Blues Music Now! Grapevine

An interview with Otis Taylor

By Jake Roussel
Otis Taylor was born in Chicago in the early 1950s. When his family moved to Denver, Colo., young Taylor enjoyed spending time at the Denver Folklore Center. Mastering the ukulele, banjo and harmonica, he started his first group, called the Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band and later, the Otis Taylor Blues Band. In 1969, he went to England to sign with Blue Horizon Records, which was a short stay when the project fell through and Taylor returned to the U.S. In 1977, he retired from the music scene and went into the antiques business.

After many years away from the stage, Taylor returned in 1995, team with longtime friend and all-star bass player Kenny Pasarelli and guitarist Ed Turner. His first release was titled "Blue Eye Monster." It was followed by "When Negroes Walked The Earth," which caused some stir among the blues world. His album "White African" recently won him his first W.C. Handy Award as Best New Artist.

Also, Taylor was awarded a fellowship to the Sundance Institute Music Composers Laboratory and he was an instructor for Ottawa's 2001 Blues in the Schools Project. The Blue Star Guitar Company has released the Otis Taylor special edition electric banjocaster. He also was showcased in the Vancouver North American Folk Alliance in 2001. His newest release, "Respect The Dead" is receiving very good press.

Q. How many W.C. Handy Awards have you attended?
A. This would be my first one.

Q. How would you say your first experience was?
A. It was pretty good; I'm happy. We got some good exposure and recognition this time. Charlie Musslewhite came and sat in with me, it was great.

Q. Tell me who have been some of your influences throughout your music career?
A. The same as other people, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and even Appalachian music, Irish music, a little jazz. To me, an influence is something that is outside of your culture, not inside of your culture. It's like, "Well, do grits influence you?" No, it's part of your culture.

Q. When did you first get into blues?
A. At about age 14 years, I got into it heavier, but I've always heard the blues. As I got into folk music, I got into country music. So, it's been a long process of the different types of blues.

Q. What message are you trying to convey through your music?
A. For people to buy my record. It's like being a waiter, I'm trying to make a living.

Q. What would be your favorite album out of what you have recorded?
A. I don't really have a favorite album. The most intense song I ever did was "Resurrection Blues" on "White African."

Q. Your daughter Cassie sings backup for you a lot, how long has she been singing with you?
A. Since she was eight years old.

Q. How did she get into this?
A. Well, I took a break from music for 19 years, and I finally did a gig and had both my daughters sing. Cassie liked it, but my other daughter didn't really get into it.

Q. So you collect a lot of antiques, what are you collecting these days?
A. Right now, I'm collecting photographs of buffalo soldiers, 9th cavalry, 10th cavalry stuff, 24th and 25th infantry stuff, that's kind of what I'm into right now.

Q. What can fans expect from you in the near future?
A. In June we go into the studio to work on the new album, and there will be some touring.

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