Monday, May 25, 2015

Otis Taylor


Photo Evan Simone

With Otis Taylor, it's best to expect the unexpected. While his music, an amalgamation of roots styles in their rawest form, discusses heavyweight issues like murder, homelessness, tyranny, and injustice, his personal style is lighthearted. "I'm good at dark, but I'm not a particularly unhappy person," he says. "I'd just like to make enough money to buy a Porsche."



Part of Taylor's appeal is his contrasting character traits. But it is precisely this element of surprise that makes him one of the most compelling artists to emerge in recent years. In fact, Guitar Player magazine writes, "Otis Taylor is arguably the most relevant blues artist of our time." Whether it's his unique instrumentation (he fancies banjo and cello), or it's the sudden sound of a female vocal, or a seemingly upbeat optimistic song takes a turn for the forlorn, what remains consistent is poignant storytelling based in truth and history. On his sixth CD, Double V, Taylor unleashes intimate tales as he produces an aural excursion inspired by an unconventional childhood.


Photo Evan Simone

Otis Mark Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948. After his uncle was shot to death, his family moved to Denver where an adolescent's interest in blues and folk was cultivated. Both his parents were big music fans; "I was raised with jazz musicians," Taylor relates. "My dad worked for the railroad and knew a lot of jazz people. He was a socialist and real bebopper." His mother, Sarah, a tough as nails woman with liberal leanings, had a penchant for Etta James and Pat Boone. Young Otis spent time at the Denver Folklore Center where he bought his first instrument, a banjo. He used to play it while riding his unicycle to high school. The Folklore Center was also the place where he first heard Mississippi John Hurt and country blues. He learned to play guitar and harmonica and by his mid-teens, he formed his first groups' the Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band and later the Otis Taylor Blues Band. He ventured overseas to London where he performed for a brief time until he returned to the U.S. in the late 60s. His next project became the T&O Short Line with legendary Deep Purple singer/guitarist Tommy Bolin. Stints with the 4-Nikators and Zephyr followed before he decided to take a hiatus from the music business in 1977. During this time he established a successful career as an antiques dealer and also began coaching a professional bicycle team. They ranked 4th in the nation and were known for having two of the best African-American riders in the country.



After years of prodding from his musical mentor (all-star bass player Kenny Passarelli), Otis returned to the stage. It was 1995, in an intimate room in Boulder Colorado's "Hill" district. He was joined on stage by sideman to the stars, Kenny Passarelli, and ace guitarist Eddie Turner. A magazine writer on hand reported: "The combination was magic, Taylor's unique singing style blended perfectly with Passarelli's rock steady virtuosity Turnet's rock-roll tinged riffs." Response to the "one-time gig" was so strong, Taylor decided to return to the music scene, playing select dates with Passarelli and Turner.



Two years later he released Blue Eyed Monster (Shoelace Music), which riveted the blues world and marked the emergence of a singer/songwriter who has, in his own words, "a way of saying something that seems to be more intense." Further, he says, "you can definitely see how I was forming. There was the Christmas song about a guy that killed his parents. Definitely getting ready to go that way, you know?" In 1998, he raised more eyebrows with When Negroes Walked the Earth (Shoelace) an album replete with unapologetic lyrics, stark instrumentation and a gut-wrenching delivery. Playboy magazine described it as "minimalist blues in the John Lee Hooker mode." Critics and music fans took notice and his talents as a vivid storyteller and accomplished guitar player were solidified. His gifts were further recognized in Summer 2000, with a composition fellowship from the Sundance Institute in Park City, UT.



If Taylor 's first two recordings cast a spell on the music world, listeners were officially entranced by White African (2001, NorthernBlues Music), his most direct and personal statement about the experiences of African-Americans. He addressed the lynching of his great-grandfather and the death of his uncle. Brutality became his concern in songs that fearlessly explored the history of race relations and social injustices. With this disc Taylor was officially blazing a trail. He earned four W.C. Handy nominations and won the award for "Best New Artist Debut."



White African was barely in record stores when he began writing the songs that would comprise Respect The Dead. Released in 2002, it made him a contender for two Handys in 2003; "Best Acoustic Artist" and "Contemporary Blues Album." Last year, he bent conventions again with his debut effort for Telarc Records, Truth Is Not Fiction. Here, Taylor took a decidedly electric, almost psychedelic path forging a sound which he describes as "trance-blues." Music critics were indeed captivated as the disc received lavish praise from USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, NPR and a nod from the Downbeat Critics Poll for "Blues Album of the Year."



He quickly followed up Truth with Double V, which marked his entrance as a producer and a collaboration with his daughter Cassie, who sings and plays bass. The album scored him a Downbeat Critics Poll win for an unheard-of second consecutive year, while Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Blender, and CNN all gave their thumbs-up. But perhaps the most meaningful accolade came from Living Blues Reader's Poll, which awarded Taylor (along with Etta James) with the "Best Blues Entertainer" title in 2004.



Telarc released Below the Fold, Taylor's seventh CD, in the summer of 2005. The album is a set of stylistically varied songs that point to a blues-based center but are awash with Appalachian country overtones and moody, psychedelic rock. Once again, the critics raved. Downbeat gave the album four stars, noting that Taylor "has a poet's soul, with a deep respect for the history of blacks in America and an unshakable curiosity about the human condition." Paste called him " a country-folk version of spontaneous, talking-blues master John Lee Hooker." The New Yorker dubbed his sound "Velvet Underground Railroad," and went on to proclaim that "he may drone but he never stays still, and when he moves he's always heading toward places you haven't seen." At year's end, Below the Fold landed in the number 12 slot on the Chicago Tribune's Top 20 album list.



And if the brilliant songwriting and the haunting voice weren't enough to turn the heads of audiences and critics alike, Taylor has also proven his instrumental chops with two consecutive Blues Music Awards nominations (2005 and 2006) for Best Instrumentalist in the banjo category.

In addition to traditional touring and recording, Taylor spearheads a Blues in the Schools program called "Writing the Blues." Conceived by his wife, he appears at elementary schools and universities around the country to offer advice, enlighten, and mentor students about the blues. "I start by asking them to write down what makes them sad; fears, disappointments, losses, whatever. It is just amazing to see some of these nuggets, these incredible thoughts. They are often simple sentences but so real, so sad, so true, so pure." For Taylor, it's an opportunity to connect with others and help others to connect with themselves. And, it allows him to do his part in ensuring that the blues, and the ability to share life experiences will continue in the next generation.

Taylor resides in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives with his wife.



DISCOGRAPHY



Hey Joe Opus. Red Meat
Trance Blues Festival
My World Is Gone
TELARC
Contraband
TELARC
Clovis People, Vol 3
TELARC
Pantatonic Wars and Love Songs
TELARC
Recapturing the Banjo
TELARC
Definition of a Circle
TELARC
Below the Fold
TELARC
Double V
TELARC
Truth is Not fiction
TELARC
Respect the Dead
Northern Blues Music
White African
Northern Blues
When Negroes Walked the Earth
Shoelace Music

Sunday, May 24, 2015

C Joynes 13 Questions



C Joynes is a musician based in Cambridge, UK. He first appeared in the mid-to-late 2000s as part of an initial new wave of solo acoustic guitarists, led by Jack Rose and Glenn Jones, who were strongly influenced by the activities associated with John Fahey's Takoma label in the 1960s.
English acoustic guitarist C Joynes, a resident of Cambridge, heavy thumb-led finger-picking technique that harks back to traditional country-blues and early ragtime, however, he uses this technique to explore alternative melodic traditions: the English folk-tune; North and West African music; elements of classical Indian music; proto-minimalist and impressionist musics from the European classical tradition. His approach to the recording and compositional process contains a subtle and unassuming experimentation, at times including collaged fragments, field recordings, processing, en-plein-air recordings, and cut-and-paste.
((Rhodri Davies))



However, as one of the few UK-based representatives of this scene, Joynes' take on the 'post-Takoma' school emphasised an association with English traditional music alongside the more familiar references to blues and ragtime. This was further combined with his interest in free and improvised music, and in local music gathered during his frequent travels overseas. Presented, only semi-ironically, under the self-described category of 'Anglo-Naive & Contemporary Parlour Guitar', this innovative hybrid approach was showcased on a number of solo albums released through the Bo'Weavil Recordings label.
There are not too many guitar-players I respect without any reservation. Off the top of my head there’s Guitar Roberts, Bill Orcutt and Sir Richard Bishop. And C Joynes.
Of the former, I’d say Joynes’s closest stylistic analogue is, for my money, that noble Knight of Araby. Not that licks are copped from that Flower of Chivalry and his unimpeachable companions, the dervishes of delirium. But Joynes does borrow from as many and varied traditions as the Sun City Girls, and like them he never descends into world music blanditudination, nor the faux-hokey archaisms of Arcadie. His technique, like Sir Richard’s, is a fuller’s earth that purifies all such dross and fills the ear with myrrh of the sweetest grade. Not many traffic in liquors this strong, so hitch that pony, pilgrim, and drink a while.
((Bruce Russell))



In 2011, Joynes paired up with Bradford-based singer Stephanie Hladowski to work on a series of traditional English songs and tunes arranged from field recordings in the sound archive at the English Folk Dance & Song Society. The resulting album, 'The Wild Wild Berry', was released to great critical acclaim in 2012 (fRoots Editor's Choice Album of the Year; MOJO Top 5 Folk Albums).
“An inheritor to Davy Graham; a lone operator prone to unexpected collaborations, with a repertoire that crosses continents and timezones with consummate ease.”
((The Wire))



Yet, in parellel with this dedicated 'traditional' project, Joynes has continued to release a stream of low-visibility singles and cassettes on various labels that enabled him to explore his interest in experimental and outsider music. In addition, he has recently been working in collaboration with long-term fellow travellers Dead Rat Orchestra - both live and in the studio. This gives the impression that he is moving increasingly further away from the world of solo acoustic guitar - is this the case?' 
“His epigrammatic re-castings and re-readings of widely-travelled melodies and rhythms from a variety of traditions suggest shared memories that might be intensely universal while seeming strangely out of reach. "
((Dusted Magazine))

 

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician??

Sometime in the mid-70s, when I was about 5 or so, we were on holiday at my grandparents' house on the North Devon coast in the South West of the UK, and my dad and my grandfather took me along one Sunday afternoon to a pub called The Lobster Pot to go see a trad jazz band. Trad Jazz was really big in the UK in the late 50s and early 60s, and come the mid-70s there was still a lot of the old players still kicking around.


((Gospel Trayne' in Paris))

I can't remember the specifics – it was probably a classic line-up with cornet, clarinet, drumkit, double-bass, piano, maybe a banjo, maybe a trombone – but by all reports I was pretty much captivated from the get-go. I can just about remember being exhilarated by the straight-ahead sound of the band when they kicked in, and by the way you'd have three or four lead instruments all soloing at the same time, jumping all over each other. After that it was pretty much all I listened to until I was about 12 years old – British Trad Jazz bands led by Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, Ken Collier, singers like Ottilie Patterson, people like that.



In the last couple of years, I've been going back and listening to a lot more of the bands from that late 50s–early 60s era, particularly live recordings, and some of them are just insane with energy – the bands and the crowds going nuts. I had a friend who used to play with the old guys in pubs up on the Norfolk coast, which is where a lot of 'em retired to. He said they were monsters, these 75-year olds: they'd head out of an evening to a gig and play for four-five hours straight, smoke three packets of cigarettes, drink fifteen pints and drive home afterwards.




Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money??

The first record I bought on my own and with my own money proper was a 7” of the Ghostbusters theme, by Ray Parker Jr. I could say something cool but I'm not going to kid you.

I think the last record I bought was when Mick Flower and Chris Corsano came through Cambridge and I got a copy of the Flower-Corsano-Hejnowski The Count Visits LP, which is totally totally excellent. Actually, it wasn't all my own money. Pete Um had to lend me a fiver. I paid him back though.



Which work of your own are you most surprised by??

Once a record is done, I don't really listen to it again so it's all a bit surprising when you happen hear it again for whatever reason. I guess the further away you get from it, the more surprising it seems. I've been recording and releasing my own stuff for about 10 years now, and when I hear the early recordings I often don't recognise them at first, and then I'm usually surprised by how ok they sound, and then that they seem to come from a musical sensibility that seems slightly alien to me now.



What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theatre...??

I have always had a strong and active interest in literature, art and cinema, particularly when I was younger, but I'm not sure of how consciously the practices associated with these disciplines have  influenced my approach to music. For example, I've never been particularly interested in exploring the application of formal creative techniques – let's say something obvious like cut-up, which can be applied across many different artistic disciplines. However, I do respond to the results: what something actually sounds or looks or feels like, rather than the processes that went into creating it, and in specific cases, these results can have a strong impact on music.


((( C Joynes 'Crows On The Sandpile No.1' bootleg video )))

I'm thinking in particular of those occasions when a painting or a film or a piece of writing, or an unexpected piece of music, can present you with an indelible image or idea, which then becomes a key element informing the development of a particular tune or the pursuit of a particular musical idea. However, in my case, such things will always be combined with other totally different elements, so that the final result is more of an assemblage of influences.



Where are your roots? What are your secret influences??

Just in thinking about how to answer the last question, I've realised how important the whole assemblage thing is to me creatively. I've kept a scrap book for many years, which started just as somewhere for me to keep fragments of things that caught my eye or imagination, but over time this has become a creative device itself, where the juxtaposition of images and ideas start to generate their own meaning.



I've always liked those artefacts that tread the line between image and object: collages, palimpsests where different layers are eroded or written over. In one direction, these have associations with folk art, naïve or outsider art, leading eventually to those type of anthropological objects that are fascinating to look at but were originally created to serve a practical or ritual function rather than an aesthetic one. In the other direction, there are also associations with Dada and Surrealism of the 1930s– 1940s – the placing of otherwise unassociated images to generate unexpected responses.


((C Joynes & The Restless Dead bootleg video))

All of this feeds into how I go about coming up with and finishing off a piece of music or a recording or a record release, although I'm not sure how evident this ever is to the listener. On reflection, very little of what I have produced musically over the years has been conceived of as 'meaning' something in and of itself. However, it's possible that the musical blend of naïve or folk traditions with dabblings in the avant-garde or garage punk or jazz or whatever, plus the near-random allocation of found titles and artwork – something I've pretty much always done - maybe all help generate some ambiguous kind of meaning, or at least give the impression of it. Or maybe not. You'd have to ask someone else about it I reckon.



What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion??

Technique should be about acquiring the armoury of skills that allow you to express what you want or achieve what you intend for a particular piece. But to my ears, it becomes problematic when technique starts to out-strip intention. And, yes, you shredders, I'm talking specifically about guitars here.



What quality do you admire most in a musician??

There are many things I could list, but let's go for the Big Ones, the ones that really make people think again when they see or hear a particular performance: truth, sincerity, fearlessness, the willingness to fail in the attempt. This all sounds massively po-faced and earnest, but having these qualities, or at least striving towards them, doesn't exclude having a sense of humour – I'd point to Richard Dawson as a case in point. The energy that comes off of musicians, or any artist, when they are really reaching for something,  particularly live – transcends all of these limiting concerns about 'interesting', 'boring', 'original', 'heard it before', and people respond to it with elation. They might not always understand it, but they feel it.


(((C Joynes 'And The Moon...' )))

What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one??

A bad instrument is one that stops you from doing the thing you want to do. An instrument without character or personality is pretty much a bad instrument.

A good instrument is one that gives you something back, that surprises you, that can lead you off into exploring something either musically or technically that you weren't expecting, that does its own thing while also allowing you to get on with yours.



If you could, what would you say to yourself 30 years ago, about your musical career??

I took a long time to get going with doing my own thing musically, I mean, a really long time. There were many reasons for this: I was always into listening to loads of different types of music, but was kind of hung up on the idea of needing to present any music as 'this thing' or 'that thing' – fitting a specific mould. I was also holding myself back with the notion that everything needed to be done 'properly' right from the very start – with a band, in a studio, with all the gear that bands are supposed to have. Also, frankly, I was not confident or proactive enough to commit to getting stuff done.



This all changed, firstly, when I become aware of the lo-fi scene, first represented to me by Daniel Johnson and Simon Joyner, which then quickly led on to encountering Palace, reading about Bill Callahan and so on. The second change came when I heard the recordings of John Fahey and realised how, within the limited framework of a solo acoustic guitar, there was the potential to explore all of the different kinds of music that I was interested in. These two things somehow legitimised the idea of writing and recording original music entirely for your own purposes, rather than as something that needed to be presented in a format designed to fulfil the expectations of some notional audience.

Given that I had been listening to punk and related stuff for many years beforehand, it's kind of pathetic that it took so long for the penny to drop, but if I were to speak to myself 30 years ago, I would say something along the lines of, look, you can do this with a tape recorder, you can do this with these things you have laying about, just get going with it.


(((C Joynes & Dead Rat Orchestra)))

Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with??

I've just finished recording a new album with Dead Rat Orchestra, who have been top of my 'to collaborate with' list for a very very long time, and my previous album was a duo with Stephanie Hladowski, so I'm suddenly conscious of the fact that there might be a bit of latent 'band envy' going on in this solo musician camp at the moment.

But if by 'collaborate', you mean 'sit in the same room as', then it'd be interesting to see how Bjork and Tom Waits go about their business in working with other people. I'd be hard-pressed to suggest what I might bring to the mix though. Also, a regular pub conversation-starter in my head is 'If you got the call, would you join The Fall?'. As with the above, it's not likely to be a collaboration as such, but I mean, you probably would, wouldn't you?



In terms of 'collaborate' = 'learning from', trekking out to Niafunke to sit and play with Ali Farke Toure would've been nice. Similarly, I get the impression that Derek Bailey was reasonably approachable and accommodating, and in all sincerity I've no doubt a couple of afternoons in his company in Stoke Newington would have been massively rewarding. Ah well. Apparently, Marc Ribot does occasional master-classes when he gets into town. I've been writing to his agent asking about this every time he comes to the UK, but no response as yet. If you're reading, Marc, just text me up yeah?



In terms of 'collaborate' = 'contributing to', I really take a lot of pleasure in the way Alvarius B's records are put together, and in my head I might see myself fitting in there somewhere, although Sir Richard Bishop might be about and I'm a tiny bit scared of him.

Closer to home, I'd very much like to look at doing something with Rhodri Davies, particularly after his incredible latest album. This'd fit in neatly with my current guitaring interests. Also on my current 'to pitch' list are daydreams of a cassette's worth of spooked 4th-world garage folk and nocturnal root-chewing with Harappian Night Recordings, and/or hooking up with The Family Elan in their current psychedelic Turkish surf party power-trio format. Like that “Sun Ra featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold” album, my ego likes the sound of a 'The Family Elan featuring C Joynes' album, maybe recorded live at a house party somewhere. In Iceland, or Norway.



There's also been separate overtures from Pete Um and Nick Jonah Davis, both of which would be well healthy when/if we all find the time, and there's a concept coming from Patagonian guitarist Mariano Rodriguez that's currently gathering momentum. I've always fancied trying doing a guitar-drums duo, ideally with a drummer who plays in a jazz/free-improv style using a small kit. It's come close a couple of times, but trouble is I don't know anyone locally to try out with on a regular basis.


(((Hladowski & Joynes in Paris)))
 
Outside of collaborating with musicians, I've just contributed some music for a documentary film by Ian Nesbitt, and I've always wanted to do a film soundtrack. Some dancers from Spain wrote to me a couple of months ago about using a piece of music I recorded for a particular dance piece, and that kind of crystallised a latent interest in working with dancers – a lot of my recent music has become more angular and expressionist, or groove-based, and I'd be interested to see how that might be explored further when designed to accompany actual movement.

Finally, I've got a particular concept in mind for my next solo record which would also involve roping in the uncanny comix of Ed Pinsent. But we will see...



What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past??

Jack Rose once told me to hold on to 10 copies of all your records and never sign away your publishing rights. It's yet to yield any actual benefits for me, but it was a straight-forward bit of advice that I've followed ever since.



What instruments and tools do you use??

Four or five mostly cheap guitars, sometimes a 14w Watkins Westminster amp, and a bunch of gifted, looted or found stuff, all overseen by a Fred Kelly orange thumb-pick, two Pro-Pik F-Tone fingerpicks, a capo, a couple of slides, plus an evolving series of sticks.


(((C Joynes prepared guitar)))

What do you like the most about being a musician?

It's a license to day-dream and then act on those daydreams. In spite of the late nights, poor food, no sleep, no money, even as a solo musician you generally get to spend time with good good people, and the times when you get paid for doing something you enjoy, well, that's just peachy...?



What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold??

I've just released a new 7” EP of solo electric guitar pieces, so I'll be playing a handful of shows on the back of that. With the collaboration with Dead Rat Orchestra pretty much in the can, I'll be spending a fair bit of time in the next few months trying to find someone to release it. There's also a  split LP with another solo guitarist that's ready to go – again, the next step is to find a home for it. In all seriousness, if anyone's interested, just drop me a line...


(((Opening Track from new EP)))

The next thing is to work on finishing off a new solo album – without wanting to go into too much detail, it's mostly all already recorded, but the work will be in figuring out how to put it together. It's going to be a record exploring the hidden influences hinted at in my answer to question 5 above, and maybe going beyond that into other stuff as well. I've been doing a lot of reading and research over the last few months that is going to feed into the process. On the back of the EP that's just come out, I've also just been asked to record an album of solo electric guitar for another label - very timely, since this was the thing I was planning to do next. I've already got about half the material for that written, with ideas for the rest on the way.

More widely, I came very close to moving back to Africa a couple of weeks ago so that's still on the cards. If not, then maybe to South-East Asia or the South Pacific.




Selected Discography

 

 
                        
                          
                       
                          
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Various Artists