Concert Reviews

Concert Reviews


Texas Music Heritage Foundation Silver Jubilee – Kerrville, TX – September 22, 2012

Trinity Backstage – Santa Barbara, CA – April 30, 2011

Tales From The Tavern – Santa Ynez, CA – March 3, 2010

The Old Brewery – Cromarty, Scotland – October 3, 2009

The Maze – Nottingham, England – September 30, 2009

Morden Tower – Newcastle, England – October 3, 2007

Anderson Fair – Houston, TX – February 17, 2007

The Maze – Nottingham, England – October 25, 2006

State Bar – Glasgow, Scotland – October 6, 2003

Texas Music Heritage Foundation Silver Jubilee – Kerrville, TX –

September 22, 2012

published 9/25/12 in From Under The Basement

Review - Eric Taylor live at The Faculty House on The Schreiner University Campus last Saturday evening

By ‘Rebel’ Rod Ames

It looked as if I was going to have a quiet Saturday evening at home, when suddenly, two extremely tasty options appear on my monitor while perusing Facebook. A notice popped up from friend’s Eric Hisaw and Chrissy Flatt, announcing they were both playing just down the road (about 70 miles) at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio from 5:30 – 8 PM.

I had just about completely talked myself out of the drive to SA (lazy, just lazy) when another announcement jumped out at me from friend, Tony Gallucci, about Mr. Eric Taylor performing a house concert at the Faculty House on the Schreiner University campus in Kerrville.

I made the decision to go at the very last second, arriving just as Dr. Kathleen Hudson was wrapping up her announcements about the THMF’s ongoing Texas Heritage Music Days celebration of Texas music, and all the upcoming events. Stay tuned for more about that later.

Funny thing – as I walked in the door to the building, Mr. Taylor is standing there, he looks at me and says, “There he is!” and puts his hand out for a handshake. I am trying to remember the last time I was greeted by the featured artist at the door. Answer – Never - not until Saturday evening at least!

As it turned out my last second decision to go witness this event turned out to be one of my better decisions. The evening was pure magic, an evening filled with verse set to music. Mr. Taylor at one point referred to himself as a juggler of words.

As he put, “I juggle the words, and if they fall in the right place, well…”.

You get the picture – you get songs recorded by such great artists as his ex-wife Nancy Griffith, best friend Lyle Lovett, and on and on the list goes. His career has been a lengthy one with a hiatus from the business during the eighties and into the nineties, to get his feet firmly planted back on earth.

The earth is where his songs derive. I’m not talking about the name of our glorious planet, I’m speaking of the soil. The rich textured soil that somehow connects to the troubadour’s soul.

When you hear Eric Taylor’s songs, the listener is also treated to his stories that precede and follow every tune. They are stories that mean so much to the artist and eventually the listener as well. You can see it on his face. His eyes are telling, sometimes tearing up, such as when he speaks of friend Bill Morrissey or legendary actor Sterling Hayden and then plays his songs for the both of them. It is obvious that both of these men played enormous roles in the molding of who Eric Taylor has become.

On at least two tunes his lovely wife Susan Lindfors Taylor and her soft, often enchanting voice joined him, aiding his sometimes gruff voice, helping to balance out the tune, even taking the tune to another level.

One word that comes to mind that sufficiently describes what I witnessed Saturday evening -Incredible! It was such an intimate setting. The artist continuously made eye contact with the audience, his wonderful stories resonating through the small room. His words constantly juggled, each one landing in just the right place.

Yes indeed, exactly the right place. 

Trinity Backstage - Santa Barbara, CA - April 30, 2011

published 5/2/2011 in Santa Barbara News-Press

In The Church Of Song

Respected Texan songwriter and tale spinner Eric Taylor stopped by for this third appearance in the Trinity Backstage series on Saturday


Eric Taylor doesn’t appear to be a holy man, at least in any traditional sense. The acclaimed Texan songwriter has a dry, salty Lone Star wit, a gruff-but-loveable whisky-toned voice, and he can let slip his longshoreman’s tongue even when trying to keep it in check (or jokingly so). The tall, stocky fellow wears a backwards hat, like Jimmy LaFave, and keeps his fashion real, in a red T-shirt with shorn sleeves.

But, appearances and secular appurtenances aside, there was something just right about this intriguing song force and performer’s poise and the inherent church setting of the “Trinity Backstage” series, held in the large atmospheric “go to meetin’ ” room at Trinity Episcopal Church. Mr. Taylor became our man of song in this wonderful monthly temporary “coffee house” situation, a haven for singer-songwriters of worth and wit, where Mr. Taylor made his third welcome visit on Saturday night.

Nine years into it now, the “Trinity Backstage” series is one of our several strong fellowships and forums for singer-songwriter culture in the 805, hosting inspired and established songmakers — if often better known for having written songs covered by other, better-known artists (Mr. Taylor’s famed songbook has been tapped by his friend Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith and many others).

On this particular Saturday, Mr. Taylor’s slow, rambling but hypnotic tales between songs took the form of a laconic preacher’s patter, with the spiritual and life lessons often left implied rather than hammered into our heads. His songs, too — and the best ones are the sad ones — have a kind of hymn-like contemplativeness beyond their ruffian complexion.

Like most rootsy American musicians, matters of the Bible and gospel music’s loamy foundation worked into his art, specifically on a song about a Catholic homeless shelter, “Mission Doors,” with its quote of “Rock of Ages” and the refrain “hold hands and go dancing on the old devil’s grave.” Mostly, though, this evening was rooted in a more identifiably Saturday night fever of a down low kind, as his emotional tendencies lean into the darker side of things, to cathartic ends.

He may be tired of the once-removed connection by now, but Mr. Taylor is also famous for who he knew and was friendly with — the late, great Texan singer Townes van Zandt, another specialist in the art of the melancholic Texan song. After regaling us with a funny tale about a humble old Texan venue from his salad days of the early ’70s with a “popcorn girl” sentinel, Mr. Taylor launched into a righteous fine version of Van Zandt’s tune “Highway Kind,” about the march of mortality and dreams of salvation through the agency of an unattainable woman.

Saturday’s set also included the tender and rolling “Whooping Crane” (recorded by Mr. Lovett on his 2009 album “Natural Forces”), and image- and detail-rich homage songs to bygone artist friends, Kate Wolf (“The Great Divide,” as an encore) and William S. Burroughs (“Whorehouse Mirrors and Pawnshop Knives”). Returning after intermission, Mr. Taylor offered up a slow-brew, disarmingly poignant and oblique tale of “where I was” at the time of the JFK assassination, easing into the relevant song “Kokomo, Indiana.” In the song “Peppercorn Tree,” he showed his mastery with telling an epic tale, of a humble Eastern Texan couple’s life and love, full of historical and cultural detail, creating a vivid world within the space of a five-minute song.

On this occasion, the self-reliant singer, guitarist and coolly magnetic performer was also joined, to colorful ends, by the intrepid creators and hosts of “Trinity Backstage” presenters, singer Kate Wallace and singer-multi-instrumentalist Douglas Clegg, who added choice fiddler licks and a telling role in “Manhattan Mandolin Blues.”

Ms. Wallace lent her warming, harmonious vocals to the meandering “Dean Moriarty” (the song that drew William S. Burroughs’ attentions to Mr. Taylor’s artistic gifts) and later to a touching song he wrote for a documentary about a Mexican youth’s brave fight with a muscular disease.

Come to think of it, that song is also rife with religious imagery, including the motif of angel wings and the power of faith. Mr. Taylor may be a holier character than he lets on.

Tales From The Tavern - Santa Ynez, CA - March 3, 2010

Posted by Amy Speace on her blog

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fan Letter

I'm a pretty unflappable person. I learned the art of the unflapping when I was 23 and working as Lainie Kazan's personal assistant, fresh out of acting school, never met a famous person in my life. In the course of my first few months working with Lainie, I met Gregory Hines, danced with Bette Midler in a nightclub in NYC, shared an elevator ride with Dan Rather who asked me all about myself, got ass-pinched by Tony Randall (who, frankly, was an ass, rest his soul), had drinks with Rex Reed, did a movie with Abe Vigoda, Connie Sellica, Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor, met mobsters and crooks, dancers and divas and by the end of the year, I'm sure if I'd met Bob Dylan I might have just said, "eh, can I get you an Evian?"

The other night Ray Wylie Hubbard and I were hanging in Memphis, doing a showcase together. I was going to be flying to CA to open some shows with him and his wife called to say "I know you're pretty cool around famous people, but I should let you know. Ringo might show up at your LA show for Ray. Just in case you see him, I wanted to warn you." Ringo? A Beatle? Seriously? Ok. I would be flapped, I admitted. But, Ringo was a no show (or if he showed, I did not see him; then again, I heard that Chris Robinson was there and I didn't spot him, so who knows). Regardless, I was unflapped. Out of sight....

Tonight. Call me flapped. Big time. And I was flapped by someone who, quite frankly, I was pretty unfamiliar with.

Eric Taylor. I just shared a co-bill with Eric Taylor. Who I'd heard of, of course. How can you be a folk musician with a love of Texas folk music without knowing of Eric Taylor. Contemporary of (but a few years younger than) Townes and Guy, Steve and Nanci, etc. But I wasn't really familiar with his music except for the songs Lyle and Nanci had covered. I try to educate myself as much as I can on all things GREAT about songwriters, but some things slip through the cracks and Mr. Taylor had slipped. I'm grateful that I was shoved straight in front of his music tonight.

Let me just say this. I might have 'shared' the bill with Eric Taylor, but it was me who sat at a Master Class after I was done. I was just happy to get through my set, having just been flattened by the Flu (the big one) for 8 days, completely out of my mind sick, sicker than I remember ever having been, and this being the first time I'd be standing up straight for more than 15 minutes since being sick. And I'd have to stand up straight, play a guitar, sing, stand in front of stage lights AND have to remember my own lyrics. It was tough. I'm just happy I made it.

But then, I got to watch Eric Taylor. Who is unlike anyone I've ever seen perform. Theatrical, dramatic. Slow. Space. Stories that wound around and back again, repeated lines like mantra, slow and steady like a One Man Show. Stories told while fingering a riff, leaving me wondering where the song began, if it began, or when it might begin, but being drawn straight into the center of the story that seemed to have no point. More of an observation: Johnny Cash's mother sold beachtowels and thimbles by the side of the road. The history of a county and a river in Texas. Then the song, that wound back to the observation, sometimes repeating the same phrase or word, sometimes just a repetition of an image "sugarcane" or "Sammy Davis Jr". I couldn't tell what was going on, or where he was going. Did he have a setlist? Had he written these stories as monologue or was he riffing? 2 full glasses of wine and 3 glasses of water on his pedestal. Was he drinking too much? Was it authentic or an act? He told a story of meeting Johnny Cash in an AA meeting, he punctuated his story by sipping wine out of the glass. It was all of the above and the thing was, I was riveted, schooled in space and time. Maybe it was slow, methodical, at times plodding, but it was always riveting. And his songs... there was one: "Peppercorn Tree" that almost brought me to sobbing. There's a thing that the Great Texan Songwriters do that nobody else does and its based in blues and picking and that glorious thud of the thumb back and forth on the E and A or D string, with a deep drop D. The way they wrap their drawl around the end word, so that 'where' sounds like 'whar' and the gruffness of the dropping of the syllables "d" and "t" so its almost like a Bayou drawl. Nanci Griffith does it. Eliza and Lucinda do it. Its not just for the old men. Even Mary Gauthier does it. Its something I could never do, this Baltimore girl would sound like a pretender. But there's some kind of true grit in that inflection that I wish I could borrow. And there's a repeating mode, a fearless emptiness that I hear in Eric Taylor's music that I also hear in Eliza and Mary and Guy and Townes. A drowning void.

And honest. He is who he is and is unapologetic and cranky and admits to his ego-filled failings when he was younger (tells a great story of how Kate Wolf brought him down to earth). He rags on people unabashedly. Or he might be taking the piss out, but you just aren't sure. I love that he's not gonna blow smoke up anyone's ass. He said to me: "that song, that one where the line is "killer in me loves the killer I see in you"..." I said, "yeah, "The Killer In Me" He said, "where'd you get that line? where'd that song come from?" I said, "No where really. Turn of a phrase and I just let that carry the lyric" and he said, "Cool shit. Don't tell anyone. That's fucking cool." Then just as I was feeling pretty damned good, being complimented by Eric Taylor for your songwriting is a pretty amazing thing, he said:

"Yeah. That's a great line. You got a pretty good song out of it."

Bam. Not a total compliment. I heard the subtext. But that's cool. I appreciate that he spoke his truth and I kind of like him more for it. Bastard.

I have sat at the feet of giants and had the privilege of hearing my heros sing my own songs. But I would like to sit at the feet of Guy Clark and Eric Taylor and Ray Wylie Hubbard and ask them to show me what they do. Ask Ray to teach me how to play the blues. Ask Guy how to wrap a story around 3

chords. As Eric to show me about space and detail and fearlessness. I was emailing with my friend Abbie today about how we both want to go to music school, but of our own making. Learn other people's songs, really study them, really figure them out. I think I might have found my next lesson.

Posted by Amy Speace at 3:40 AM

The Old Brewery - Cromarty, Scotland - October 3, 2009

published 10/05/2009 in The Press and Journal

Singing legend finds space at Old Brewery

Texan entertainer proves Cromarty venue can attract world-class talent

“SMALL town, small table,” Eric Taylor quipped on Saturday in his lazy Texan drawl, finding a precarious space for his glass of Chilean Merlot, beside a guitar effects pedal that looked like it had seen more of life than most of us ever will.

It is the ability of the Old Brewery in Cromarty to attract world-class artists to a distant corner of the Highlands that makes the venue an exciting and vital part of the international touring scene.

Folk/blues singer-songwriter Taylor, whose songs have been recorded by household names such as Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett, has all the rock star credentials you could ask for. He peppers his lethargic, dreamy delivery with tales and confessions of a long-defeated addiction to heroin, shooting a bar's noisy popcorn machine, and a chance encounter with Johnny Cash at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Taylor's performance sneaks up on you, drifting from introductory banter to a curious story of a circus train crash, and then set opener Carnival Jim & Jean is in full flow, not dissimilar to Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms in both vocal tone and guitar work.

A lot about Taylor draws easy comparison to other artists. Most noticeably his ethereal style is frequently redolent of Jim Morrison, with the portent atmosphere of The Doors classics Riders On The Storm and The End being felt through much of Taylor's work.

Yet there is no sense that Taylor is an imitator. This is a man whose larger-than-life talent sets the agenda, rather than following it. With a simple heel tap for rhythm and a voice of velvet brushed backwards, he gracefully picks a gutsy soundtrack from his custom-made Ross-Kinscherff Dreadnought guitar and holds his audience entranced. Mention also must go to Taylor's road manager and warm-up act, Stewart Warburton, hailing from Lancashire but doing fine work with his self-penned roots Americana.

Highlights were Dolores, dealing humorously with the often overlooked issue of domestic violence towards men, and La Jilguera, touching more seriously on the phenomenon of hundreds of female murders around the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez.

The Maze - Nottingham, England - September 30, 2009

published 9/30/2009 in Northern Sky

Live Review: Eric Taylor at the Maze, Nottingham

(Concert date: Wednesday, September 30, 2009)

By Allan Wilkinson - Posted on 30 September 2009

I approached the north side of Nottingham just as dusk approached in the last remaining hours of September. The roads were grid-locked, apparently due to the 700 year-old annual Goose Fair, where thousands descend on the old city for some seasonal fun at one of the largest travelling fairgrounds in the country, provided for by travelling folk. I had an appointment with another traveller of a different sort and was beginning to become concerned that if the roads didn't clear soon, I just might miss that all important window of opportunity to have a chat to one of my musical heroes; so some inevitable steering wheel tapping ensued, together with one or two choice whispered profanities.

As I crawled through the slow moving traffic, listening to HOLLYWOOD POCKETKNIFE on the car MP3 player, which competed rather unsuccessfully with the pulsating and pumping rhythms of drum and bass from the Ministry of Noise coming from much bigger speakers in much bigger cars, together with the piercing sirens from emergency vehicles, attempting to negotiate the grid-locked chaos more forcefully than any of us, I finally saw the unassuming frontage of The Maze in the distance on the Mansfield Road, with the now customary gathering of smokers outside in the doorway. Grabbing my bag containing some recording equipment, my trusty camera and a notebook containing a few preliminary notes scribbled within its pages, I left the car in a highly suspect back street area and walked briskly towards the venue as night fell upon Nottingham town.

James Windsor, one of the towns' main live music promoters and organiser of tonight's gig, which comes under the Cosmic American banner, greeted me at the concert room door, moments before the darkened room was opened to the public. "I have an appointment with Eric" I said as I squeezed into the empty bar, the stage of which was already set up with a single mic stand and adjacent accessory and drinks table, with the now customary black backdrop with the words 'The Maze' printed in large white letters together with a maze-shaped logo.

I was led to the backstage area through a series of passages and doorways, understanding perfectly well now why the venue is called The Maze, and then a final creaky door was opened to reveal an unfamiliar seated figure, who I soon discovered to be one Stuart Warburton, a Bury-born driver, road companion and support singer to the main act tonight. Squeezing into the room behind James, I was soon in the company of the towering figure of the legendary Eric Taylor. We shook hands and in a deep soft growl of a voice, the Atlanta-born songwriter said "nice to meet ya Allan".

Dressed in faded blue denim jeans and a loose fitting black Grandad top, with a pair of reading specs dangling over the button up part just below his chin, a chin now obscured by a cool looking grey goatee - always cool on a man of his generation - and finally a black flat cloth cap turned backwards beret-like, hiding his apparent shock of grey hair beneath, the charismatic singer-songwriter settled back into a creaky chair, matching the creaky door I'd just walked through moments before. The Maze is something of a creaky place, but charming nonetheless. Almost deliberately abandoning my previously scribbled notes, we settled into a conversation about the Eric Taylor story so far:

AW: I was just about to introduce you as the Texan singer-songwriter Eric Taylor, but that's not really true, you're actually from Atlanta, Georgia?

ET: Yeah but I wasn't writing songs when I was born; Texas is my home and I would say if I'm a writer from anywhere it would be Texas.

AW: Yes well you got to Texas, I think you were on your way to California, but you dropped off at Houston and that's where you made your home for a while. What appealed to you about Houston in particular at the time?

ET: Music. The music scene. I've said this a thousand times that for a kid my age, eighteen, nineteen years old, wanting to be a writer coming in there at that time, I mean I saw Townes Van Zandt on a Friday night at this club and went back the next night and saw Lightnin' Hopkins, and they both lived in town and I said this is where I need to be. I'm staying here.

AW: Well at that time Mance Lipscomb was still around and like you say Lightnin' Hopkins..

ET: Sure, I spent a lot of time with Mance as well and Mississippi Fred McDowell was becoming a good friend of mine too. I was very lucky to meet and work with a lot of these guys they were a lot more accessible than I ever thought they would be

AW: Well we (music fans in the UK) who weren't around at that time, or certainly not in Houston, Texas, we tend to look back at people like Lightnin' Hopkins and we didn't know they were all that accessible but you say you could just go down the street and see them in the local bars?

ET: Oh sure, and not only that, but you could see them two or three times a week in the local bar and then if you were a musician it was easy enough to get to spend time with them, I mean I was Lightnin's second or third bass player. Rex Bell who owned the Old Quarter was like the main white boy bass player. When Rex was not around and couldn't do it then I would play bass with Lightnin' on and off for eight years and it was a trip. Mance lived just about eighty miles North of where I live now and we would get together, a bunch of us, and go up to Navasota and sit around in his yard and play music.

AW: Well talking about Texas, I guess that anyone who knows anything about music from the 1970s onwards right up to the present day, Texas is a hotbed for great singer-songwriters, you're part of that scene, you're one of that circle, Townes Van Zandt..

ET: Guy Clark

AW: Guy Clark of course, and then there's the Lubbock people Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, all these people, I mean is there something in the water?

ET: Well I don't know. I don't think there's anything in the water, there's not enough water. It was a wide open place, Texas was one of the few places left I think that was just wide open to anything, Guy Charles Clark used to say and I used to imitate, that the only rule in Texas about music at that time was there ain't no rules. Everybody listened to everybody, I mean you'd run in and play pool with Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top or Dusty, or Frank from ZZ Top, they all hung out in the same kind of places. We all hung out at the Old Quarter together or jazz clubs after hours. I remember many times after shows Nanci Griffith and I would go down after a show and there would be this place called the Green Room, where they would start playing jazz at three and would play until seven in the morning.

AW: We mentioned just then, your good friend the late Townes Van Zandt, I mean, Townes didn't have to die to become a legend, he was already a legend; I saw him in my town, which is about thirty or so miles up the road from here, just in a bar with a few people, and he had this aura about him that everybody loved and he's sadly missed. Do you still see Guy Clark?

ET: I still see Townes man.

AW: (Laughs) Of course.

ET: Yeah, I run into Guy once in a while, I don’t see him as much as I want to. We toured together a couple of different times. He lives in Nashville I live in Texas. We're on the road you know. Guy’s health has been hit and miss, I think he's doing very well. We run into each other occasionally and it’s always good to see him.

AW: Well we wish him the best.

ET: I love him to death.

AW: I could talk now for the next three hours about all your songs one by one but I'm just going to pick one in particular which is personal to me. I used to play in a duo with another songwriter and we used to write songs about the plight of the Native American, songs about Geronimo, the Cherokee Nation and the Cree Indians up North, we actually stole a line from one of your songs for our name (Buffalo Brothers) from Joseph Cross. How did you come to write such a beautiful song and where did that idea come from?

ET: I was writing a play at the time actually and I was real young, I was 22 I guess, maybe 23 or 24 when I wrote Joseph Cross, and I was working on a play about this guy and the song came from that, it basically came from all the notes and the writing that I'd done in trying to put this play together about this particular character.

AW: Because it's a specific story song, I mean your songs are highly literate story songs, which lends itself to that and you are telling a story, the same with Deadwood, do you set out to do that?

ET: Well the historical ballads I do, sure. You've got to have some history. You've got to have something to go by. So like in Deadwood, there’s so much historical fact in the song Deadwood and there's so much historical fact in the song Joseph Cross but both of those were basically fictional pieces. They're just little films really.

AW: That's a nice way of putting it. I noticed also in your latest release HOLLYWOOD POCKETKNIFE, that particular song, not so much on the album but when you play it live you preface it with a little story whilst you're playing the guitar, is that really to elaborate on the story or is it, I assume it's more to do with setting an atmosphere for the song?

ET: It's more like a theatre piece really and that's what I've been working on the last year, I'm hoping that in the next year I'll be able to have the one man show finished. I'll do some of those pieces tonight, some of them, I won't do the whole thing but I mean I like to bring the characters onto the stage sometimes with the song, I think the crowd gets it and they feel it and they can feel a part of it, I mean the only reason to do this shit is to get people to be a part of it.

AW: Well you've been doing it for a few years now; do you still get a kick out of it?

ET: I probably like it more now than ever. I mean I'm a little older and it takes me a little bit longer to get going in a morning but I think I probably enjoy performing now as much or more that I ever did in my life really, I love it.

AW: Well long may it continue.

ET: Thank you.

AW: You've got a nice long tour throughout October going to Europe, quite a gruelling tour it's just about every night isn't it?

ET: Almost every night yeah. Well this last year it's been steady work in the States too, I mean I've travelled to almost every state. There's two that I haven't gone to, but erm..

AW: You're working on it..

ET: I'll get 'em.

AW: Eric it's been wonderful to meet you, thanks for talking to me and good luck with the rest of the tour.

ET: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Returning to the concert bar, I took a seat by the stage and was pleasantly surprised that the lighting was perfect for the single photograph I was hoping to take. Red lights are an evil conception, an achingly dull pain for any photographer, let alone someone like me, who just wants to get a decent shot to go with the review, yet most venues use them. Here at The Maze, there were three of four white spots directly above the mic, illuminating the stage perfectly, but not drowning the area with unwanted light. Here's a venue thinking about the audience as well as the artist. Great sound and great lighting.

Stuart Warburton opened with a warm up set, which included songs about emotional battlefields, domestic violence and a fragile heaven, together with an enchanting song set in the disturbing world of unsolved crimes in Mexican border towns, especially in relation to the astonishing amount of murders involving young women. A good selection of self-penned songs from the voice of Rockabilly outfit The Rhythmaires, which served to do exactly what it said on the box, settle the audience for what was to follow.

After a short break and some last minute seat shuffling, the background music faded to allow our attention to fall upon the stage, which was now occupied by a tall brooding figure, peeking out at the audience from beneath his hand, which stretched out above his brow, with squinting eyes in search of familiar faces and old friends. One such friend handed Taylor a glass of whiskey, which joined the bottle of water, the glass of red wine and whatever was in the green tea cup that Taylor had brought up on stage with him. The singer was suitably set up for a relaxed hour or so of songs and stories and at this point, even he hadn't decided whether we were going to have a break half way through or a straight run through performance.

With some delicate guitar chords, finger-picked to no apparent rhythm, a gentle Texan drawl set the mood for Carnival Jim and Jean, with a spoken introduction telling of carneys, that is, fairground people; 'little midgets and knife throwers, balloon blowers, tiny dogs with pink dresses, all tryin' to find their way home.' We were enthralled from the start, knowing full well that we were in the company of a first rate story teller who knows exactly how to capture the imagination.

Eric Taylor isn't as prolific as his peers and doesn't have a couple of dozen albums like Tom Russell, nor does he have the enigmatic reputation of his late friend Townes Van Zandt. What he does have though is an astonishing repertoire of intelligently written and highly literate story songs that speak of scared circles, of cold nights on the Plains and fighting the Indians, of Dean Moriarty searching for the father he never knew and of brand new companions, however dirty. Carnival Jim and Jean was a good starter with its driving rhythm on guitar and uplifting beat, provided by some rhythmic foot tapping, together with an engaging story of a world we know little about.

Speaking of uplifting tunes and how to get the show going, Taylor admits that the show normally takes a nose-dive from there on in, 'a dive into the canyon' as they say. He's not the only songwriter with a reputation for sad songs. In his introduction to his late friend Townes Van Zandt's song Highway Kind, Taylor recalls an incident in the Old Quarter when a woman shouts up from the audience, 'Hey Townes, won't you just play a happy song, just for me?' Townes reportedly responded by saying 'these are the happy songs; you don't wanna hear the sad ones.'

'We've always been afraid of people' said Taylor, as he retuned his guitar, 'and people were afraid of Crazy Horse', hence the celebration when they finally killed the old chief off. Deadwood handles such historical material with a sensitivity devoid of any trace of sentimentality. It's been over twelve years since the writer of this song has actually performed it live, a song which he insists is called just Deadwood and not Deadwood, South Dakota as his erstwhile spouse Nanci Griffith referred to it on her album ONE FAIR SUMMER EVENING in 1988, explaining that at the time the song was set, there was no State of South Dakota. The singer confessed that he may be a little rusty, but he went on to play the song brilliantly well and what's more; he played the song specifically for me, without me having actually asked him to. A nice intuitive touch I thought.

Half way through the set, Eric checked with James and with the approval of the audience, it was unanimously decided upon that there would be no break. It would be a shame to lose the atmosphere thus far created and Taylor continued with more of the same, more stories, more songs.

The second half of the set saw the songwriter revisiting some of the songs from his previous albums Manhattan Mandolin Blues, Big Love and Ain't But One Thing Give a Man the Blues from THE GREAT DIVIDE (2005) and Dean Moriarty and Hemmingway's Shotgun from the self-titled ERIC TAYLOR (1995), still criminally hard to get hold of over here, or probably anywhere for that matter.

Earlier in the set Two Fires from his classic RESURRECT album was given an airing as was the raunchy Brand New Companion with its highly sexually charged Dirty Dirty boogie originally recorded for his THE GREAT DIVIDE album.

An evening with Eric Taylor is more than just a gig, more than a singer-songwriter playing a handful of great songs, songs we have become so familiar with over the years. An evening with Eric Taylor is an emotive experience, a little glimpse into a world of carnivals and Kerouac, highways and Hemmingway, bar rooms and Birdland. A world where even Louis Armstrong has a broken heart. A worthwhile experience for everybody I would say.

Allan Wilkinson

Northern Sky

Morden Tower, Newcastle, October 3

by Maurice Hope, published in Maverick (December 2007)

Ever since his first visit last year, although he had previously played for Newcastle’s Jumpin’ Hot Club at two other venues, Eric had been itching to return and perform in front of a real listening audience, where it would be almost as easy for them to reach out and play his guitar (if good enough) as himself.

With no microphones or amplification every word was soaked up by an attentive audience who hung on to every guitar lick, lyric and for many every bit as important and addictive, his detailed stories of the American south. His songs, a mixture of subtle melodies furnished by his striking acoustic guitar playing and stories akin to a good novel coming from Tennessee Williams and the like, just get better with age.

Evoking great imagery, the stark presentations were such that you only needed to close your eyes to be taken with him along the riverbanks, back streets, gambling halls and Galveston Island as portrayed on the amazing The Peppercorn Tree. Taken from his brand new album HOLLYWOOD POCKETKNIFE, it is a truly outstanding piece of work.

Poignant and like many of his songs, cloaked in sadness, too. Eric wove a wonderful, tight tapestry of sounds and lyrics throughout, some of which being both awash in wry humour and interesting slices of history. Then there was that tap on the shoulder, show time was over and they would soon be locking the door for the night, and until the next time he was in town it was back to his CDs, and listening to HOLLYWOOD POCKETKNIFE where he takes the listener along California’s east coast and back to bygone days when Marilyn Monroe was a big Hollywood star.

Other highlights were to include the vividly portrayed southern ode Prison Movie (all that you needed to make it more believable would be for old B&W photographs of actor Paul Newman to be shown) and with some hypnotic guitar licks Walkin’ Back Home elevated his work to another level. There was no rush for the door afterwards, people needed time to get their breath and sort out the many moods and stories in their head that Eric’s music had left behind as he vacated the stage.

There were many, too. Few more memorable than the one accompanying Big Love, taken from his album THE GREAT DIVIDE and part of Texas Song Theatre a play he wrote. While reminiscing he told of his time living in New York during the mid-1980s – Manhattan Mandolin Blues and a story concerning Townes Van Zandt just as Delta Momma Blues was being released (the foreboding sounding Townes’ Where I Lead Me was also included in Taylor’s set by way of a request). Although previously heard by some, it was still riveting storytelling that went down every bit as good as the whisky Eric had keeping him company!

Eric Taylor's Folk Music Inspires Devotion

by Eileen McClelland, published in Houston Chronicle, February 14, 2007

Eric Taylor

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17.

Where: Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant

Tickets: $15; or 713-528-8576

Eric Taylor chooses his words carefully.

That may be one reason fans hang on every one. When he plays Anderson Fair in Houston, as he will on Saturday, you can hear a pick drop.

Taylor gets the same kind of attention in Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where he drew sellout crowds during a six-week fall tour of 25 cities. There he ran into fans who possessed the kind of detailed knowledge usually reserved for sports stars in America.

"I've gotten into heated discussions with Europeans about my own music, concerning dates of recordings and who was playing on the recordings," he said.

That kind of folk-singer hero worship is hard to come by in the United States.

"In Europe, they seem to take a special interest in Americana-type writers," Taylor said. "I've talked to music writers in Europe, and they think it's because of the American, or English, language. ... I've talked to German songwriters who have said that even if they translated it perfectly it wouldn't sound the same."

Taylor is a natural focus of the attention. A poet, he chooses every word with intent. The stripped-down style of the music on The Great Divide, his latest release, underscores that lyrical impact.

Taylor plays all acoustic and electric parts himself. He's joined by James Gilmer, percussion; Eric Demmer, alto and tenor sax; and Susan Lindfors and Jelle Douma, supporting vocals.

Taylor's goal was to produce songs that stood on their own merits with little production. His masterful guitar playing is punctuation, perfectly married to words.

It's been like that from the beginning. Taylor, born in 1950, grew up in Atlanta, where he developed interests in guitar, poetry and soul music. When he dropped out of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he took a road trip. In Houston, he got hooked by a genre-busting music scene that included Townes Van Zandt and Lightnin' Hopkins.

He hung around.

"Music was wide open in Texas," said Taylor, who now lives in Weimar.

Taylor won the new-folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1977, launching a critically acclaimed but short-lived recording career. Shameless Love, his first album, was released in 1981. It was also his last for 14 years.

He kept writing, though, through a hiatus that started with addiction and ended with a career as a counselor.

He returned to the public eye with artistic vengeance in 1995 with Eric Taylor, named Kerrville Folk Festival Album of 1996. Resurrect, Scuffletown, and The Kerrville Tapes followed.

Taylor toured extensively in 2006, in the U.S. as well as Europe, in support of The Great Divide, listed in the top 100 CDs most played on folk radio.

European tours always linger in his memory, usually for pretty colorful reasons. Once, in Holland, he was outside a club when he spotted a family of six riding horseback in the street.

"I thought, oh, that's cool, they're out for a ride on a nice evening," he said. "But they pulled up their horses at the club, and they all had tickets. I've never had that happen in Texas."

Playing Anderson Fair is about making new memories, too, but also reliving old ones.

The club, founded in 1969, from the beginning drew performers who wrote their own songs, including Nanci Griffith, Taylor's ex-wife; Lyle Lovett; Lucinda Williams; and Townes Van Zandt.

Ghost Ranch Films of Houston is capturing Anderson Fair's history with a 90-minute documentary film titled For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair.

In the film-in-progress, Taylor says of Anderson Fair: "They had a rule there: You wrote your own songs or you didn't play there."

Musicians have generally felt they have to live up to Anderson Fair's reputation, but for Taylor the listening room just feels like home. He expects to try out a couple new songs on Saturday, too.

"It's still one of my favorite places to play in the world, just because of the personal history," Taylor said. "The fact that they've been able to keep the thing going is amazing to me. I have a lot of memories from that place. I like going back and seeing where a lot of things started. I have a special feeling for it in my heart."

The Maze - Nottingham, UK - October 25, 2006

by Neil Dalton, published in Maverick

Eric Taylor came on stage at the Maze in Nottingham without any ceremony. There’s no other way. There is no curtain, no announcement, just your allotted time. He took his guitar from a solid looking, green coloured travel case at the rear. He comes from the Houston area of Texas and people like Joan Baez, Lyle Lovett and his ex-wife Nanci Griffith have nothing but good things to say about his playing and his song writing. The people at the front were seated with their feet resting on the edge of the stage. Not a word was said, the room was silent, respectful; everyone in the audience was on their best behaviour.

He started a little blues riff on his blond acoustic guitar (a beautiful sounding, handmade ‘Ross-Kinscherff’). It was plugged in, like all guitars these days, but his still sounded like an acoustic guitar; warm sounding, clear ringing tones. It might have been a ‘dirty’ blues riff but the notes shone like warm honey. He’s tall, with big hands, picks on the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand. He stood a little away from the microphone and he hunched his shoulders, his head a little to one side, listening, making sure the sound was right; his arms wrapped around his guitar making it look small. There was a wooden bar stool at his side with an open folder of his songs on it. He has a deep voice, sometimes a growl, always endowing his tales of American small town lives with authenticity. He sipped from a glass of whiskey throughout, fighting off a sniffle and a cold. He has white rather than grey hair, straggly, wispy, a little awry and he was wearing a white, long sleeved sweat-shirt with three buttons, a bit like an under shirt. He looked like an ageing knight of the Round Table on his day off, without his horse or armour.

He found the heat from the stage lights oppressive, leaching the life and accuracy from his guitar, so the lights were turned down. He seemed to fade a little into the background, become a little indistinct, a little mysterious; somehow appropriate. He’s read all those Southern writers, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers and he writes short stories in song; stories of people on the edges, people looking for salvation, but who, maybe, don’t want it yet. His characters seem displaced, a little lost, always too far away from the surroundings they know. He’s an observer and in the sparest of words he looks to reveal something emotional about his characters’ lives. “I don’t want to reveal everything. I like people to wonder for themselves.” Surprisingly, his conversation with the audience between songs was full of humour; wry, sardonic, dry, oblique, sometimes surreal, always funny, at odds with the songs themselves. “The humour in the talk is so I can get away with the sort of songs that follow.” Someone once told him he wrote, “.. great songs but they don’t have any hope.” That seemed a little hard even to me. The characters in his stories win small victories; it’s just in a place where failure holds all the best cards.

His songs may be about bleak subjects, but his guitar playing is anything but. It was wonderful. He finds a groove, a blues influenced, blues inspired riff, and adds other touches, James Taylor finger style additions, string bends, aching guitar sounds to convey emotional colours, always at least two guitars worth of sound from one instrument and one set of fingers. It’s stylish, unique picking, using what he calls ‘substitute’ chords, although they sounded good enough to make the first team to me. He has an enviable guitar technique. “I was lucky, I learned to play from watching Lightnin’ Hopkins. There was this little 400-seat theatre in Houston. I saw Springsteen, Freddie King, Gram Parsons. I got to know Mississippi Fred McDowell.” The names alone describe a musical education in country storytelling, with a blues chaser. “I don’t see too many young players playing the way I do.” I’m not surprised.

He played for his audience but never to the crowd. He didn’t look for clichéd climaxes or manufactured endings; he isn’t that sort of crowd pleaser. He looks for an appreciative rather than an enthusiastic audience; a wrapt rather than an excited one. He doesn’t do the Wabash Cannonball. “No, I don’t,” he said laughing, “plenty of other guys do that.” The audience was quiet, reverential. Some of them pursed their lips and muttered when the barman, doing his job, racked a few glasses and intruded into the intimacy. It was always an intimate gig, a reflective affair, an evening for devotees; you needed to listen and everyone did.

I went with a couple of players, guys who know the mysteries of dadgad, who understand a little about the merits of a B string dropped down to A and the quiet craft of a good song well written. They stood either side of me and looked mean if they thought I was going to be critical in anyway. They kept pointing out things, making sure I understood; they wanted the man looked after. Eric Taylor seems to inspire that sort of devotion, that sort of affection, that sort of regard; like he is an endangered species – maybe he is.

State Bar - Glasgow, UK - October 6, 2003

by Rob Adams, published in The Herald on October 8, 2003





Not for the first time when leaving an Eric Taylor gig, I had to adjust momentarily to the idea that I was walking down a Glasgow street and not a Texas highway, dodging bin bags, not tumbleweed.

Taylor's ability to transport an audience with his songs borders on the supernatural. On Monday, though, more than ever, he was a tale spinner as well as a storytelling singer-songwriter, singing his stories and telling his songs in that cracked, smoke-n-whisky voice that coats words -- sung and spoken -- in sun-baked Texan authority.

His involvement in Texas Song Theatre, with friends and fellow troubadours David Olney and Denise Franke, seems to have added an extra actorly quality to his spoken delivery.

Thus his Kerouac-inspired Dean Moriarty was given added, chilling historical resonance by a kind of 1957 newsreel foreground.

Personal recollections of his grandma and grandpa, a Deep South/Welsh version of sweet'n'sour, a young friend dying of a wasting disease, and an 82-year-old neighbour who rode a mule, naked, up to Taylor's porch and accused Taylor of being weird, brought poignancy and hilarity.

Through all this, the songs, sung to spare, masterfully orchestrated guitar parts, form both link and soundtrack. Brilliantly chiselled, Taylor's poetry can set a scene in a line and capture a whole mess of trouble -- well, whaddaya expect when you choose a knife-thrower's wife as your mistress? -- in a verse.

His young friend declared Taylor's song for him as even better than popcorn. I can't top that for personal significance, but if PJ O'Rourke can describe Carl Hiaasen as better than literature, Eric Taylor is better than music.


Dr. Kathleen Hudson, Rod Kennedy, & Eric Taylor (photo by Tony Gallucci)