Bigger bands, intimate setting, $5
summit daily news
Keystone Neighbourhood Company is cranking up the winter entertainment scene with live music Fridays for only $5. Tonight trance bluesman Otis Taylor plays, followed on subsequent Fridays by progressive, genre-crossing funk fusions Euforquestra; blues, rock, jazz and soul blender Eric Lindell; and nontraditional bluegrassers Mountain Standard Time.
“We wanted it to be at a price point that was affordable, just with the hopes of getting more people out to River Run,” said Maja Russer, director of events of entertainment. “I think it’s cool to be able to see them in a little more intimate setting.”
Taylor refers to himself as an “obscure musician,” but his youtube video of the part of the soundtrack he did for the movie “Public Enemies” has garnered more than 1.6 million hits.
“I’m like the critics’ darling, but I’m still an obscure darling,” Taylor said.
Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948, but his family moved to Denver when he was 4 1/2, after his uncle was shot to death. Still, moving out of the Chicago blues scene didn’t deter him from carving out a niche in the iconic genre.
“I’ve been around it all my life,” Taylor said. “When it’s part of your culture … it’s like what appeals to you about barbecue – to black people, the blues is very prevalent.”
His dad worked for the railroad and knew a lot of jazz musicians; he calls his dad a “bebopper.” His mother loved Etta James and Pat Boone so much she would literally play one of their songs for eight hours straight. As a teenager, Taylor hung out at the Denver Folklore Center, where he first heard Mississippi John Hurt and country blues, which is acoustic and folksier.
From there, he learned to play guitar, banjo and harmonica and formed his first group in his teens. He spent some time in London performing before returning to the United States, where he began working with Deep Purple singer and guitarist Tommy Bolin.
Oddly enough, he took a break from music in 1977 and became an antiques dealer and professional bicycle team coach.
In 1995, he returned to the stage on The Hill, in Boulder, where he now lives. The audience’s response to his “one-time gig” compelled him to return to music.
Since then, he’s released 10 albums and developed his own style of “trance blues,” characterized by little or no chord changes. The technique is similar to West African music and drumming with repetitive patterns.
“It puts you in a trance-like state, so the song can be five or 10 minutes (and you don’t notice),” Taylor said.
He cites the quality of musicians he attracts as one of the reasons audiences love him.
“If you play good enough, people will like anything,” he said. “I don’t care if I sell records from (trance). It’s the type of music (I) like to play … do we need another love song? I don’t know.”
Though his personality is generally light, his topics tend to tackle heavyweight issues like homelessness, murder and injustice. And that’s part of his mystique and appeal: contrasting characteristics. Though his songs deal with social issues, he says he’s “not really political. I just tell the story: ‘People are starving.’ I’m just reporting the news.”
In addition to performing, he runs a blues in the schools program, in which he visits elementary schools and universities nationwide asking students to write down things that make them sad, as well as their fears, disappointments and losses.
“It’s just amazing to see some of these nuggets, these incredible thoughts,” he said. “They are often simple sentence but so real, so sad, so true, so pure.”
His latest album, “Clovis People, Vol. 3,” features revisions of some of his favorite tunes on previous albums. He was inspired to “dig” into oldies when one of his neighbors discovered historic skinning tools in his backyard, while landscaping. Taylor played in a trio on his earliest albums, so for those songs, he added drums not previously there. He even brings in his daughter, a bassist, on the album.
Tonight, he promises a great show, saying, “It’ll be a big sound,” and mentioning his 30-year-old guitar player is a “heartthrob,” which never hurts.
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