"I believe American Blues is at the heart of all good Rock and Roll music, and I don’t think that’s very difficult to trace."
Marvin Taylor: Simplicity & Honesty
Marvin Taylor born in Tuskegee, Alabama, is a guitarist with style that’s been perfected with quality and passion. Marvin exudes taste, and plays with a polished sound that’s filled with emotion. Marvin moved to Atlanta after formative years in recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee in the sixties. He played with Alabama bands included The Charlene Mimms Band, The K-Otics, The Bushmen, The Hungry I, and The Life. Atlanta bands included Homer, McKoon, Mose Jones, Buddy Causey And The Handsome White Boys, Out A Hand, Java Monkey. Mose Jones was the first band signed by Al Kooper for his startup Atlanta label "Sounds of the South" on MCA Records. Mose Jones sharing the stage with many artists of the 70's - Boz Skaggs, Doobie Brothers, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Santana, Eddie Money, Little Feat, Sea Leavell, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wet Willie, Charlie Daniels Band, Rick Derringer, Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, Dixie Dregs, Leslie West, Marshall Tucker, Stillwater and others.
Marvin has worked with International Blues/Jazz artist Francine Reed and other Ichiban Records artists, both in the studio and on world tours. Marvin and his wife Raven are professional songwriters who have songs featured on all Francine’s CDs. Marvin has also performed as a guitarist with John Michael Montgomery, Mark Wills, Montgomery Gentry, John Berry, Steve Cropper, Greg Allman, Chubby Checker, Trudy Lynn, Ricochet, Davy Jones of The Monkees and Paul Barerre of Little Feat. As session musician, he has recorded with national artists for albums, CD's, and other studio projects. Opened shows and shared the stage with many Artists including Al Green, Bruce Hornsby, James Brown, Mavis Staples just to name a few. Now plays with Judy Browne in "Browne And Taylor".
How do you describe Marvin Taylor sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?
Two words come to mind: simplicity and honesty. For me, when music gets too complicated, it in some ways becomes phony. Sort of like if you ask me a question and I start spouting a lot of random crap because I really have no clue what the real answer is.
My earliest experiences in a recording studio were sort of a blur – The K-Otics recorded at Fame in Muscle Shoals Alabama, then immediately had an invitation to go to Memphis to Sun Records with the renown Sam Phillips producing us. However, after recording some of our songs with Sam, we learned that Rick Hall at Fame had more faith in some of our songs actually becoming real hit records, so we said farewell to Sam and went back to Muscle Shoals. Honestly, I was a teen ager with a guitar in the back seat of the car in that band – I was not much interested in business decisions, so don’t remember how a lot of that went down, other than the accounts of others in the band later.
The important thing for me, the life changing thing, was that Rick was not able to produce us right away, and gave the job to a young staff musician and song writer, Dan Penn. Two things I didn’t know at the time – (1) Dan had never produced a band before, other than demos for the songs he had written, and (2) those demos were the best music I had ever heard in my life! Songs like “Dark End Of The Street” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” “I’m Your Puppet” (which we actually recorded before James and Bobby Purify, I believe.) But Dan would haul tapes down off the shelf and play them to teach us the songs, and we’d be speechless! His vocals were absolutely amazing, and the groove laid down by the musicians on those songs was better than anything I had ever heard anywhere! There were a couple of tracks we did for which Dan brought in a couple of “The Swampers”, the famous studio rhythm section. Roger Hawkins on drums had the best feel and best time I’d ever experienced. Spooner Oldham could play a simple chord on piano or organ and make you a believer! It didn't matter what he was preachin', I just believed!
There is really no way to explain what it is like to play with those guys, especially for a young boy like me, fresh off the farm. When so many hit records began to come out of there, famous Rockers began coming there to record. Sometimes they’d show up with giant egos, then after one day of recording, be just as humbled as I had been when I experienced that groove from the inside for the first time!
One day I was just hanging out, and Dan was producing a demo. He turned to me and said “Hey boy, wanna play on the session?” I managed to control my excitement enough to get my mouth to work so I could say “Uh, yes.” Dan said “Just get your guitar and give me a little ‘chip’ with the snare drum.” (I knew he meant to form a simple triad chord on high strings, and sweep the pick upward in a quick stroke, giving off a simple “chip” sound.) The song was a VERY slow 6/8 feel. Honestly I cannot remember if it was one of Dan’s soon to be famous songs or not, but this song was similar in feel to “Something’s Wrong With My Baby” recorded by Sam And Dave, written by Issac Hayes and David Porter, but in my mind, in my memory of this event, this song was far slower! It was so slow that the space between snare drum hits felt like it was practically forever, especially for a teen ager full of adrenaline, wanting desperately to not rush, not to drag, but to hit every “chip” dead on the money with Roger’s snare stroke! We finally made it through the entire track, and Dan’s voice came on the “talk-back” through the speakers saying “That’s sounded good, y’all. Do it one more time, but lay it back a little more, and play it simpler.” Honestly I don’t remember anything else. Maybe I passed out? I’m sure I must have made it through it. But those musicians cared far more about listening to each other and listening to the combined sound than they did about being heard themselves. The way they played together was never stiff, never static, but open and fluid, like they were breathing together. Yet the times and tempos were always perfect. And even that is difficult to explain, because that is not to say that the tempos might not change slightly, but the track was always the better for it.
This will undoubtedly be the longest section of my interview, because it has had the longest lasting and most important effect on my musical philosophy. To this day, when so many guitar players are told they play too loud and need to turn down, I usually get the opposite, and band mates either ask me to turn up a little, or ask the engineer for a little more of me in their monitors, because I am listening to the sum of the parts. I am inspired by what I hear around me. That’s the only way I know what I want to play. That is why it is absolutely essential for me to play with musicians that I truly like to listen to!
Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?
I hope it doesn’t sound sappy, but honestly, the moment I am in is always the most interesting period. I know more now, and I feel I have a lot more to say musically. The challenges of finding ways to do what I want on the levels at which I’d like to be doing it seem daunting at my age and stage of life, but even that is interesting.
It’s equally hard to pin down the best moment of my career. As it happens, the keyboard player from Mose Jones, our band from the seventies, Steve McRay, just came into possession of our “lost tapes” from 1979 and 1980. Our last record deal was with RCA and was a two album deal. The first album of the two album deal in 1978 was “Blackbird”, and was a fairly successful album, mostly because it allowed us to tour intensively for a year with tour support from RCA. Since we had the same studio, producer, management, and even booking agency, as The Atlanta Rhythm Section, it was a natural fit for us to be their opening act on many of their tour dates. But because Southern bands like Wet Willie, Sea Level, and others were all touring, we had many opportunities to jump from one tour to another. We also had very interesting pairings with diverse headliners such as Lee Rittenour and John Mayall, exposing their audiences to our music with wonderfully favorable reactions, and at the same time, having their music influence us. Also worth noting – our tour bus had a fabulous sound system and our drummer during the RCA years, Chris Seymour, had an amazing collection of great music, so we literally ate and slept to Larry Carlton, The Crusaders, Joe Sample, Tom Scott, Dave Sanborn, etc. It was a year of being totally submerged as a group in all sorts of music, but all of us at the same time. We’d hear something wonderful and parts of it would begin to show up in that night's show. Most of our music had room to stretch out and jam a bit, even if it was just turn-arounds or little breaks between specific parts. One of us would hit something reminiscent of something we’d been listening to, and everyone would smile. The next night, we’d all hit that together. I think I’d have to say that this was the best period of my life in any band. And we came home to Atlanta after a year of this, and our producer, Buddy Buie, rented us a cabin at Lake Lanier, bought a brand new hot rod Ranger bass boat and tied it up to the dock outside the cabin, and we stayed there for weeks and wrote songs and fished and went on late night joy rides at ridiculous speeds on the glassy calm water! Some of the best songs we ever wrote came out of that period.
Buddy was working frantically every day with the Atlanta Rhythm Section at Studio One in Doraville, Georgia, about an hour from the lake cabin. They were behind their deadline for finishing their new album. But as often as he could, he’d come up to the lake and work with us. As an interesting and life altering experience, working with Buddy probably ranks a close second to my experience with Dan Penn. Because I am not a singer, and at that time, probably did not have the writing chops that I developed later, I don’t think Buddy “utilized” me as much as I would have liked, leaning more on Randy and Steve. But Buddy is a magical being just the same. He is electric. His creative process is palpable. He paces, his eyes practically shoot sparks, and everyone in the room becomes an extension of his creativity. He plays a little guitar and keyboards, whatever, but not much. What he does is take you over so that you become his player, you become him playing your instrument, and you play things you never dreamed of playing, and you like what you are playing! We wrote wonderful songs together. We had a clear guideline as to what qualified as “writing credits” on songs, and I was mostly in a “support” role at this point. But the experience taught me a lot as a writer, both in terms of positives and negatives, but all useful.
So we headed to the studio to record all this great stuff. Meanwhile, RCA had become a hot mess! Elvis died, and it appeared to me that there was probably a spike in revenue, which, in my opinion, was mostly misspent. RCA Records appeared to me to be investing big bucks into bands that “looked like” popular bands! One band we saw had a TON of promotion, because they “looked” so much like The Rolling Stones. But their music was NOTHING like the Rolling Stones! But their line to us was “We don’t need to spend a fortune promoting Mose Jones – you guys will just do an album a year until you get a hit, just like ARS did!” And we bought that line! But even we could see that just because an artist LOOKED like Bob Seeger, doesn’t mean he SOUNDS like Bob Seeger! Apparently the “home office” agreed, so the president of RCA Records was fired. New president, domino effect… right down the line… all new people! So all the sleepless nights on the road in 1978 to do in-store promotions that thrilled the local RCA reps… meant nothing. Suddenly they all worked for new companies! So RCA “shelved” our second album. It languished on the shelves of the tape vault at Studio One for years. Studio one changed hands several times, and eventually, Steve McRay got the phone call – “Come get these 24 track 2 inch tapes if you want them!”
Steve got the tapes, had them “baked”, a process to preserve and restore old tape, and we found an engineer who specializes in restoring old tapes and transferring them to digital. They sounded AMAZING! We sent the first few mixes to a friend in Lynchburg Virginia, Sid Hagan, who is a mastering genius, and he subtly worked his magic to keep the original analog sound, but make the drums and everything else sound “current”! We were ecstatic! This music sounds like it could have been recorded three weeks ago, not over thirty years ago!
So Steve and I are launching a Kickstarter fund raising campaign, calling it “The Mose Jones Lost And Found Project”. We only need to raise $5000 to get this music out to our old fans – and any new ones we might make! It is very timely and important to us, especially since the original drummer and founding member Bryan Cole, original guitarist and founding member Jimmy O’Neill, our bass player Randy Lewis, and our engineer, Tad Bush, and our lighting director and roadie Chuck Fowler, have all passed away! In memory of these amazing people, as well as for the Mose Jones legacy, this music has to get out there!
RCA said they “didn’t hear a single” so they shelved the album. One of the songs we wrote was “The Alien”. A year or so later, The Atlanta Rhythm Section couldn’t stand to see a good song wasted, so they recorded it, using the same basic arrangement as ours, and had one of the biggest hits of their career. There are many “singles” in this material – but more than that, just SO much really good music.
So I guess, with the fresh reemergence of this work, and all the emotion it brings, right now I am going to say 1979 and 1980 were the peaks for me!
As for the low point, that’s easy. About 7 years later, 1985. I was out of work, worried that I was about to lose my apartment. A well known and highly respected Atlanta drummer called me to come and play in a “house” band at a club in a sort of seedy part of Atlanta. But his name and reputation were so great that I was thrilled, plus I was desperate, and though this was low pay, it was steady pay! It was a really rough little bar called “His And Hers Lounge”. The bass player came to the stage drinking a beer and carrying two more. The keyboard player only played with his right hand – the left hand was faking – it never actually touched the keys. The drummer was digging out of a terrible hole as a recovering alcoholic fresh from drug rehab, but was still a super nice guy and could at least still play. Turns out the bass player could play too, and was a good singer and a great guy. But the clientèle was so deeply depressing, and the overall vibe of the gig was indescribably sad and heavy. The lead singer was a Las Vegas Elvis wannabe, whom we later learned had a bad reputation of screwing his bands out of money. I was 39 years old, looking at turning 40 in that bar, and was about ready to end my life. I can’t say I was seriously considering suicide, but I didn’t want to live like that anymore.
Luckily, some other friends with another house band gig rescued me when they needed a guitar player. Their club was only a few miles away from that one, but was light years nicer! Honestly, it was still a really tough gig – long long hours, backing many different singers, each doing their own one hour show, which meant lots of rehearsals, but it was steady work, much better money, and with excellent musicians. It’s one of the few real “cover band” gigs I ever had. I was never very good at learning other people’s guitar parts; probably because I usually hated doing it – unless a guitar lick really intrigued me - I wanted to be free to play what the music suggested to me. But poverty has a way of humbling lofty standards.
Why did you think that the Southern Rock and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?
I think it goes back to some form of what I experienced in Muscles Shoals and brought with me from that experience – the listening to fellow musicians, feeling the music, and playing together as a unit. I know that’s probably ultimately more or less the goal of any musical group, but for some reason, Southern bands just seem to do it better. Now, my wife, who is, when she is in my world, Raven Taylor, lyricist, is also, in her world, Dr. Donna Taylor, an educator who was a professor at a leading research university. She has a very interesting theory that the cadence of the speech of Southerners carries over to their “feel” and sense of timing in music. She thinks, in fact, that this cadence, which manifests as the specific “drawl” of Southerners who hail from the same area or closely liken in speech to the Swampers from Muscle Shoals, informs the cadence of the sense of time, the sense of how to address each other musically, how to “fit” with each other. There is also the genteel culture of the South that our mamas try to instill in us. I think about all the amazing musicians I have worked with over the years in Atlanta, and how many, I learn later, hail from North Alabama! Coincidence? Whatever it is, the magic these bands create is not to be denied, and you don’t have to be Southerner to pick up on it! I am so thrilled to see the legacy carried on by new artists like Jason Isbell and a few others! I hear all the Muscle Shoals musician magic in what they are doing!
What's been your experience from the beginning at 60s with The K-Otics and The Life?
The K-Otics were a just slightly refined garage band who filled a great void in bands who were out playing all the teen centers in middle and southern Alabama. The only radio station anybody listened to was WBAM in Montgomery Alabama, a 50,000 watt station that covered middle and south Alabama totally! The K-Otics had number one records for many weeks on that station for several years. Number one over the Beatles, the Beachboys, over anybody! That’s all those millions of listeners knew. So long as we stayed inside WBAM “The BIG BAM” territory, we were as big as it gets. One mile further, and we were nothing. Hard to understand in today’s “One Tweet changes the world” times!
The next band I was in, The Life, was less known but in some ways was a little more creative musically, because it had Walt Stewart. Walt was one of the most intense people I ever knew. He was a sweet and loving man, but when something disturbed him, it seemed to disturb him on levels that I didn’t even possess. He was a great singer, great bassist, guitarist, but he was really a great writer. There was a well known and beloved Southern band called The Bushmen that he played with, albeit not the original Bushmen, but the last gasp of the band before it dissolved completely. Walt and the drummer, Woody Woodall, were based out of Auburn Alabama and soon teamed up with some great Auburn players. I was in Tuskegee, Alabama, just after the K-Otics broke up, and drove the 19 miles to join them. We were called The Hungry I. I had some connections with Willy Mitchell at High Records in Memphis, so we went there to record. Willy hated our name but loved one of Walt’s songs, “Snakebite”. So we changed our name to The Life. Nothing came of the record, the band broke up, and we all lost touch with each other. Some years later, sadly, I heard that Walt had committed suicide.
What’s the best jam you ever played in?
I hadn't really considered until now, but twice in the past year I have done gigs with the world renowned Hammond B3 Organ man Ike Stubblefield. Ike is one of the few old school B3 players who still kick bass pedals, so there is no bass player, just Ike, me, and a drummer. The first gig was in Asheville North Carolina, and also featured Francine Reed on vocals. I suspect that is probably how I got the gig – I had played with Fran for most of the past 20 years and written many of her original songs, so I could easily lead us through the show! But the trio also had time to stretch out and jam before bringing Francine out, and Yonrico Scott was on drums. Yonrico and I are friends and have played and recorded together many times, so were totally comfortable together, and he set the tone immediately that this was go-for-broke-take-no-prisoners jamming! We had a ball! I happened to remember that I had my little stereo digital recorder in my gig bag, so I turned it on and laid it in a potted plant on the side of the stage and actually captured some of this amazing night.
But as good as that was, Ike called me again a few months later to play at a Blues club in downtown Atlanta with him and a drummer he was bringing over from Athens, whose name unfortunately escapes me now, but he was excellent! But after a couple of nice little standard Blues jams, Ike got up from his organ and came to my side of the stage and whispered to me, “This is not a Francine set, there are no 8 bar solos here. This is about being a teenager again and playing your heart out until you can't play anymore. I'll call a tune and set it up, but it's free to go anywhere in the universe after that!” The rest of the night was as much fun and as memorable a creative playing experience as I have ever had. Of all the nights I wish I had bothered to record, this probably ranks at the top for a missed opportunity.
What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Several come to mind. With Mose Jones, one would be the 1978 Champaign Jam at Grant Field in Atlanta, which had over 62,000 people in attendance, and was the first date of our tour behind the Blackbird album, and the first gig where we had our tour bus. I also remember a great show in Dallas when we were opening for Sea Level. It was so good to see our old friends after being out on the road so long, and play a good set for them, then get to listen to them play a great set in that gorgeous arena.
A sort of footnote to inject here: (Mose Jones broke up around 1980, but the members reunited in Out A Hand and played together in bars and rock clubs in the southeastern US for nearly ten years, then went our separate ways. Then drummer Bryan Cole, keyboardist Steve McRay, who was also now playing keyboard bass, Michael Bastedo on sax, and me, became Java Monkey and played together for over twenty more years, both as session players and as a bar band. Francine Reed moved to Atlanta and came to our gig and sat in with us her first week in town. I hired her to do a demo of a song my wife and I wrote, she loved the song, and Bryan, who was a producer for Ichiban Records, used it to get her a record deal with Capitol, and we became her band, both for studio and for tours, for the next 18 or so years.)
One of the best live gig experiences I ever had was with Java Monkey backing Francine Reed at The Atlanta Midtown Music Festival. I am not sure if this was the first ever Midtown Festival, but it was certainly an early one. (I think we probably played more than a dozen Midtowns with Francine – more than any other single artist in the show's history.) We had a good friend who had agreed to do our stage monitor mix, but he had not shown up, so we just let the sound company provide a monitor man. To this day, I believe that was the best on stage sound and mix I ever heard or played inside! My guitar did absolutely everything I wanted it to do, every instrument was as perfect as if I had been wearing headphones, Francine was performing songs my wife Raven and I had written, and the sea of happy people in front of us went all the way back to the horizon! As far as a perfect performance, that came pretty close!
Are there any memories from Francine Reed, and other Ichiban Records artists you’d like to share with us?
Francine was hired by IBM to do ten shows at the Atlanta Olympics. They put up a huge tent on the top floor of the parking deck at the swanky Ritz Carlton Hotel in Buckhead, an area of Atlanta. Busses would bring IBM's guests to the Ritz, they's eat in the banquet hall, then come out to the air conditioned tent that was decorated like a New Orleans Blues club, but nearly the size of a football field, for desserts, like crème broulee, bread pudding etc. We shared the bill with the League Of Decency, a ten piece Blues and Honky Tonk horn band. The hotel created a huge “green room” for the two bands to share, with a long banquet table laden with huge platters of every imaginable deli sandwich ingredient, breads, condiments, and side dishes. Each band did their best, but by the end of the first night it was obvious there would be a huge amount of food left over. Francine asked the attendants what would become of all that food, and they told her it had to be thrown out. “Oh no, no, no, no!” she said, reaching into her big canvass tote bag and producing a handful of Ziplock bags. “Come here, all y'all, both bands! Anything that can go in a sandwich, put it in a baggie!” So everyone pitched in and loaded up Fran's tote bag. The next morning she was up at 5 AM making sandwiches. She loaded them on her rolling cart and walked five or six blocks to Piedmont Park, where homeless people are known to spend the night. She handed out sandwiches to thankful hungry people. She repeated the scenario ever night of the ten shows, but said she had to always find a different location to hand them out or there would be too many people gathered expectantly. This was far from her first experience making it her personal business to feed people in need.
Francine is known for her fabulous Soul Food. She catered many of her own recording sessions. I also remember once when Keb Mo played a concert in Atlanta, and in the middle of the afternoon sound check, Keb was onstage and looked toward the rear of the auditorium to see Francine coming with her famous two wheel rolling cart with a huge pot of collard greens and a big stack of cornbread. Keb said “Francine Reed!! Is them collards?” She waved affirmatively and Keb looked over at the sound guy and said “I think that sounds fine – we done!” Keb had opened many tours for Lyle Lovett with Francine along as part of Lyle Lovett's Large Band, and was quite fond of Francine's collards.
When we toured in Europe with Francine, we were always treated like royalty and fed rich fancy food. It almost seemed like each promoter and each new town would try to out-do the last! As wonderful as it was, it could just get to be too much. Once in a while Francine could just sense that it was time, and would always have one suitcase with pots and pans and seasonings, so that with a little local shopping she could make us a real Southern home cooked meal. I remember being in some town in Switzerland, way up in the alps, missing my wife and home, and Francine surprising the band with one of those meals on a Sunday afternoon, our only day off before climbing back on the bus. Those are all very special memories.
What do you learn about yourself from the Blues and what does the Blues mean to you?
Again, it's back to simplicity and honesty. If you are not “feeling it” and try to fake it, playing some kind of fancy rock or jazz runs, if you hear a recording later or see a video, no matter how well you pulled it off, you know whether it was the real deal or phony baloney. Usually, if you shut up and listen, it will come and you will have something worthwhile to say. But if you start bluffing with bullshit, you might not get to hear it.
What do you miss most nowadays from the 70s?
Well, for me personally, I miss the bands, the camaraderie, the creating of music as a combined single unit. That's just because the economy, economic situations, the “music business” being in such an odd state right now, particularly for me, that the band thing hasn't been viable for me for a while. I am 67 years old. That limits my “marketability” to some degree. Francine is only a year younger than me and is certainly feeling it to some degree I expect. Those great gigs we did with her for all those years sort of dried up. She is doing fine, still tours with Lyle, still does an amazing show out on the west coast for a couple of months called Teatro Zinzanni that she says is like Cirque du Soliel meets theater in the round in a Blues club on acid! But other than that, she works around Atlanta in a duo with a piano player or with his trio. My friend Judy Browne was lead singer for a great band called The Mustangs. She sang lots of demos for my wife and me over the years, and a couple of years ago she was at our studio. We were both discussing how neither of us were working nearly enough. I pointed to the track we had just recorded, where I had played drums, bass, rhythm and lead guitars and a bit of keyboards, and she had added lead and backing vocals. I said, “I can pull your vocal and my guitar off that track, and there's our band. Want to give it a shot?” She agreed to try, and we became Browne And Taylor. We do contemporary Blues and a few covers, lots of originals, I do lots of original instrumentals, I play everything on the tracks so I keep working with them just like a producer until I am happy with what I hear, so that when we play, I can listen to the track and be inspired. Otherwise, it's back to the drawing board until it works for me or I couldn't stand to do it.
We did a CD last year called The Browne And Taylor Project, available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, etc. It's mostly originals, a couple of old Etta James classics and a couple of cool songs by writers we like. It sounds really good, and we are sort of hoping that will somehow lead to us being able to afford to put together a band to get out and play some, but we already know how hard that is to support. For now we are grateful to be able to work three or four nights a week at nice places with great food for good money and just get back on our feet from a couple of rough years. I had some health issues – hernia surgery, then surgery for a torn meniscus in my knee, but I am getting back in good shape, so I think I can handle whatever good opportunities happen to come my way. Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing, keep playing, keep listening!
What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?
Well I hope the trends of musicians being more and more able to control their own destinies continues in a positive way. Record companies were never our friends, not really. Some were worse than others, but few were really pro- artist. Now that affordable recording technology and the Internet and other factors are leveling that playing field, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Of course, piracy is a game changer, but so is the idea of giving music away to gain fans to grow a real and supportive fan base. I don't have the answer. I hope for the best but none of it really scares me anymore. Photo: Marvin and his wife Raven
Which memory from Boz Skaggs, Doobie Brothers, Santana, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Wet Willie makes you smile?
I think about being backstage at the Champaign Jam in 1978 and seeing Skunk Baxter of the Doobie Brothers throwing my little boy Shawn up in the air and catching him. They were both laughing and it was a great thing to focus on to keep from being nervous, getting ready to play in front of 62,000 people.
Are there any memories from Charlie Daniels, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Leslie West, and Marshall Tucker?
Most of my memories of Atlanta Rhythm Section were just from hanging out together. Ronnie Hammond lived two doors down from me in our apartment complex, so we just hung out. Dean Daughtry lived in the same complex. Robert Nix and Dean Daughtry used to come to Mose Jones gigs and mess with us, playing around, trying to distract us. Even our road crews were buddies. I used to go camping on one of the ARS roadie's land up in the North Georgia mountains.
When Mose Jones was staying in the cabin at Lake Lanier writing the album that was never released (that Steve and I are trying to release now as Lost And Found), we'd ride around in Buddy’s new Ranger bass boat and see the guys from Lynyrd Skynyrd fishing from the banks. We had the cool boat with the fish finder radar and bait boxes and they’d be catching all the fish because they were the real fishermen!
The guys in Skynyrd would get really rowdy over pool games in the lobby of Studio One and me and Ronnie and others would be upstairs playing around with writing ideas. They’d sound like they were really about to get in a serious fist fight and Ronnie would open the door and shout down to them “Hey shut up down there, you goddamn rednecks!” and you’d hear laughter and the sound of a pool game starting back up.
The original Mose Jones with Jimmy O’Neill on guitar recorded two album for MCA with Al Kooper as their producer. Al was also producing Lynyrd Skynyrd. The two bands were very good friends and were thrown together a lot by the business, but the guys all hung out and partied together as well. Years later when I was in the band, I remember being in a van traveling with Randy and Steve, and I think Bryan as well, when we heard about the plane crash. We were all devastated, but Randy and Bryan and Steve never got over it.
Marvin Taylor jammin on stage with Steve Cropper for a charity benefit
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Southern Rock and 60s pop music?
I believe American Blues is at the heart of all good Rock and Roll music, and I don’t think that’s very difficult to trace. But I can tell you that this week I fell in love with the new Tedeschi Trucks Band album, “Made Up Mind”. If ever there was a record that joined seamlessly the best things about Blues, Soul and Southern Rock, it is this album! Susan Tedeschi is on par with Aretha Franklin and Bonnie Raitt at their finest, yet very much her own woman. Derek Trucks spans time, covering the coolness of Muscle Shoals and Memphis guitar licks, to grooves reminiscent of classic rock albums, yet totally true to Derek Trucks! I pre-ordered the album digitally, so have not had a chance to review the credits to see who did the writing, but this to me is the perfect marriage of everything that has ever been important to me in music. Between this and Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit’s “Live in Alabama” CD, I’m all set for inspiration for a while!
You are also known of your work at Muscle Shoals, Memphis, Nashville, and Atlanta. From the musical point of view what are the differences between the local scenes in USA?
I’d hate to comment on that since I have been in Atlanta almost exclusively now since 1970. Most of my knowledge for comparison is based on hearsay. I have friends who are thriving in Nashville and think I should move there to open a project studio, saying that their overflow work would keep me booked solid. I have other friends who moved there only to find it too competitive. It’s probably all about whom you work with, who you know, and how you present yourself. I settled in Atlanta hoping it would be a real recording Mecca, like the new Nashville, or the new New York, back in the seventies. It just never quite materialized. It seems like great things came here, then left again! But I always found a reason to stick it out. Of course now Atlanta is huge in the Urban and RAP music genres, but that’s not my forte. With the Internet confusing the issue, offering incredible possibilities, but nothing totally worked out quite yet, it seems like one place is as good as another.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine for the next 24 hours, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I guess I’d probably go back to that show in Dallas when we opened for Sea Level. I hope I chose well. There were so many amazing shows, but most were, so let’s take that one, just because it was a nice arena. I could choose El Paso – a huge open rodeo place, but where we were reunited with our friend Sid, who was stationed there in the Army. Sid now does all my mastering and post production work. He’s the best! I’d just like to experience playing in Mose Jones again on that tour when we were absolutely at our peak, when all we knew day to day was playing music together. When we were ready to go out on tour, our friend Chuck Fowler, who was the Lighting Director for the Isley Brothers, took a hiatus from them to do lights for us. He was killed a few years ago in a car accident. He was there in Dallas and the lights were fabulous. I got chill bumps hearing Randy singing Blackbird, and looking across the stage, he and Steve would smile back at me. We were having fun. Chris usually had his eyes closed on drums, but if he looked up, he smiled too. We had David Kelly doing sound for us. David was the sound man at The Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta, and one of the finest live engineers in the business. When he found out Chuck was going, he said, “Hey, I need a change. I love this band. I’m in!” It never failed that if we played a big show on a two bit club system or a huge Showco rig or whatever, one of their people would marvel at his mixing chops. Chuck would deal with whatever lights there were – if it was three Pars on a Rock And Roll bar stage, he’d somehow make it look good, but he could wear a headset and command an entire arena and they’d all compliment his abilities. And David would make the monitors AND the mains nothing short of perfect. Why wouldn’t we smile? After the gig, Chuck and David by themselves would load out all our equipment into our Ryder truck, often needing to head out to the next gig and take turns sleeping while the other drove. We all worked as hard as we could and loved every second of it, and even had the good sense to appreciate it in the moment, while it was going on. So to go back and snag 24 hours of that would be amazing. And Dallas was probably a good 24 hours!
What is the best advice ever given you?
The best advice I ever got - it was from my dad - he said "If it looks like too much candy for a dime, don't buy it." I wrote a song about that line. It's on the Cole/Taylor CD "Mercy Road" that I did with Bryan Cole. He was the original drummer for Mose Jones and was a producer for Ichiban Records, and also in charge of their licensing department. He produced all of Francine Reed's CDs, plus many other Ichiban works. He had a serious heart condition and couldn't play anymore, so he and I teamed up to write songs together. We decided to do this CD together. It is the only CD in history on which either of us ever sang lead vocals. He passed away soon after that, so I was so happy we got this done! He was a fine man, a great drummer, great producer, and, as it turned out, not a half bad singer - he did a hell of a lot better job that I did!
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