Telluride Blues & Brews: Otis Taylor

Telluride Blues & Brews: Otis Taylor

Tickets and passes to the 22nd annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival here. 

Taylor performs at Fly Me to the Moon Friday night, 10 p.m. His band is on the Main Stage, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Please scroll down to the bottom of the story to listen to my interview with the blues legend Otis Taylor.

Otis Taylor Band

Otis Taylor Band

Run the list in alphabetical order and his name appears towards the bottom, but Otis Taylor is Top Dog for the many fans of (22nd annual) Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, September 18 – 20.

Blues, the ultimate roots music, still has legs, very long legs, and singer/songwriter/troubadour/storyteller Otis Taylor is one reason why.

Draw a straight line from the dawn of the blues, Delta growl of Charlie Patton through Robert Johnson to the electric South Side bands of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and eventually you will wind up at the feet of the likes of the Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie Raitt and Aerosmith. The genre emerged out of the twin historical injustices of racism and slavery, yet it appeals to people who will never ever pick a boll of cotton except to clean off makeup or a cut.

A visionary songwriter and minimalist talking blues artist with a hypnotic beat, Taylor is the natural heir of John Lee Hooker. However, rather than being a guardian of the agony and the ecstasy of the tradition, he is a true destroyer of the form and living proof tough love works. Taylor is widely considered a maverick, who has moved the genre more than a few country miles into the future. He describes his sound as “trance-blues,” a unique blend of roots sounds and poetry.

“Taylor’s albums tend to have an atmospheric, dream-like quality. Taylor’s style might sometimes be described as Muddy Waters meets Shawn Phillips or Pink Floyd,” said Twangville.

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 once said. “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 the element of surprise that makes him such a compelling artist.

“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,” wrote Guitar Player. 

Taylor’s latest release is Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat.

“…A mix of old and new songs and cover songs, Taylor’s signature jam-heavy, psychedelic aesthetic feels fresher than ever. A fever dream of otherworldly and old west vibes, Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat is spontaneous and exciting, but also clean and controlled. Everything is where it should be, but you don’t see any of it coming.

“Taylor’s voice is low and smoky, never overly emotional, but still full of feeling. He sounds masculine and gritty, raw and authentic, free of any fancy production…,” raves Glide Magazine.

Telluride Blues & Brews Festival director Steve Gumble brought Otis Taylor to town for the first time in the late 1990s, then wound up becoming his manager for a spell.

“There are lots of performers playing the blues out there, but Otis is sort of reinventing it,” said Gumble. “I would describe his style as ‘hip blues.’ I have found the man’s appeal is universal: young people in the crowd like his consistent beat for dancing; older people seem to enjoy the authenticity of his lyrics on subjects ranging from personal to political. By stretching the boundaries of the genre, Otis is keeping blues fresh.”

Otis Mark Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948. After an uncle was shot, his family moved to Denver, where the young man’s interest in blues and folk music was cultivated. Both his parents were big music fans.

Taylor has been in the music business ever since – except for time out in 1977 to sell antiques and later to coach an amateur bicycling team.

To learn more about Otis Taylor, click the “play” button and listen to our chat.

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