Born: July 30, 1948 Chicago, Illinois
Styles: Electric Country Blues, Contemporary Blues, Modern Acoustic Blues, Acoustic Blues
Instruments: Vocals, Banjo, Guitar
Bluesman Otis Taylor never skirted tough subject matter in a career that took him from the Folklore Center in Denver to a brief stay in London, England, to retirement from music in 1977 to operate as a successful antiques broker and since 1995 back again to the blues.
Taylor's 2001 CD White African (Northern Blues Music), featuring Kenny Passarelli (bass, keyboards) and Eddie Turner (lead guitar), became his most direct and personal statement about the experiences of African-Americans. He addressed the lynching of his great-grandfather and the murder of his uncle. Brutality became his concern in songs about a black man executed in the 1930s for a murder he did not commit and about a father who could not afford doctor's bills and sat powerless watching his son die. Faith met Taylor's irony in his vision of Jesus as a mortal man who looked for ways to avoid his crucifixion and in his take on romantic infidelity among common men.
Taylor's first CD, Blue-Eyed Monster, and 1997's When Negroes Walked the Earth also cast an uneasy spell on the blues world. Part of Taylor's music could feel comfortable on the back roads of the Delta in the 1920s and '30s. It came as no surprise when he interpreted Charley Patton's "Stone Pony" on a Shanachie Records compilation, Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: New Acoustic Recordings of Pre-War Blues Classics, which also featured popular blues performers such as Alvin Youngblood Hart, John Hammond, Duke Robillard, and Corey Harris. At other times, Taylor's music was so uncompromisingly contemporary in its outlook on social injustices that he seemed more akin to South African poet and activist Stephen Biko.
Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948. After his uncle was murdered, his family moved to Denver for apparent safe haven. Taylor took an interest in blues and folk music at Denver's Folklore Center. After hearing Etta James sing "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You (Can't by Just Looking Under the Cover)," Taylor knew he liked the blues. He then went to the Folklore Center, where he heard the banjo and country blues and Mississippi John Hurt. He also liked Junior Wells and Muddy Waters and got into the folkie blues and Appalachian music. He learned to play guitar, banjo, and harmonica. Only several decades later did he begin to understand the ties of the blues and its instrumentation to the savannah of western Africa.
By his mid-teens, he formed his first groups - the Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band and later the Otis Taylor Blues Band. He briefly stayed in England in 1969 to pursue a record deal with Blue Horizon, but negotiations failed and he returned to the U.S. In the '70s, he took up mandolin. He decided to leave music behind in 1976 and started a successful career as an antiques broker. After much prodding from Passarelli, Taylor returned to music in 1995. He first played a benefit concert. Then he started to play again both solo and with his band in America and Europe. In the summer of 2000, he received a composition fellowship from the Sundance Institute in Park City, UT, and hobnobbed with film celebrities at the Sundance Film Festival.
His When Negroes Walked the Earth was released on Shoelace Records that same year. Taylor began participating in "Writing the Blues" in the Blues in the Schools program, sponsored by the National Blues Foundation, and he started writing and performing new songs in 2001. White African and Respect the Dead were released by Northern Blues in 2001 and 2002, respectively, followed by Taylor's first release on Telarc Blues, Truth Is Not Fiction, in 2003. A second album on Telarc, Double V, came out in 2004, followed by Below the Fold in 2005 and Definition of a Circle two years later.
- Robert Hicks (All Music Guide)
Otis Mark Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948 to Otis and Sarah Taylor. In the early 1950s the Taylor family moved to Denver Colorado. One of young Otis' favorite neighborhood hang-outs was the Denver Folklore Center. He bought his first instrument there, a used ukulele. A banjo and harmonica soon joined the collection. He started his first group "Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band" in 1964.
In 1969 London called. Blue Horizon Records had signed him to a recording contract. He liked the London scene but his unique song-writing style didn't gel with the arranger the record company assigned to the project. Frustrated, Taylor returned to Colorado. His next project "T&O Short Line," was a combo with the legendary Tommy Bolin of Deep Purple.
In 1977 Taylor retired from the music business, and for the next two decades ran a successful antiques dealership in Colorado. Taylor often jammed with friends and family, but did not perform in public.
After years of prodding from his musical mentor Kenny Pasarelli (Elton John, Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh), Taylor finally returned to performance in 1995. In an intimate room in Boulder Colorado, he was joined onstage by Pasarelli and ace guitarist Eddie Turner. This trio would go on to perform as the Otis Taylor Band for the next 6 years. A magazine writer on hand reported: "The combination was magic, Taylor's unique singing style blended perfectly with Pasarelli's rock steady virtuosity Turner's rock-roll tinged riffs." Subsequent independent releases Blue Eyed Monster and When Negroes Walked The Earth turned heads in the blues scene and won Taylor critical acclaim.
Otis Taylor signed with NorthernBlues Music in early 2001, and released the ground-breaking White African (2001) and Respect the Dead (2002). These two recordings would put Taylor on the map as one of the most original blues artists to emerge in recent years.
Mojo magazine in the UK writes, "Rural, urban, universal-Taylor is destined to be one of the blues greats."