FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 1, 2016
BLUES MUSIC VISIONARY OTIS TAYLOR
REFLECTS ON THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
IN A TIMELY RELEASE ON THE
TRANCE BLUES FESTIVAL LABEL, OUT FEBRUARY 17th
Fantasizing About Being Black is a raw and haunting multi-instrumental blend that reveals the connection of history to modern day events; features musical guests Jerry Douglas, Brandon Niederauer and Ron Miles
BOULDER, Colo. — Following his 2015 psychedelic masterpiece Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat, the new album from visionary roots music songwriter and bandleader Otis Taylor, Fantasizing About Being Black, is a stark and poetic lesson on the historical trauma of the African American experience, from the voyages of slave ships to the Mississippi Delta. Taylor simultaneously travels back in time while moving forward as a musical artist. Blending his unique songwriting and the compelling musical approach that he calls “trance blues,” the recording — on Taylor’s Trance Blues Festival label — inspires with stories of the enduring human spirit, letting its hypnotic sound as well as Taylor’s lyrics tell a story of continuing struggle. Street date is February 17, 2017.
The artist explains that his 15th album is about “the different levels of racism in the African American experience that are unfortunately still with us today. The history of African Americans is the history of America,” Taylor says.
“After 15 albums, I’ve taken all of my thoughts about the history of racial injustice and created a musical interpretation for modern times. When I started recording in 2015, I had no idea the topics would become even more relevant,” Taylor says.
Musically, Taylor produces a unique sound that draws on African American culture but is innovative in the instrumentation and arrangement. “I experimented with banjo and fiddle because slaves on the southern plantations played those instruments and I wanted to include the richness of the early African slave instrument sounds throughout the record.”
“If you close your eyes you can imagine the past, yet see the connections and relevance to what’s happening now,” Taylor says.
Typical for the artist, he’s found a unique way of expressing ideas in a work that honors musical traditions yet moves the genre forward in a creative mix that has an intellectual and emotional impact.
The songs on Fantasizing About Being Black comprise a bold and thought-provoking 11-part statement on the African American experience.
The album introduces seven new songs. “Banjo Bam Bam,” the story of a slave in shackles, feels like West African trance rhythms with a dose of Chicago; “Tripping on This,” an ode to an unlikely father-son reunion, evokes John Lee Hooker; “D to E Blues” recalls the constant yearning for freedom in an acoustic blues style so intimate that you feel like you are sitting in the same room; “Jump Out of Line” pays homage to the ever-present fear in Civil Rights marches in a style that touches on Mississippi Hill Country blues; “Just Want to Live With You” cites the hypocrisy of a public official keeping a black mistress and features melodic lead guitar accents from teenager Brandon Niederauer; “Roll Down the Hill” is a rally call to get up when you’ve been pushed down; and “Jump to Mexico” reflects the perils of interracial relationships in the recent past and highlights slide guitar master Jerry Douglas in a soft and heartbreaking Americana ballad.
Taylor also reinterprets some of his most compelling material. “Twelve String Mile,” from When Negroes Walked the Earth, is a song about how invisible blacks were in the 1930s, and demonstrates that blues is truly roots music. “Walk on Water,” about a black man who wants to renew his relationship with a woman of a different race, is an acoustic power-driven whaler’s sleigh ride, with seamless interplay of guitar and cornet; it appeared previously on Truth Is Not Fiction and Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs. “Hands on Your Stomach,” in which a slave woman with a dream of being free, combines Taylor’s signature trance music with textured psychedelic leads from Brandon Niederauer. “Jump Jelly Belly,” about black soldiers in WW2 who had the dangerous job of transferring cargo between ships on the English Channel, sounds like Charley Patton meets James Brown. These last two are from Respect the Dead.
Band members include violinist Anne Harris, who often plays melodic and textural foil to Taylor’s idiosyncratic, mesmerizing guitar, drummer Larry Thompson, and bassist Todd Edmunds. Their expertise is complemented by special musical guests Jerry Douglas on koa wood lap guitar, cornetist Ron Miles, and young lead guitar virtuoso Brandon Niederauer.
A thread of social justice always runs through Taylor’s work. His 2013 album, My World Is Gone, explored the struggles of Native Americans and enlisted the guitar of Indigenous frontman Mato Nanji, who is a member of the Nakota Nation. Recapturing the Banjo was a brilliant effort to recognize the African roots of the banjo and move it forward with a group of stellar contemporary blues artists. The powerful single “Ten Million Slaves” was picked up for the Michael Mann movie Public Enemies in 2009.
Taylor has been pursuing his own singular musical vision — a fusion of the primal hum of raw, primitive blues and contemporary, free-ranging expressionism — since the 1960s, when the banjoist, guitarist, bassist and harmonica player first toured the U.S. and Europe with a variety of blues-based bands including Zephyr, for whom Taylor played bass, and T&O Short Line, which included the late legendary guitarist Tommy Bolin.
Taylor left the music business in 1977 to pursue dealing in art and antiques, and to raise a family. He also pursued his passion for bicycle racing, as a coach. During the ’90s, Taylor was drawn back into music making by friends in the Boulder area. By 1996 and the arrival of his debut album Blue-Eyed Monster, he was performing once again. With the release of his next two discs, When Negroes Walked the Earth and White African, Taylor began to emerge as a singular voice in the American roots scene, acclaimed here and abroad for his riveting music and his unflinching honesty in writing about racism, struggle, freedom, heritage and the complications of human life.
To date he has received 16 Blues Music Award (BMA) nominations. White African captured a BMA for best debut album. Taylor is also nominated regularly as an instrumentalist for his banjo playing, and won a Blues Music Award for his original style in 2009, following the release of Recapturing the Banjo. His albums Double V, Definition of a Circle and Recapturing the Banjo all won DownBeat’s Best Blues CD award in 2005, 2007 and 2008, respectively. He also took the magazine’s Critic’s Choice Award for Best Blues Album for 2003’s Truth Is Not Fiction. In 2000, he was awarded a fellowship from the Sundance Institute’s Composers’ Lab, and Taylor has been nominated two times for the prestigious Académie Charles Cros award in France, winning the Grand Prix du Disc for Blues in 2012. Three years ago, Contraband — his 12th album — took the DownBeat Critics’ Choice award again for Blues Album of the Year. His most recent album, Hey Joe Opus Red Meat is on display in the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.
Following extensive touring in Europe, including six tours opening for the late Irish guitar legend Gary Moore, Taylor began his Trance Blues Festival in 2010. The annual event, held in November at Boulder’s eTown Hall, brings a broad cast of professional and amateur musicians together for performances, jams and workshops.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 24, 2015
ROOTS MUSIC VISIONARY OTIS TAYLOR CREATES A
TIMELESSS PSYCHEDELIC ALBUM AND DEBUTS HIS
TRANCE BLUES FESTIVAL LABEL
Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat seamlessly blends hypnotic songs
and instrumentals; features guests Warren Haynes, Langhorne Slim and String Cheese Incident’s Bill Nershi, out May 5
BOULDER, Colo. — Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat, the new album from visionary roots music songwriter and bandleader Otis Taylor, is a psychedelic masterpiece. Blending his uniquely poetic songwriting and the compelling musical approach that he calls “trance blues,” the recording — due on May 5, 2015 on Taylor’s new Trance Blues Festival label — cuts to the core of the human spirit with its mix of vocal and instrumental performances, letting its hypnotic sound as well as Taylor’s lyrics tell its story.
The artist explains that his 14th album is “about decisions and their consequences. It’s about how decisions and the actions that result can change our lives, the lives of our families and the lives of people we don’t even know. Sometimes you win in life; sometimes you lose. You want the outcome of your decisions to be good, but sometimes its bad. And that’s when you don’t eat the meat. The meat eats you.”
Typical for Taylor, he’s found a unique way of expressing those ideas in a grand work. The songs on Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat comprise a suite in 10 parts, designed to be heard as a complete recording, with the classic song of decisions and their consequences “Hey Joe” as its overarching theme. That number, made famous as the debut single from the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966, was written by folk artist Billy Roberts and has intrigued Taylor and been part of his live concerts for two decades.
In a gambit that recalls Pink Floyd’s use of recurring musical themes on their enduring multi-platinum album Wish You Were Here, “Hey Joe” appears on Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat twice. The first version, which starts the album, features Gov’t Mule and Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes. The second features Langhorne Slim on backing vocals. Haynes also plays on the first of three appearances of the Taylor composition “Sunday Morning,” which follows. His bold guitar tones mesh perfectly with Taylor’s sonic tapestry as both songs set the tone for the album. The recurring motifs in “Sunday Morning” are especially striking, drawing on powerful, single-chord rhythms and the interplay of Taylor band members Todd Edmunds on bass, guitarist Taylor Scott, drummer Larry Thompson and violinist Anne Harris, who often plays melodic and textural foil to Taylor’s idiosyncratic, mesmerizing guitar. They’re joined by keyboardists Gus Skinas and Steve Vidaic, cornetist Ron Miles, banjo player David Moore and, on “Peggy Lee,” a song about a man undergoing a sex change, String Cheese Incident guitarist Bill Nershi. Together they bring Taylor’s unfailingly brilliant ideas to kaleidoscopic life.
The album introduces four more new Taylor songs. “The Heart Is a Muscle” is a driving tune about the complexities of love and “Cold at Midnight” mixes loneliness and infidelity into Taylor’s potent aural swirl. There’s also “Red Meat,” driven by Taylor playing his signature model Santa Cruz acoustic guitar, and the elegant instrumental “They Wore Blue,” which transitions the album into its second half.
“I’m always trying to find something different to do with each album,” says Taylor. “It gets harder with each one I make, but I really enjoy the idea of challenging myself to find new ways to tell stories and make art.” His previous album, 2013’s My World Is Gone, explored the struggles of Native Americans and enlisted the virtuoso guitar of Indigenous frontman Mato Nanji, who is a member of the Nakota Nation.
Taylor has been pursuing his own singular musical vision — a fusion of the primal hum of raw, primitive blues and contemporary, free-ranging expressionism — since the 1960s, when the banjoist, guitarist, bassist and harmonica player first toured the U.S. and Europe with a variety of blues-based bands including Zephyr, for whom Taylor played bass, and G&O Short Line, which included legendary guitarist Tommy Bolin.
Taylor left the music business in 1977 to pursue dealing in art and antiques, and to raise a family. (His daughter Cassie has appeared on many of his recordings singing and playing bass, and today is a recording artist in her own right.) He also pursued his passion for bicycle racing, as a coach. During the ’90s, Taylor was drawn back into music making by friends in the Boulder area. By 1996 and the arrival of his debut albumBlue-Eyed Monster, he was performing once again. With the release of his next two discs, When Negroes Walked the Earth and White African, Taylor began to emerge as a singular voice in the American roots scene, acclaimed here and abroad for his riveting music and his unflinching honesty in writing about racism, struggle, freedom, heritage and the complications of human life.
To date he has received 16 Blues Music Award (BMA) nominations. White African captured a BMA for best debut album. Taylor is also nominated regularly as an instrumentalist for his banjo playing, and won a Blues Music Award for his original style in 2009, following the release of Recapturing the Banjo, an album that examined the instrument’s deep African roots. His albums Double V, Definition of a Circle and Recapturing the Banjo all won DownBeat’s Best Blues CD award in 2005, 2007 and 2008, respectively. He also took the magazine’s Critic’s Choice Award for Best Blues Album for 2003’s Truth Is Not Fiction. And Taylor has been nominated two times for the prestigious Académie Charles Cros award in France, winning the Grand Prix du Disc for Blues in 2012. Three years ago, Contraband — his 12th album — took the DownBeat Critics’ Choice award again for Blues Album of the Year.
In 2009 Taylor’s Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs was unveiled the same week that two of his tunes appeared in the Hollywood blockbuster Public Enemy, directed by Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Previously his music had appeared in the 2007 Mark Wahlberg vehicle Shooter. And in 2000 Taylor was a fellow in the Sundance Institute’s Film Music Program.
In 2010 Taylor began his Trance Blues Festival, which gives his new label its name, in Boulder, Colorado. The annual event brings a broad cast of professional and amateur musicians together for three days of performances, jams and workshops. This year’s Trance Blues Festival will be held at the eTown Theater in Boulder on November 7.
“Music is not a spectator sport,” he observes. “In a world where there is a lot of misunderstanding, music can help people communicate and break down barriers, and really start to see each other for who they are.”
His songs also lend perspective, thanks to the spare and insightful lyrics and elemental music that’s always at the core of his albums, including Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat. “My music,” says Taylor, “is always about the truth. People care about the truth, because the truth is important. And I want people to care about my songs, because I push myself very hard to create each album and make it the best that I possibly can. My albums are my legacy, and I want them to endure.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 14, 2011
HAUNTING, HYPNOTIC GROOVES FROM
ICONOCLASTIC TRANCE BLUESMAN OTIS TAYLOR
Otis Taylor’s Contraband features Cassie Taylor, Larry Thompson, Anne Harris, Jon Paul Johnson, Chuck Campbell, Ron Miles, The Sheryl Renee Choir and more
BOULDER, Colo. — Otis Taylor isn’t defined by any single category. A musical alchemist and a true innovator, Taylor has never been afraid to experiment beyond the blues tradition. He’s a master craftsman who has created his own signature “trance blues” style by melding haunting guitar and banjo work, syncopated rhythms and a combination of gruff vocals, shouts and yells with raw passion.
“When I sing, I just do what I do,” Taylor says. “Whatever comes out — that’s the way I leave it. And if I make a mistake, I leave it in. I like to keep the emotion.” Otis Taylor’s Contraband is evidence of that. Set for release February 13, 2012, on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group, Taylor’s new album finds the artist on familiar thematic terrain: love, social injustices, personal demons and war.
The album takes its title from an article that appeared in the May/June 2011 issue of Preservation Magazine about runaway slaves who during the American Civil War escaped to the Union lines at Fort Monroe, Va.. Known as “contraband,” they lived in camps where conditions were often worse than life on the plantation.
Otis Taylor’s Contraband isn’t just speaking to the African American experience, but to the entire human experience. “I’m not really a protest singer or even a very political person,” says Taylor. “I just try to tell an interesting story and let people interpret it as they wish.”
On Otis Taylor’s Contraband, the iconoclastic bluesman is reunited with several longtime collaborators including the supple-toned Ron Miles on cornet; pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell from American Sacred Steel gospel group the Campbell Brothers; djembe player Fara Tolno, a master drummer born in Guinea, West Africa; fiddler Anne Harris from Chicago, Ill.; and the Sheryl Renee Choir. Bass is handled by Taylor’s daughter Cassie and Todd Edmunds. Rounding out the band are Jon Paul Johnson on guitar, Brian Juan on organ, and Larry Thompson, former house drummer for Colorado’s world-renowned Caribou Ranch recording studio.
The recording took an ominous turn in April 2010 when Taylor became victim of a serious illness and had to undergo major surgery. “I found out that I had a cyst connected to my liver and my spine,” he says. “I’ve always had a bad back, but the cyst was as big as a softball and it was pushing on the nerves in my spine. It was a pretty serious thing. So I went into the studio three days before the operation and recorded seven acoustic songs . . . just in case. If you listen to parts of the album carefully, you can tell I was in excruciating pain.”
Otis Taylor’s Contraband offers 14 compelling originals. “The Devil’s Gonna Lie,” a rousing showcase for the entire band, opens the album with Taylor’s trademark howls and a demonic laugh. As he writes in the liner notes, “When there is peace, the devil wants war. When there is love, the devil wants hate.” On “Yell Your Name,” one of the project’s original seven acoustic tunes, Taylor sings about a man wants his lover to come back.
The insistent rhythm of another acoustic love song, “Look to the Side” spotlights the distinctive sound of Taylor’s specially made electric banjo. Of the foot-tapping “Romans Had Their Way,” he says, “I wrote this song in the ’60s when I was a kid, listening to groups like the Kinks. This is the only old song on the album — all the rest are new.”
A stark meditation on race, “Blind Piano Teacher” tells the story of a young black piano teacher who lives with an older white man, while a man begs a woman for compassion on “Banjo Boogie Blues.”
With its swirling guitars and hypnotic lyrics, “Contraband Blues,” a song about Civil War slaves who were held by the Union Army as contraband (or captured property), is the powerful centerpiece to the album. “During the Civil War, slaves were free, but not as people,” Taylor says. “We don’t usually think of people as contraband, but this is about treating humans as animals.”
The bleak and haunting “Open These Bars” — the longest song on the album — refers to the Jim Crow years in the South, when a black man could be lynched for just looking at a white woman. On “Yellow Car, Yellow Dog,” a poor man wishes he had money and could win the love of a woman. Taylor calls this “one of my more poetic songs.”
“Never Been To Africa” is the simmering tale of a black soldier who’s fought all over the world in World War I, but has never seen Africa. There’s desperation in Taylor’s voice when he sings “Cold sweat running down my leg, I can feel the gas coming across my face, I know I don’t believe in war, but I’ll fight anyway.”
On the final track, “I Can See You’re Lying,” Taylor captures the energy and emotion of romance and relationships perfectly. “It’s another one of my dark, twisted love songs,” he says.
By taking blues music as an art form to a higher level altogether, Otis Taylor’s Contraband is both subtle and challenging. Another thought-provoking entry in his canon, Taylor’s eighth Telarc album is the follow up to Clovis People, Vol. 3, released in May 2010.
“It’s all a balancing act,” Taylor says. “A new album has to be different, but you can’t be too different. It has to be the same, but not exactly the same. It’s like a riddle.”
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Trance Blues Jam Festival
On November 25-27, 2011, hundreds of musicians will come together for a celebration of the art of creating music when Otis Taylor presents the first annual Trance-Blues Jam Festival. The line-up includes world-renowned guitarist Bob “Steady Rollin’” Margolin, banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka, multi-instrumentalist Don Vappie, bassist George Porter Jr., guitarist/vocalist Standing Bear and Cassie Taylor, among others. The event begins with a pre-Trance Jam hosted by Taylor and his band with guest artists at the Boulder Outlook Hotel.
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