Q&A with Kentucky-based veteran musician and songwriter Charlie Taylor, American Roots music outside the box

"Music that is well conceived should transport people from their daily routine for three minutes. It should make them remember a feeling, a time in their lives. Good music be it from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s etc. should create trends like Big Bands, Doo Wop, The Disco era, Jazz, Be Bop, Rockabilly, it should make people want to gather and listen."

Charlie Taylor: Same River Twice

Veteran singer, songwriter Charlie Taylor was born in Abilene, Texas in 1943 and raised in Western Kentucky (Mayfield) and Westport, CT throughout the early 50's and 60's. As a youngster Taylor absorbed the Grand Ole Opry live in the late 1940's while soaking up the blues in the 1950's from Nashville, Chicago, St Louis and Memphis every evening on his short-wave radio. Taylor's mother was a gifted piano player and turned Charlie on to the Nat King Cole Trio, jazz and the Big Bands before he had even entered elementary school. In the late 1950's Taylor moved to Westport, CT where he met Barry Tashian (later of Boston's The Remains) and a young fellow Westport Downshifter Michael Douglas (Oscar winning Actor/ Producer). Charlie also met a young Don Law, Jr. later to become one of the most successful concert promoters in the world. Mike Borchetta ace record promoter (Capitol, Curb Records) was also a classmate of Charlie's at Staples High School. Charlie joined The Westport Downshifters and immersed himself in the hot rod culture of the late 50's. Starting in 1961 Taylor spent four years in Lexington, KY at Transylvania University where he toured locally with Little Hilton and the Artesians playing frat parties, sock hops, local radio shows and learning from other bands such as the legendary Monarchs, The Sultans, Cosmo and the Counts and Little Enis and the Table Toppers.                                               (Charlie Taylor / Photo by Steve Green)

After brief stints in Greenwich Village, Georgetown-Washington, DC, San Angelo, TX (where he met and was mentored by Buddy Holly's manager Hi Pockets Ducan) Dallas and Houston, TX Charlie moved to California in August of 1970. Taylor made his home in Nashville for the past three decades and is busy collaborating with many different writers including Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, George Ducas, Jeff Silbar (Wind Beneath My Wings), Andreas Werner and Barry Tashian. His fourth album “Same River Twice” (2020) features the backing of the Funky Chester Rhythm Section of bassist Paul Ossola (Levon Helm, Saturday Night Live Band), drummer Lynn Williams (The Wallflowers, Delbert McClinton), Mark Narmore on keys and Andreas Werner on guitar who also produced the release and co-wrote all songs. The world renowned Muscle Shoals Horns are featured on several tracks and Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood guests on one track. The album was recorded at the Creative Workshop in Nashville and the NuttHouse in Muscle Shoals.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the American Roots Music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I connected with music through my mother’s love of Big Bands. Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole Trio, the Mills Bros., the Dorsey Brothers. That was the beginning, then the hometown radio station in Mayfield KY WNGO played Stone Country music all day. Hank Williams, Cowboy Copas, Bob Wills, etc. Dad bought a WWII surplus Hallicrafters shortwave radio and I began to twist the dial at night after the local am stations went off the air. I picked up Stations in Nashville, St Louis, Memphis, New Orleans at night on the skip. A lot of Blues, R&B and Soul and black gospel music which took me to another planet as a young boy, 6,7,8,9 years old and I was hooked.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Creatively I’ve tried to think outside the box. I like irony in my titles like “Ain’t no right way to do the wrong thing”… I wrote in a lot of different styles. I study songs from the 40’s and 50’s. Al Kasha was a big influence on me in LA, as has been Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Jeff Silbar. I try to look at songs as advice to people or encouragement as we battle the human condition. Our song “Let Love Begin With Me” is an anthem that applies to the Ukrainian situation. As Dan says “you’ve gotta get down to the bone” when you write. Distill emotional things to the basics. The music and lyrics must marry! Porosity!                                                           (Charlie Taylor / Photo by Steve Green)

"Artists are trying to develop hybrids of Blues and Bluegrass. Here in Lexington, there are some real authentic R&B artists playing in clubs. Black performers who get it! It’s a bit of a melting pot. Eastern Kentucky with Sturgill Simpson etc. are as authentic as it gets. You can’t duplicate that somewhere else. If you didn’t grow up in those mountain traditions like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn or Ralph Stanley or Bill Monroe, then you can’t replicate that in California or North Dakota!"

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Hi Pockets Duncan told me I needed to go to LA. As Buddy Hollys manager I took his advice seriously! Al Kasha told me to get to the Hook, repeat it and write a Bridge that sums up the whole message of the song. Dan Penn led me by putting emotion, combined with spare lyrics that got down to the Bone, that made you believe, thus the Audience believe, what you were singing about.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Memories from the Sundance Saloon in Calabasas, CA where current and past members of the Byrds, Flying Burrito Bros, Animals and studio musicians gathered to back up singer songwriters like me and to play late into the early hours of the morning. Friends/mentors like Andy Summers, Hilton Valentine, Kevin Kelley, Buddy Emmons, Spooner, Bill Plumber, and others. Studio sessions at Amigo Studios, ABC Dunhill, Warner Bros. and Kendun Recorders where I met Billy Preston (we wrote two songs together which have never been recorded). Our band house and home studios we built to rehearse and record demos in Studio City and 4450 Colbath Ave in Sherman Oaks. Later in Atlanta at Studio One in Doraville and in Nashville at Almo Irving, Buzz Cason’s Creative Workshop and Dan Penn’s legendary analog studio recording with members of the Memphis Boys, Rick Vito, Jimmy Griffin, Barry Tashian, Spooner etc.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Real Country music I knew is dead! It’s KISS with fireworks Fiddles and steel guitars! Window dressing! Five writers to come up with a bland, dumb song that’s Hick Hop! Record companies are run by lawyers and accountants and not Song men. They chase trends instead of make trends. Guys I knew like Sam Phillips, David Conrad, Fred Foster at Monument, Chet Atkins, Buddy Killen etc. all shaped the music business in Nashville. All song men with ears for the next hit or music trend. Streaming has killed income for content providers and so Dylan, Neil Young etc. are cashing out. Vinyl is back! What we put in the grooves will tell the future! Hip Hop is well A Tonal and doesn’t pass for talent in most cases. Talking over a beat! What’s musical about that??? 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Get rid of streaming services! Highway robbery!

"I connected with music through my mother’s love of Big Bands. Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole Trio, the Mills Bros., the Dorsey Brothers. That was the beginning, then the hometown radio station in Mayfield KY WNGO played Stone Country music all day. Hank Williams, Cowboy Copas, Bob Wills, etc. Dad bought a WWII surplus Hallicrafters shortwave radio and I began to twist the dial at night after the local am stations went off the air." (Charlie Taylor / Photo by Steve Green)

What would you say characterizes Kentucky Blues, R&B, Roots scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Artists are trying to develop hybrids of Blues and Bluegrass. Here in Lexington, there are some real authentic R&B artists playing in clubs. Black performers who get it! It’s a bit of a melting pot. Eastern Kentucky with Sturgill Simpson etc. are as authentic as it gets. You can’t duplicate that somewhere else. If you didn’t grow up in those mountain traditions like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn or Ralph Stanley or Bill Monroe, then you can’t replicate that in California or North Dakota!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Own your own publishing! Co-write with people who are better than you are and learn from them. Be humble! Thank studio musicians and treat them very well! Encourage them to contribute their ideas on a session. Value their opinions.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Music that is well conceived should transport people from their daily routine for three minutes. It should make them remember a feeling, a time in their lives. Good music be it from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s etc. should create trends like Big Bands, Doo Wop, The Disco era, Jazz, Be Bop, Rockabilly, it should make people want to gather and listen. Carl Perkins was a friend and he told me that “feel” had everything to do with music. People have to feel the music. It has to evoke a feeling in someone! Wake them up on some level. Sam Phillips told me one night that when he heard Elvis, Bill and Scotty playing around with “That’s Alright Mama” he’d found the IT he’d been looking for! A white boy channeling black music… the rest is History!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

July 5, 1954, Sun Records. The day it all began in Memphis! I gave Sam an award one night in Memphis and it simply said “You Heard It First!”

(Charlie Taylor / Photo by Steve Green)

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