Decoding Otis Taylor
By Stacy Jeffress
This story originally appeared in BluesWax and is reposted here with permission.
"Some people are Blues interpreters. I'm more like a composer."
Photo by Stacy Moore
Otis Taylor is not one to spoon-feed music to his listeners. You have to work at it; your appreciation for his roots-based, jazz-infused, African call-and-response brand of trance Blues is going to come only after some investment of sweat-based equity on your part. He is not about to hand you some twelve-bar, foot-tapping Blues and call it good. And you are largely on your own in deciphering what the minimalist lyrics of his songs mean, but you can be certain that he has a message to deliver.
It follows, then, that Taylor is surely not going to make it easy on an interviewer who admits to being new to, and perhaps a bit wary of, his music, although he did display much good humor, often at his own expense, during our conversation. This is a man who takes great pride in his artistry and cultural contributions but can laugh when his wife Carol teases him for writing what she calls his "huge amount of unfinished songs." Taylor acknowledges that he can be cryptic and that his music is "an acquired taste" defying categorization in the Blues world.
Taylor discussed his latest release, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, as well as his music's appearance on the soundtrack of the recently-released feature film Public Enemies.
Stacy Jeffress for BluesWax: It's a privilege to talk to you. I have to tell you I'm new to your music. I've been listening to the CDs and wanting to learn about your music. Your music is different than what I'm used to. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to ask you about it.
Otis Taylor: Different than what you're used to. What are you used to?
BW: I guess Blues music that's more, maybe superficial. You can learn a lot from your music; it's like you're teaching us about events and history that we didn't know about, such as the Ludlow Massacre ["Your Children Sleep Good Tonight" from 2005 release Below the Fold].
OT: That's a different album.
BW: What elements are present in trance Blues that might not be in other types of Blues music?
OT: Trance music is like voodoo music, the congas. That's trance music. Something with no chord changes. Howlin' Wolf did a lot of trance music, R.L. Burnside.
BW: On the new CD, I was looking at the musicians that appear, and a lot of them have a jazz background. Could you talk a little about how you select the musicians who appear with you?
OT: I saw [pianist] Jason Moran once in Germany, but I didn't pick up on him. Then I saw him in West Virginia playing at a concert - I said, "Whoa, I could do something with that," and I did. I just felt it, you know? Like when you talk about the Ludlow Massacre, you've heard that song ["Your Children Sleep Good Tonight"]?
OT: I had Rayna [Gellert] from [Rounder Records folk group] Uncle Earl play with me. I had a vision for it. I just see people I know. "Hey, I could do something with that, you know?" That's a very unique sound; you don't hear that cello-fiddle combination too much.
BW: And the cornet with Ron Miles was a very interesting element. How did you hook up with Ron?
OT: I met him at a music showcase a long time ago, and I asked him to sit in, and I just kept him in the back of my head, so he's slowly played on more albums and more albums. He said he really wanted to play with Jason, and I said, "Okay, I'll work on it."
BW: Tarus Matean [on bass]?
OT: Tarus and Nasheet Waits [drums] are in Jason's band called The Bandwagon, so I brought out his whole band. Sometimes we had two bass players in one song.
BW: It was interesting that you had Gary Moore on guitar on several tunes. I was reading up on him.
OT: I met him about four years ago in Brighton; he played on Definition of a Circle, too. I had opened for him at Santa Monica at the end of the night. I did a lot of touring with Gary.
BW: I've had the privilege of meeting Cassie [Taylor's daughter who sings and plays bass with her father's band]. She is absolutely delightful, an amazing poised young woman. You obviously did some great work parenting her, you and Mrs. Taylor. I enjoy her when she's hosting the International Blues Challenge.
OT: Yes, she does. That's what I was told.
BW: I enjoy the song about my daddy works for the Pullman Company ["Working for the Pullman Company" on Below the Fold]. It said in the liner notes she sang that when she was little. Did you work for the railroad when she was young?
OT: My father did. I used to do a lot of traveling to Santa Fe in the antique business. So she sat under the piano, and she made up that one little line, then I made up the chorus. At that time I wasn't even playing music anymore, I was retired from music, but I kept that song in my head because it was such a good song ["My daddy's gone to Santa Fe/My momma's taking care of me/He's working for the Pullman Company."]
BW: It's a lovely song, and she has such a nice singing voice. Was she always musically inclined like her dad?
OT: I think so, yeah. I'm not that musically inclined, but she's way better than I am.
BW: You have a lot of devoted fans who would beg to differ with that statement. I was asking [BluesWax Editor Don Wilcock] what it was about your sound that attracted him so much, and he said that you push the boundaries of what music sounds like. Do you think that's an accurate description?
OT: Oh yeah. Artists are supposed to push the envelope, you know. I'm a Blues artist, not a Blues musician. Does that make sense?
BW: Tell me how you distinguish the two.
OT: Some people are Blues interpreters; they interpret the Blues and play like other people. Some people are like composers. I'm more like a composer. Doesn't that make sense?
BW: It does, obviously your compositions are very strong. You have so much to say to your audience. During the years that you were not performing regularly, how did you express that creativity? Were there other outlets?
OT: I think buying antiques and sort of looking for what's going to be ahead of the curve is an art form. I was always buying crazy stuff. It's not the same, but it still is an art form.
BW: What kind of crazy stuff?
OT: Art deco, black photos, bicycles, televisions, art nouveau, paintings, whatever.
BW: You were buying guitars from George Gruhn in the 70s. How did you get hooked into him?
OT: Somebody told me about him. I used to go to Utah, and I used to go to Tennessee to buy guitars.
BW: Were you continuing your musical performance at home?
OT: I basically stopped except for playing my piano, my banjo sometimes. I only played in public once for nineteen years.
BW: What spurred you to go back to the music full time?
OT: I did a benefit for somebody. I had a friend who had a bicycle team; he was the sponsor. He was bankrupt, so I helped him out at his new coffeehouse. He had clothing stores and lost them all, so he opened up a coffeehouse, and we played for him.
BW: How long ago was that?
BW: I saw you perform at the Blues Music Awards. I absolutely loved it. I hadn't seen Anne Harris before on violin, so much energy.
OT: She's a great show, she's very visual. They said we'd be on the big stage, but we were on the side of the big stage. I brought more people because I thought we were going to be on the big stage. She jumps three feet in the air. She does really outrageous things. She needs about five feet by five feet of space, or at least ten by ten feet. She can really break loose.
"I'm a Blues artist, not a Blues musician.Does that make sense?"
BW: Your songs have a lot of depth, and they're not just "my baby done left me" kind of songs. They're very thought provoking.
OT: That's just because people are that smart. They just want to sell records, and I don't care. I make the kind of music that's not really commercial. I just don't care. I'm sure other people can write like that; they just may not be comfortable because they won't sell records. It isn't that they can't do it; they just choose not to do it.
BW: If you're not in it for the commercial reasons, what does it mean to you when you're nominated for the Handy and the Blues Music Awards?
OT: It's a little touchy there; they told me they don't have a category for me. It's really tough. My albums don't get it. I've just lately been nominated for banjo, not for my albums.
BW: White African won as Best New Artist Debut [in 2002].
OT: That was a long time ago.
BW: How do you characterize the difference between that time and now?
OT: That time and now, I think I got two nominations for Truth is Not Fiction  which won Downbeat Blues Album of the Year, Downbeat critics, you know Downbeat magazine? Then I won Downbeat Blues Album of The Year the next year for Double V. Then I was off for a few years. Then I won for Definition of a Circle , and then I won for the banjo album, Recapturing the Banjo . So in the last 10 years, I've won four Downbeat Blues Album of The Year Awards, but I can't get my albums nominated for the Blues [Music Awards] because they don't feel comfortable with what I'm doing. They tend to categorize me.
BW: But then you won this year.
OT: Only for banjo, see. I was nominated last year for banjo and the year before that for banjo, but not for my albums.
BW: Who's the constituency for the Downbeat awards?
OT: The critics.
BW: So that's the difference between critical and commercial success, I guess.
OT: Unfortunately, not commercial. I'm not a crybaby, I'm just saying there's a disconnect. Jay [Sieleman of the Blues Foundation] told me he has no category for me, he's very honest about it. What can you do? It doesn't stop me. I just don't have a category. I'm a man without a country.
BW: But you're a man whose music is on a major movie soundtrack [Public Enemies].
OT: Yeah, Michael Mann's a big fan, he gets it.
BW: Had your music been used before on soundtracks?
OT: Yes. There was a movie called The Shooter with Mark Wahlberg, sharpshooter Danny Glover. There was a movie called The Badge with Billy Bob Thornton. I scored a documentary called Purvis of Overtown [about contemporary Miami urban painter Purvis Young, 2006]. They put my music on American Idol, Crossing Jordan.
BW: I didn't realize you had that wide of exposure.
OT: Hollywood's been very very good to me.
BW: What's important for folks to know about the new release, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs?
OT: I don't know. What's important is what they can possibly discover. You want to keep everything a surprise, don't you? Maybe for them to hear sounds they've never heard before if they're not familiar with me. It's hard to say what's important. What's important is that I do this interview. That's almost like a legal comment, "Your Honor, what is important? He's dead, is it important that he had a heart attack or is it important that this woman stabbed him fifteen times? He's dead, Your Honor, he's still dead." What's important is what's important to the person who listens to it.
BW: I enjoy the summaries of the songs that you include.
OT: I do that because I never could understand people singing songs. My wife says I write in a very cryptic way.
BW: I'd agree with your wife.
OT: She says I write this huge amount of unfinished songs. I don't agree with that part, but that's what she thinks. I write conceptually. I just try to get the point across. The words don't matter as much as the point.
BW: I'm grateful for the synopses. That helps me understand what the point is.
OT: It's like a decoder ring.
BW: Exactly! I just said that to my boss today, this synopsis is like a decoder ring for an Otis song.
OT: They'll find my records, and they won't have [the synopsis], and they'll have to get Egyptian cryptology people to figure out what I'm saying.
BW: Honestly like on "Sunday Morning" which I love listening to because Cassie's singing is so great, but I was like, okay, what the hell is that song about? And then I read [the synopsis], and I said, "Oh, okay. I hear her singing about the cat on the bed."
OT: "And I kindly said move aside, move aside/Sunday morning will return." I thought that was an easy one, actually.
BW: Well, see, I am challenged in my Otis decoding.
OT: It takes awhile. I wrote that song in 1972. I thought that was one of my easier songs. I mean like "Mama's Got a Friend" and we tell people she's our sister, that's a little cryptic. You have to know what's going on.
BW: That's based on a true story on your mom?
BW: Is your mother still alive?
OT: No. I wouldn't have written it while she was still alive. I'm not that spaced. I just gotta wait for everybody to die so then I can write songs. I write those so my kids won't have any skeletons in their closet where they can be blackmailed.
BW: Get it all out in the open.
OT: Yeah, it's better for them.
BW: On "Lost My Guitar," it says the man is mourning not so much for the guitar as for the child. Is the guitar the metaphor for the child?
BW: That's one a heartbreaker.
OT: It's a true story.
BW: Who was Emma K. Walsh?
OT: That was Joe Walsh's daughter. There's a fountain - they gave money to the park to name a fountain in North Boulder, a plaque with her name on it. I knew Stephanie; I was friends with his ex-wife. It's a love song, love for his guitar, love for his daughter. It's about separation, too. You get divorced, your life changes, the sort of things maybe you missed, the relationship with this child. He goes and sits by the grassy bank maybe he will remember. I guess it is a little cryptic.
BW: When your wife says it's cryptic, I'd have to go with that.
OT: I like cryptic. But you get the point that somebody's really mourning something, right?
BW: There's no doubt that he's mourning.
OT: When you think about it more, it must not be a guitar 'cause it's too mournful for a guitar. I'm not trying to get deep here 'cause my wife says I'm not very deep.
BW: You have all these serious, serious songs, and then I saw on YouTube a clip of you at the Chicago Blues Festival last year.
OT: I don't put on a sad show, I just write sad albums. There's a difference. People who see me live - I'm not there to depress anybody.
BW: Where you're playing the harp walking through the crowd that is a joyous thing.
OT: But people don't understand. Ask somebody who sees my concerts, do you think those two songs were sad that I did [at the BMAs]? I don't do sad onstage.
BW: The first time I saw you was at the Acoustic Blues Fest in Kansas City a couple of years ago. You were solo. I didn't understand anything at all at that point. I had friends who had seen you, and they just raved about you. And honestly, I didn't get it. What I recall about that, it was that it was rather serious. And then at the BMAs it was anything but, it was just a celebration. It was so much fun. And then that hambone thing at Chicago Blues Fest, that was so much fun, too.
OT: Well you'll see the hambone thing at Monterey. I don't know. You have to find someone who's seen my show with the bands. It's not like that. I'm not trying to make anybody depressed. What can I say? You'll have to go on YouTube and see more of my sets. Get a better perspective. I don't want anybody depressed. I remember getting depressed going to see Midnight Cowboy.
BW: That's the movie to do it to you.
OT: I was depressed for a week.
BW: Ratso Rizzo.
OT: I was him. When I'm backstage at big fancy shows and the rider, all the food, and fancy Swiss chocolates I get. I put that in my bag, I take it home, that's my food. If I could figure out how to put shrimp in my pocket, I would. I can't get over being a poor kid. I was right with him. I would have done that for sure. Put that raw shrimp in his pocket. That was me. When we go backstage, the band knows I have to go through the back room and decide what I'm gonna take, and they can have what's left. I might go back and put two pounds of chocolate after we've toured Europe. Europeans love to give me chocolate. Drives the kids crazy, it's like trick or treating.
BW: There's some of the songs that I connect with better than others, and I'm sure it's my failing more than anything.
OT: Then that's what you should write about it. There's always something to write about. There's always a story inside of a story.
Stacey Jeffress for BluesWax: I asked one of my friends about what he found appealing about your music. It was that you didn't just say, "My baby done left me"; there is content there.
Otis Taylor: You have to understand the culture of America. In the 1930s you couldn't say anything but "My baby done left me" or you'd get lynched. You have to get it in perspective. I can say things that people couldn't say in the '30s. I can sing about a little black boy and a little white girl having a little romance. You couldn't sing that in the 30s, you'd be lynched. Once when we went to Memphis at the Folk Alliance and I played "St. Martha Blues," I was a little nervous playing that song down south.
BW: How were you received?
OT: I was received okay, but I was definitely nervous about it. My first time down south and here I am singing about a lynching. What can I say? I think there are two reasons that I can sing about things that other people couldn't. I sing about things that are not commercial but are interesting. I like interesting stories. I just like a story to be interesting. Did you get an album called Truth is Not Fiction?
BW: Yeah, I've got that.
OT: Listen to "House of the Crosses." I think it's one of the best songs I ever wrote. It visually puts you right there in Russia. I think it's one of the best songs I ever wrote storytelling wise. Some people think "My Soul's in Louisiana" is the best all-around song I ever wrote or maybe "Just Live your Life" [from Respect the Dead]. I really like "House of Crosses" as a visual journey. I don't tell people what to think of my songs, I don't judge anybody. I'm not being political; social political, but not political. I don't tell what anybody what to think.
BW: Is that what politics is? Telling people what to think?
OT: I'm not like Joan Baez or Bob Dylan.
BW: But see that's who I think of is Bob Dylan, the groundbreaker, the one who tells us the news we don't want to hear so much.
OT: I'm the opposite of Bob Dylan - I have no words. I'm the opposite of Bob Dylan or Ani DiFranco. I use very few words to explain myself. Bob Dylan tends to preach more about freedom and do this and do that. I don't do that. I don't want to tell people what to think. I'm not a perfect human being. I'm like an audio newspaper. I sort of give you the news.
BW: Exactly, you give us the news like on Below the Fold.
OT: That's what Below the Fold is about. It's a newspaper expression.
"I don't know much about the Blues,
but I'm good at being black."
BW: In "House of the Crosses," I thought maybe it was my imagination that there was more told in the synopsis in the liner notes than in there was in the body of the song.
OT: Oh, no, I thought the song was right on. "I went down to the house of the crosses/I saw my momma fall on her knees/Well she told me this man's your father/He killed two people and he raped me." Later he was a guard at the House of Crosses watching over his father because he thought he was so evil. He just wanted to be a prison guard to make sure he never got loose, just to watch over him. That's some twisted shit. There's a place called the House of Crosses in St. Petersburg. It's a high-security prison. They don't let people visit; they have to yell up with little megaphones. I thought that was an interesting story just about the prison, and then I came up with the story the next day.
BW: And then on the same CD was the "Kitchen Towel" song, another heart-breaking song.
OT: A ghost story. I like those. But they weren't true, I just made those up. Sort of like Edgar Allen Poe.
BW: They sound like they could be true.
OT: Well, the thing that happened to the people happened to the people. Where they lost their farms and gave up and killed themselves. Did you listen to Pentatonic Wars yet?
OT: So, you just like the pretty songs.
BW: I have to say I am drawn to Cassie's voice. On "Mama's Best Friend" I think she's scatting a little bit. She's really developed as a singer, or maybe she could always do that and I just didn't know it.
OT: I kind of featured on this album and let her sing more than one song. Usually I let her sing one song, never three.
BW: I think she's a winner, and it's wonderful that she's part of your group. Is it true you made her learn bass and play with your band, or she was going to lose her allowance?
OT: Kind of, basically. She used to cry. I used to make her practice fifteen minutes, and she would cry. But I knew that she was really good. I knew that she had it. One day she picked up a bass and she asked my old bass player Kenny Passarelli, "How do you do that for "Hey Joe?" [he sings bass line]. She learned that in fifteen minutes. That's when I decided she was going to play bass. It's funny. People go, "Is that really true that you made your daughter play bass?" Like people are just amazed that I did that, how cruel! How many people had to take piano lessons? Is that just twisted or what? Are people sick? I have a way of being the bad guy. "Otis, you write some depressing songs." What about "Teen Angel," that was a big hit, or "Ode to Billie Joe."
BW: Or "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."
OT: Yeah, how about that? But I get blamed for all that; I'm the one who put the depression in the Blues or something. I'm the one who's like, "Guilty, Your Honor." You're doing five to ten for making the Blues depressing. All the depressing Appalachian songs: "Pretty Polly." "Little Sadie." So, can you figure this out, Your Honor? Cause I can't. So I made my daughter play bass guitar. Oh, man!
BW: You took her around the world, that's terrible.
OT: How many people had to take violin and piano lessons? Go figure. See how I get kind of a bad rap?
BW: When she tells the story it's done with humor and affection. "Well, my dad made me play in his band." And the rest of us would love to be in her shoes.
OT: She had to make money to help pay for college. She always forgets to tell you that her mom and dad sent her to college.
BW: It's mentioned in the article that she went off to Chicago to go to college and study theatre.
OT: She leaves out the parts where they spent a lot of hard-working money, and then she drops out. Nobody gets that part of the story. Well, I tell you, I'm an acquired taste. You have to listen to the music more and more. Like opera. Once you get it, you get it. I'm still waiting for Porter to get it. He's still working on it.
BW: Porter? Who's that?
OT: Historian [Bob] Porter. [He was just inducted into] the Blues Hall of Fame. He does all those radio programs, but who knows, maybe one day he'll get it. I don't know how to tell you how to review the album. I just took different genres and brought them together. Because Blues is the base of all American music, of jazz, of rock 'n' roll. I believe Blues is an attitude. My music is very roots oriented and, since Blues is an attitude, there's always call and response in my music which is part of the African experience.
BW: That's like the segment of the PBS series, Martin Scorsese's The Blues, that Corey Harris was in and he goes to West Africa, and what's the word, "griot"?
OT: Yeah, "griot," it's part of the griot tradition, storytelling. That's their history books, that's how they keep their history through music and stories,
BW: I read other books since them that disputed that there's a West African tradition that came over and took the form of the Blues. But that's something that you subscribe to, that it's a descendant?
OT: Well, think about it, blacks weren't allowed to read, right? So, how was anything passed down if people weren't allowed to read?
BW: The verbal history.
OT: Yeah, so somebody's full of shit, no offense. I'm blunt about that. Duh, come on, man, are you joking? In the tradition of the whites not letting them read. Call it what you want, but they had to keep on passing everything down verbally. It was pretty tough for the first hundred years.
BW: B.B. King has been quoted as saying that the Blues started at Dockery [Plantation] in Mississippi.
OT: I don't exactly know where it started. I'm not a historian. You know what I say to people? I don't know much about the Blues, but I'm good at being black. You can quote me on that. I'm serious. I was born on the south side of Chicago. Came to Denver when I was four. My parents came from the Deep South.
BW: Where in the south were your parents from?
OT: My mother was from Lake Providence, Louisiana. My father's from Memphis.
BW: How'd they end up in Chicago?
OT: 'Cause everybody was going that way like the Irish leaving Ireland. The great migration up north. You might get shot, but you probably wouldn't get lynched.
BW: And then your uncle was murdered?
OT: My uncle was sort of a gangster; he was shot in Chicago. He was shot before I was born. My mother was sixteen when her brother was shot.
OT: It's no big deal.
BW: It's kind of a big deal.
OT: A lot of people get shot in Chicago. He carried a gun. It's like you see in the Mafia movies, the guy always kills somebody. My uncle's probably the one that killed. A lot of people didn't make it. They ran the streets. A lot of people didn't make it. There was a certain lifestyle that he lived, and you've got to live by it. Some people say that he maybe killed people, we don't know. You know those family rumors that spread around. He got killed in a crap game. He was a really handsome guy. They always said I looked like him, my eyes were like his. His name was Andrew Bell. All my relatives go, "You got eyes like Andrew Bell." He had light eyes. Am I helping you at all with all these boring stories?
BW: I don't think they're boring at all. I like your stories. Do you have brothers and sisters?
OT: I don't talk about my family too much. Just my uncle 'cause I write about it. Take a couple of listens to the album. Have a glass of orange juice, and let it seep in. Did you listen to the banjo album [2008 release Recapturing the Banjo]?
BW: Yeah, I really like that one, and I enjoy the variety of artists that are on here. Your original songs are so different than the norm and then you pick some songs to cover like "Hey Joe." Do you just pick the songs you want to cover? Is there any rhyme or reason?
OT: I had an album called Blue-Eyed Monster that I won't re-release. So whenever I play live I play "Hey Joe," and people go, "I wish you had 'Hey Joe' on one of your records," so I put it on the banjo record. I thought it would be a trippy thing to do. It's like a sorbet, sort of breaks up the banjo-ness of the album. It sort of catches you off guard. I was playing lead guitar on that one, too, which was fun. I don't get to do that much. The other people picked some covers, like "Liza Jane." Everyone brought a song to the table.
BW: I like "Ran So Hard the Sun Went Down."
OT: I wrote that one. It's very traditional, not the way we did it, but it's a traditional sound, then I just layered it to make it crazy.
BW: So much on the most recent one feels like jazz no doubt since there are so many jazz-based musicians on there. Do you encounter any criticism for using so many jazz musicians?
OT: I encounter criticism for what I do all the time. That's why I can't get a category. But you have to listen to it and see how it interplays with the Blues-based roots part of it. It's the attitude of the jazz. Some jazz guys won't tell you it's jazz. They'll say it's not really jazz. Ask some jazz guys, "Is that jazzy?" No, 'cause it's trance. It's trance music. There's a lot of interplay going on.
BW: Jazz guys can get pretty territorial.
OT: They sure can. So, it's really just Otis music. I like the way that I went into it. I didn't go into it immediately. Then, I came back out of it, too.
BW: Do you have a sense of who your fan base is, your demographics and who you attract?
OT: I don't know. I have all kinds of people walk up to me and say, "I'm really a fan of yours," and I didn't even know they existed. I'd like my fan base to be younger. Since the movie, here's a little story for you. "Ten Million Slaves" [from Recapturing the Banjo] on i-Tunes was selling four hits a week. When the trailer [for Public Enemies] came out, it went up to nine hundred, so I know there's some new people. It's averaging about five hundred a month on i-Tunes hits, so there's a lot of new people who know who I am. If they were Blues fans they would have already had my records. So these are all new people.
BW: That's got to be good news.
OT: It is good news. I can't tell you who my fan base is.
BW: What sort of festivals do you get invited to, folk, roots, Blues?
OT: Only a couple Blues a year and jazz festivals in Europe 'cause they have Blues night, roots festivals. I don't do too many Blues festivals. It's really funny - I won [the 2004] Living Blues Entertainer of the Year Reader's poll with Etta James. I won that one year, and that year I only did two Blues festivals. So I'm kind of a rebel. I think I played at King Biscuit. The first time I went to King Biscuit I think I had twenty people in the audience, the second time I went I had fifty, the third time I think I had maybe eighty, the fourth time I went I had six hundred people on acoustic stage. It's been a hard journey for me. I don't know what will happen next. I must have new fans, because they're buying my songs.
BW: Cassie, as a younger woman, is this a natural fit for her?
OT: She's probably gonna break loose and do her own thing. That's up to her.
BW: You must have done something right for her to take the leadership position she has at the Blues Foundation.
OT: She did that all by herself. I had nothing to do with that.
BW: And initiating the Youth Jam this year at IBC. She learned how to be proactive from somebody.
OT: I'm proactive but maybe in a more negative way. I'm outspoken. She's a little sweeter than I am.
BW: One thing I find appealing is the pictures of your childhood that you include in a lot of your CDs, you as a baby or a toddler.
OT: I was forced to do that. When you open the inside [of Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs], you see that picture of me? That's what I wanted the cover to be, but they thought it was too scary. So I gave a baby picture, figured they're not going to complain about that.
BW: I've seen pictures of you in other ones, like you on a bearskin rug.
OT: That was a joke. The person who did the cover for that wanted me to do a nude photo. I said, "You're out of your mind." I said, "Okay, I'll give you a nude." My wife hated that I did that. But I said, "Okay, we'll go with a nude."
BW: I thought maybe you were showing us your softer side.
OT: I just did it as a joke, something interesting, I didn't take it very seriously. It was just decoration. Take a listen to the records, and let it seep in. It takes a little time. It doesn't soak in for people on the first listen. If you listen to all the instruments, you can hear them all clearly all at the same time which you can't hear in a lot of music
BW: You're so versatile in all the different instruments that you play on these recordings.
OT: The other guys are way better musicians than I am. I make sure everybody's better than me, or they can't play with me. I'm the producer, so they've got to be better, not emotionally, but technically better than I try to get the emotion out of them. But like Ron Miles is a genius. Jason is the next Herbie Hancock.
BUY Otis Taylor from EMUSIC
Stacy Jeffress is a contributing writer to BluesWax. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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