoming his manager.
“There are lots of performers playing the blues out there, but Otis is sort of reinventing it,” said Gumble. “I would describe his style as ‘hip blues.’ I have found the man’s appeal is universal: young people in the crowd like his consistent beat for dancing; older people seem to enjoy the authenticity of his lyrics on subjects ranging from personal to political. By stretching the boundaries of the genre, Otis is keeping blues fresh.”
Otis Mark Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948. After an uncle was shot, his family moved to Denver, where the young man’s interest in blues and folk music was cultivated. He has been in the music business ever since, except for time out in 1977 to sell antiques and later to coach an amateur bicycling team.
In many ways, Otis Taylor is the anti-Dylan. Like Jimi Hendrix, the man uses few choice words to say a mouthful. Recent successes have included a song in Michael Mann’s movie, “Public Enemies,” starring Johnny Depp: “10 Million Slaves” from his 2008 release, Capturing the Banjo. His recently releases Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, (Telarc) has received raves. In May, Otis Taylor received the Blues Music Award for “Best Instrumentalist: Banjo.” On August 20, “Looking for Some Heat” from the new release was Today’s NPR Song of the Day.