Q&A with West Side Chicago bluesman Larry Hill Taylor, the oldest son of the master guitarist Eddie “Playboy” Taylor

"The Blues is the way of life for my people. It describes all the suffering we've been going through."

Larry Taylor: A Great Generation of Blues

The Taylor family stands treetop tall as a fully-fledged and remarkably enduring Chicago Blues dynasty. That’s never been more apparent than with the release of Larry Taylor and the Taylor Family: Generations of Blues on Nola Blue Records. In 2015, vocalist and drummer Larry Taylor assembled his brothers and sisters at Chicago’s Joyride Studios to pay loving tribute to their late father, Eddie Taylor, Sr., and the West Side blues tradition that so deeply influenced all of them. Its set list combines fresh and invigorating versions of their dad’s classic blues compositions and newly created themes illustrating the Taylor family’s unshakable dedication to the idiom. In addition, the collection now pays tribute to the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth in 1923. Larry Hill Taylor is the oldest son of the master guitarist Eddie “Playboy” Taylor—VeeJay recording artist, Jimmy Reed’s music partner, the guy who laid down the boogie and “lump” rhythms that power Chicago’s world-famous blues music. Born in Chicago in 1955, Larry grew up in a Mississippi-born family of musicians including his mother, singer/piano player Vera Taylor.                    (Larry Taylor / Photo by Brenda Ladd)

Larry Taylor performed and recorded with his father and other icons of Chicago blues and soul including John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Honeyboy Edwards, Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, Eddie Shaw, Hubert Sumlin, Albert Collins, Albert King, Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Taylor, Otis Clay, Artie Blues Boy White, and many more. He was chosen for the 1977 New Legends of Chicago Blues tour of Germany by Jim O’Neal of Living Blues Magazine and Chess producer Willie Dixon, along with other young bluesmen who rank with him as today’s masters, such as Billy Branch, Johnny B. Moore and Lurrie Bell. The Taylor legacy now extends to a third generation as Larry’s teenaged son, rapper Liljet2x, brings his contemporary sensibilities to the equation. There’s just no end to this family’s talent, as Larry Taylor and the Taylor Family: Generations of Blues so powerfully illustrates.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

The Blues is the way of life for my people. It describes all the suffering we've been going through.

I AM the blues. That's what Willie Dixon would say. I say it because my mother Vera Hill and my dad Eddie Taylor were part of that postwar blues generation that brought the music from the cottonfields of Mississippi to cities like Chicago. They played on Maxwell Street and lived their whole lives on the West and South Side. Blues was their life every day. Black people are still mistreated by the system in place today. So, our life is still the blues. Every song tells a story, with a feeling, and it ends up being a human thing that all people can relate to.

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

It comes from the blues elders I knew and played with--like Howlin' Wolf who came to visit my parents when I was a kid; Wolf's drummers who were my mentors, like Cassell Burrow, S.P. Leary, Winehead Willie Williams. I also played drums with John Lee Hooker, Otis Clay, Honeyboy Edwards, Junior Wells, A.C. Reed, Eddie Shaw, Hubert Sumlin, many more.

"Inspiration involves both. And discipline. Blues is important because it's the way of life." (Taylor Family at Antones, TX. Demetria, Tim, Edna, Milton, Brenda, and Larry Taylor/ Photo by Brenda Ladd)

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

On May 4, 2023, when I walked into Joyride Studio at Chicago Avenue and Sacramento, not far from where I live on the West Side, I really didn't know what would happen. Along with three guys from my band, I was going to play behind my son's rap song. We were kind of forced into creating our own music because of copyright issues with the backing track he wanted to use. My son Abdullah, known as Liljet 2x, had written a positive rap called "No Shine" about his life growing up in the hood. The song is like a memorial of his mother Janice Myles, who died 10 years ago. We all still hurt from that. His brother Pierre was shot dead last year. Before that, his sister TooSweet died suddenly. You just don't get over these things. Same with how I miss many of my musical friends who have passed away. I worry that the real blues won't be around after I'm gone, unless people make a serious effort to get it back. When my son wrote, "it's a dark, dark place that I'm from," I felt that.

Our music being from different generations, I had no idea how to put it together.  Being a drummer, I know rhythms well, but I couldn't hear in my head how my son's rap rhythm was going to fit with a blues riff. Dullah, who's 23 and now taller than I am, walked into the studio and greeted everyone with confidence. The studio engineer, Brian Leach, couldn't wait to set up the mics and see how the studio's first-ever live band rap recording would work. At least I had some great West and South Side musicians with me. Abraham, on bass, played with Bobby Rush, Johnny Dollar, and Johnny Christian. We used to play together on the road with Vance Kelly and A.C. Reed. Ice Mike, on guitar, played with Mississippi Heat, Dancin' Perkins, Lacey Gibson, Willie James, Kevin Stover, is a church organist and jazz composer from a whole different world of urban Black music. But he has sons who rap, and he knows how to find the feeling in the blues. After Dullah read us the whole rap poem to get the story and the mood, Barrelhouse Bonni, my partner and co-producer, tried out an A minor riff on the piano. Dullah said he could sing easier in B minor. Abraham tweaked the riff into a funky bass line. I asked Kevin to play some music behind it. He put in a solid organ note. "It's just two chords," he figured out.

I got on the drums, hit the sticks using my backbeat, and off we went. Mike played guitar licks that sounded like Wes Montgomery or George Benson. We nailed the basic tune in about three takes.  Then Brian Leach, the engineer, told us to get around a mic and sing while he made loops out of the chorus led by Dullah: "The sun don't shine where I'm from; It's a dark dark life where I'm from...I'm from the slums." Kevin added the drawn-out response "no shiiiine..., no, no" In less than two hours, we had ourselves a rap/R&B song with a blues flavor to it. I felt so grateful I couldn't stop smiling. The Creator helped our team arrange that song! I know God loves to create things—the birds, the trees, and animals—even the worms, the squirrels and the cats in the neighborhood. God loves when we create something positive that brings people together. I could feel my dad and mom's spirits in the room encouraging me, like I sometimes do with the blues ancestors. I know they would've been proud.

"Blues was their life every day. Black people are still mistreated by the system in place today. So, our life is still the blues.  Every song tells a story, with a feeling, and it ends up being a human thing that all people can relate to." (The late great Eddie "Playboy" Taylor and  his oldest son, Larry Taylor with Willie Black and Illinois Slim, at BLUES, Chicago IL)

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

Playing on stage with Eddie Taylor Sr.'s band.  He advised, "It's not just what you play, but how you do it." And my mother told me, "Stick to what you're doing." So did Honeyboy Edwards and others.

Why do you think that Eddie "Playboy" Taylor music continues to generate such a devoted following?

My dad was a blues icon and one of the best guitar players in the world.  A lot of music was taken from his work.

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

No fears; I’m in the Creator’s hands. Just facts: nearly all the blues elders are gone. Traditional blues musicians are rare today. And there’s not many places where young people get to hear the music. So, I’ve been doing free community concerts where they can have a chance to hear blues and maybe pick it up. A few young people are beginning to follow me on Facebook, and my family. They say we are the Jackson family of the blues.

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

A lot of things don't go according to your plan. So, I will go with the flow.

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues?

Inspiration involves both. And discipline. Blues is important because it's the way of life.

Larry Taylor - Home

(Photo: Larry Taylor)

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