Interviews & Podcasts

Interviews & Podcasts

Eric Taylor: An Unsung Hero of Americana Music

by Terry Roland – published December 1, 2016



Eric Taylor Juggles Words to Touch and Entertain His Audience


Her mother was a fat clown in a little dog act

She used to hit Jean until Jean hit her back

Stole a little red guitar and some gasoline

She won’t do no better without me

I’m carnival Jim, she’s just Jean

She’s as cold as Minnesota but she can’t cook or clean

She can play a little guitar and you ought to hear her sing

“Carnival Jim and Jean”


Eric Taylor stands tall under his black beret on the Frog Pond stage in Silverhill, Alabama playing his guitar and telling stories of late-night horseback rides with Townes Van Zandt and lessons about women learned from Tennessee Williams. Memories are preludes of songs about the carnival life hustle of Jim and Jean or the strength of a woman who can close her Maybelline eyes and say goodbye. Taylor takes his time as stories unwind in stream-of-consciousness that ex-wife Nanci Griffith once compared to William Faulkner, then he circles back to where he began.

The voice of the man who survived heroin addiction, four marriages, a triple bypass, and many bottles of whiskey, gets deeper, richer, and more dramatic with age. It is the same voice with or without the guitar and it is often interrupted by pauses that give his listener time to squirm or to draw wrong conclusions. Taylor is a part of the Texas songwriters circle that includes the Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Griffith and the late Van Zandt, and Lovett recorded several of his songs.

“I had no idea that anything like this would happen to me, I never plan or prepare for anything,” Taylor says. “The difficulty of interviewing me is I will tell you the truth. Sometimes that can be a problem.  I know who I am and I probably would not invite myself into my own house.”

Taylor lives a life that could fill many songs but most of his lyrics are not autobiographical or cathartic. He grew up in McDonough, Georgia, and his first guitar was a used Silvertone from Sears that he bought from a friend for $2.50. The tuning pick was broken so he used pliers to tune. “The Silvertone was a bad guitar, but I loved it and could play it right away,” Taylor says. “I sat on the toilet and played in the bathroom most of the time because it sounded better than anywhere else. I played it until my fingers bled.”

That Silvertone led to playing in a soul band and forced his early independence. “I played in a rhythm-and-blues band called The House David and the Four Counts. We were a white band with four black singers, but in the ‘60s in Georgia, that was not something people thought you should do,” says Taylor. “My parents forced me to make a choice so I moved into a boarding house and worked to put myself through high school.  I worked at The Colonial Store before and after school, and on Saturdays and Sundays I worked 12 hours a day at MJ Upchurch service station pumping gas and breaking down tires and making $100 a week. A friend’s father sold his ‘51 Chevrolet to me for $100.  I had it for six years and called it the ‘Jungle Cruiser.’

“It was good for me to get away from home but it was very difficult and I was alone and criticized,” he says. My brother found me at Hubbard’s Barbershop and beat me with a pool stick and put a gun to my head threatening to kill me, but I kept doing it because I walked the line for black folks and civil rights.

Playing in bands such as The Nomads, The Sonics, and The Sonics Six were his escape. “I hated high school and couldn’t live out who I was,” says Taylor. “People didn’t like that I was a reader, a writer, and an actor. They called me an arrogant intellectual. They also didn’t like that I was a friend with the first black student in our high school.  High school was one of the worst experiences I ever had except for my girlfriend who was the first woman I ever fell in love with, but I screwed it up. I absolutely made a mess of it and I continued to do that in relationships for the rest of my life.”

After graduation, Taylor briefly attended a few classes with friends at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. “I realized it was a Catholic school and I didn’t like them and they didn’t like me,” he says. “I went to Texas as soon as I could. When I was a child, my father broke everything in my face and I had family in Texas who took me in. I always wanted to get back to Texas. I finally did and I have been there for 40 years.”

Other stories say he sold his guitar for money to move to California, and on the way he stopped and spent the night in Houston, got a job washing dishes, and never left. The timing was lucky for Taylor because Guy Clark, Van Zandt, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Carolyn Hester were playing in Houston with the literate lines, and careful imagery that echoes through the music of Texas songwriters.  Taylor started out as a storyteller then put music behind it. “Most of my songs come from prose and short stories that I take apart and edit,” he says. “My first song was called ‘Trip of the Golden Calf.’  I grew up in a very biblical, Baptist family so my first song was rebellion against religion.”

Southern writers, including Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and Harper Lee are some of the most influential people in Taylor’s life. He was also influenced by legendary songwriters and many of them are friends. “My whole life has been a string of lucky meetings and all of them influenced me,” he says.”They have been an incredible part of my life. 

“Patty Griffin is the best songwriter in America. She looks like a little mouse, but she is incredible,” he says. “I love Townes as much as anyone can love him and he was one of the great songwriters, but there is only so far you can go with him. He never told you the true story. My attitude in writing is tell the true story. However, he wrote ‘My legs know how to love someone’ in ‘Highway Kind.’ That is a great line and it is more of a love song than anything I’ve ever heard. It is my legs that will make it happen. It is not my telling, it is my touching.  Writing should be touching you that way. It is the interaction of poetry.”

Taylor met Tennessee Williams through his friend and television talk show host Dick Cavett. Taylor learned from Williams’ appreciation of women and how to write about them. “Tennessee would say, ‘My mother, my mother was a delicate survivor of the elements of life.’” Taylor repeats the line in the deep, raspy voice of good friend and inspiration Carson McCullers.

“ ‘Adios’ is about the strength of women. Women are much stronger than men– they are able to move along and be alone. Men fear being alone. I fear being alone. I’ve been married four times, but how do you know if you are in love or not? I have not been very successful. I’ve always feared being alone and I write from that fear. I write about what I think about because it is the only thing I know.”

I’ve been thinking about moving on. I don’t know, just some place.

These Maybelline eyes will soon be gone and I’ll close them tight and forget your face. 



Taylor is most comfortable on stage standing behind the music stand that holds his black binder of songs.  “When I am on stage, I know where I am,” he says. “It is where I know what I am doing. I like it when a song makes someone shift in his or her seat. If I see them move, then I know I have made a connection and invited them into my life.  I hope my music makes people uncomfortable and makes them laugh and makes them think.  I want people to be entertained. I am much more like a carny that juggles words and tries to put them in the right place than an artist. Artist is a threadbare, worn term. I would much rather be a carny.”

Taylor’s songs are often described as dark and despairing, but he doesn’t see them that way.

“I love to love people but I don’t know if that is clear in my writing,” he says.  “I see the beauty in people but I can’t write a love song about a beautiful woman because writing about that is superficial. Every love song I’ve ever written is stupid because loving a woman is immediate and attempting to write a love song cheapens it. Love is the graciousness of meeting a person, touching another person, and putting your finger on her warm face. I could never write a love song about that.”

Taylor says the concept of people’s eyes also makes a writer because the eyes show human understanding. “If someone looks at you like they are seeing you, it makes them interesting,” he says. “There are a lot of beautiful things about women but the way they look at you with their eyes is what you write about. If you fall in love with someone you fall in love with her eyes. Eyes are the entrance of humanity. Eyes first, lips second. That could be my first mistake.

“There is a difference in the feeling between love and lust and writing is the same way,” he says. “You know when you are blowing smoke up someone’s ass or really kissing them. Writing is very physical. It is about seeing someone’s eyes, or touching their lips, their face, their belly, or the top of their head.  It has to touch you in a way that makes a difference. It’s like touching someone’s lips or their belly.”

For Taylor, performing and songwriting is about loving the listener and his job is to write the next best line that he can. “A performance should be like someone kissing your closed eyes,” he says. “I learned from Leonard Cohen that if you write a song about a woman you should know about that woman.  If you don’t write like you love someone, then you aren’t writing.  If songwriters don’t get that, then they are writing pop songs.”


Heard about the rivers in those Texas towns

Careful of the current and the cottonmouth

Well it’s a bad muddy water with a poison tooth

But I never heard a word about you


Out on the highway and the San Anton

Careful of the café with a jukebox moan

There’s a crazy little fat man in a corner booth

And he never said a word about you.


There ought to be a bolt of lightning, ought to be a sign from God

Ought to be some kind of warning with who you are

Ought to be two hawks flying sign of the diamond back

The cry of the black train hollering something’s on this track.


Beautiful danger wears two faces best

Likes the beaded lizard of the West

Hemingway’s shotgun finally told the truth

But it never said a word about you.

“Hemingway’s Shotgun”


For Down Home concert (Johnson City, TN) - Thursday, March 26, 2015

Eric Taylor's songs, like paintings, depend on interpretation


Eric Taylor may as well carry a knapsack.

From town to town as time goes by, the songsmith collects stories from among those deemed ordinary and extraordinary alike. Gathered by methods including observation, he crafts them into songs not set for the jukebox yet for the souls of those willing to listen.

Into Johnson City’s Down Home journeys Taylor on March 26. No knapsack. Certainly no jukebox. Instead, the man who learned directly from such sources as Lightning Hopkins and Mississippi Fred McDowell will exhume his lifetime of song and provide a travelogue of vivid stories for all to experience and wage interpretations of their own.

“That’s what they’re supposed to do. I like to leave open spaces,” said Taylor. “I don’t want to tell every answer. I still get email questions about a song I wrote called ‘Big Love.’”

The song tells the tale of James Willis Hardin. A broken hearted man of considerable size, his mother called him Big Love. Like an incomplete novella, Taylor leaves open the fate of his lead character.

“They’ll say, ‘what happened to him?’” Taylor said. “I’m like, ‘what do you think happened?’ You have to figure that out for yourself.”

Peruse Taylor’s past. Search for hit singles and none will rise to the fore. However, Lyle Lovett eagerly recorded Taylor’s cinematic “Memphis Midnight/Memphis Morning.” Nanci Griffith covered Taylor’s historical epic “Deadwood” along with a meaty “Dollar Matinee” and more.

“‘Deadwood,’ a lot of research went into that song,” Taylor said. “It came from Dee Brown’s book, ‘Fighting Indians of the West.’ The characters in that song are based on the characters in that book.”

They’re vivid portraits of one-horse towns and rake and rambling men who pass through. Good guys, bad guys and folks on the fence. Perhaps with a nod and a sidelong smile, they’re here today and gone tomorrow and yet they cling to one’s memory as reminders of life beyond the obvious.

“I’ve never been interested in love songs,” Taylor said. “I’ve never liked the moon June songs. My songs are more like a painting. It depends on interpretations.”

Taylor’s tunes are akin to travelogues that no chamber of commerce would ever publish, slices of life considerably authentic and lacking contrivance. His are the real thing. As scraped bare as his voice, Taylor’s songs summon grit to the point of beauty.

He’s like a tuneful son that William Faulkner never knew he had. As if up from the grave, Faulkner has crept into Taylor’s panoramas.

“I think a great deal. We have the same birthday, September 25,” Taylor said. “People like Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams I looked to. I don’t write a lot of dance songs because I don’t see a lot of people dancing around. Faulkner, I still read him. I read him over and over.”

Indeed, Taylor’s songs read like novels snipped to their essence. Often dark and mysterious, they side-step classification and yet compel rapt attention. Likewise, Taylor’s music bears imprints of a style for which no official genre exists.

“It’s music for broken down showgirls,” Taylor said. “I’m not folk enough for the folkies. I’m bluesy but not bluesy enough for the hardcore blues players to be blues. I’m a storyteller.”

Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at

Broken Jukebox Podcast


In Search Of A Song

With Tim Grimm and Rich Reardin – July and August 2013

2-part Interview about Studio 10, songwriting and life as a working musician

Crossing the Bridge with Eric Taylor

by John Walker, published in Americana Roots, Thursday, 24 January 2008

Looking for a new beginning after a short stint in California, Taylor arrived in Houston, Texas at a very opportune time. In the early 1970s Houston was the place to be if you had the desire to play or write music. When Taylor arrived, he met Townes Van Zandt, and they quickly became friends. Also in Houston at the time were Guy Clark, blues legends Lightin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, among several others. Constantly listening toand learning from these legends enabled Taylor to create his own successfully unique style. His amazing finger pickin’ guitar playing, reminds many of Townes during his heyday. The deep soulful voice and keen ability to tell a good story with his music were all fine tuned during this time as well.

Eric Taylor is one of our last remaining links to one of the most creative musical periods ever.

Many of today’s artists such as Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, and Lyle Lovett, proudly declare that they have learned a great deal from Taylor. It is this legacy that links us with a rich musical heritage, and enables others to enjoy music at perhaps its purest form - a magical guitar, and a lone passionate voice.

After touring around the world with Van Zandt and others during the 1970’s with Van Zandt and others, often living the hard life, Taylor took a break from the music business during the 1980’s to gather himself and put the pieces back together.

It was in 1995 that everything truly fell back into place with his release of Eric Taylor, which was voted the Texas Album of the Year at the Kerrville Music Awards. In 1998, he released Resurrect, which was recently named one of the 100 essential records of all time by Texas magazine “Buddy.”

With three other CDs released in the past five years, Taylor has continued to deliver timeless classics to his eager fans. His latest CD, entitled Hollywood Pocketknife, is due to be released on January 29. Taylor, who also produced his new CD, has provided yet another powerful and brilliantly written collection of songs. His ability to tell a story, and paint a picture with his words, makes this CD very enjoyable.

Just after Taylor arrived back from an overseas tour, we sat down and had a short conversation about his latest CD and his musical experiences.

AR: The title cut "Hollywood Pocketknife" seems to be a reflective look at old Hollywood. Where did you get the idea?

ET: Reflective is right. It's a story that's rattled around in my head for some time. I think I've always had this romantic idea about working in old Hollywood, the early years of film up through the late fifties is an interest I continue [to have]. These were the days of "contract players." They were under contract to one studio and were seen as needing protection and great care so as to not tarnish the image of the actor and thus, the studio. I'm sure being an actor would have been fun, but I'm thinkin' more that I would have loved to be a driver, or maybe a butler, maybe for someone like Robert Mitchum, Chaplin or Barrymore, or even better, Marilyn.

A while back, in one of the old Hollywood Babylon books, I think, I saw a picture of a chauffeur or driver waiting outside the car for Marilyn Monroe. He was either carving on a small piece of wood or he was cleaning his fingernails or somethin', but any case the image stuck with me. This picture of this young and handsome driver waiting for Marilyn. What was on his mind? What would he talk about today? Say maybe that you were interviewing him and asked him to talk about what it was like back then. Did he meet DiMaggio?

"What was he like?"

"Well, he was a jealous man, to be sure, but I liked him, all in all."

Donald Turnipseed (also spelled as Turnupseed) was a 23 year old man that was driving the Ford sedan on the road to Salinas, California, September 30, 1955. This is the Ford that James Dean ran headlong into as Turnupseed made his turn off the road. Into the sunset.

It's another song about history; Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio and the Kennedy brothers. The boys. It's just another little play, I guess.

AR: The Townes cover you chose for this CD is "Highway Kind." Any particular reason you chose this one?

ET: It's a song I've done off and on in the stage show for a long time. So far, I've covered “Where I Lead Me,” “Nothin’,” “Brand New Companion,” and now, “Highway Kind.” These are definitive Townes songs, for me. They best represent how I remember him. It's good to remember. I first remember Townes as being kinda like a thoroughbred racehorse. He was that clean and fast and so damned near perfect on the guitar that I was stunned that anybody could sit with one guitar and a voice and do what he did. It just baffled me for a while.

You know, I'd never considered doin' a cover of anybody's song on one of my records. It was Dave van Ronk that pushed me off in that direction. He was big on givin' credit to who you learned from.

AR: One of my favorites from the CD is "Jail Widows Walk." I thought the alto sax added a great deal to the song. Can you tell me a little about the story behind this song?

ET: Thanks. Yeah, I like the sax too. Eric Demmer plays it. I've used him on several records now. Great sax, and he lives down around Pasadena, Texas. He played with “Gatemouth” Brown for many years, and also did some stuff with Clapton.

Well, when I was a kid, every small town had a Jail Widow's Walk. It's a single walkway that goes down between the courthouse and the jail. On Saturdays and Sundays the family members would visit the walkway and talk to their locked up loved ones from that walk. They would bring special food and fresh socks and toothpaste and such. When I was a kid I'd go down and watch all this happen. Sunday mornings was always a great smell of biscuits and gravy down on Jail Widow's Walk. All the jailers and deputies and even the sheriff would get a little taste of what was brought down by the wives and girlfriends and mothers and aunts.

John Watson was a friend of the family. I remember riding in that Studebaker car when I was five or six years old. Mr. John had a small pistol that he would keep in the door glove, and there were times we were driving through downtown Greenville, South Carolina that he took it out of the glove (holster) and kept it in his hand until we got to the other side of town out on White Horse Road. My father owned a souped-up 54 Mercury, black bottom, red top, three on the column. It was a very powerful automobile, but it just couldn't stand up to Mr. John's Studebaker.

AR: On "Olney's Poison & the Houston Blues", I am guessing it is a reflective look at Dave Olney and Lightnin Hopkins. Is that correct? Why the term "poison" in regards to Olney?

ET: Actually, it's a reflective of look at Richard Dobson, Guy and Susanna Clark, David Olney, Townes, Lightnin, Little Joe Washington, Albert Collins, and The Sisters of Mercy.

Olney has a great song called, “Little Bit of Poison,” that I've always been fond of. I've been listenin' to Olney since the old days of The X-Rays. They played around Houston a good bit and I would catch a show now and then.

Guy and Susanna lived at one end of Stratford Street, in Houston, and I lived at the other. Big ol' rent houses, both of them. Guy worked on guitars and Volkswagens at the same big ol' kitchen table down at their place. I mean that literally. I mean one week you might see him cutting the top off of some 1920 somethin' double O Martin at that table and the next week the same table would be covered in oily newspaper and a Volkswagen engine. Parts layin' around everywhere. Susanna would be working on a painting like "ol' Number 1" Smells like gesso smells like rain.

All these people mentioned in this song, I could see any of these people play on almost any given night back in those days. It was a marvel, and a great education.

It's about the Houston Blues. Houston was always a great town for music, but simply a wonder when it came to being a writers’ town. It broke ground like no other town I know of from the standpoint of writers and their music. Townes used to say, "If you can't catch the blues in Houston, you can't catch the blues." He was right.

AR: I know Townes mentioned a great deal about the influence Lightnin' had on his music. Do you feel the same way? What others had a influence?

ET: I would think that it would be impossible to be around Lightnin' and not be taken away, much less influenced. The same with Townes and Guy. These were people that were workin' for the song.

AR: I was lucky enough to catch your live performance recently. The 2 songs I enjoyed a great deal live, which you have included on the CD, are "Postcards, 3 For A Dime" and "Peppercorn Tree". You have a unique, and very enjoyable, ability to pick the guitar and provide a back beat with your boot. How did you pick this up?

ET: I've never thought much about it, but yeah, I guess I do it all the shows. I have no idea where I picked it up, but I'm sure I stole it somewhere. I use a variation of a finger pickin' style called double-thumbin' and it seems to lend itself to the back-beat thing. Like I say, I'm not so aware of it. Thanks, I'm glad you like it.

AR: Speaking of your live shows, I recall you always speak highly of Townes of course, but I have never heard you mention Blaze Foley. What were your opinions of him? He seemed to be a "haunted soul" from everything I have read.

ET: Sure, Blaze was around, between Houston and Austin, for years. He'd show up to sleep on the sofa overnight and end up stayin' for a few weeks. He was brilliant. I would say that he was not for the faint-hearted nor did he easily tolerate them, and there was certainly a visceral connection between Blaze and his audience. You either got it or you didn't. I loved it, but there were a lot of people that just couldn't hang with it. After a while, most of his audience was made up a few steadfast fans, mostly writers and musicians. I can't remember there ever being more 15 or 20 people at a time attending his shows. Sure, I'm glad that people are getting to hear his songs these days because they are amazing songs, but I've also got to say that it really pisses me off. Where were these people when he needed them? Why weren't all these fans around when he was alive? Personally, I never saw him as a "haunted soul".

AR: What is your opinion on today’s music scene? I know just there in Texas alone there are several aging stars, such as Billy Joe Shaver, and even some younger up and comers like Hayes Carll. Is there anyone you particularly enjoy? What are your thoughts?

ET: It's hard for me to cultivate an interest in any scene. I'm not much of a scene person, I guess. There's always been some good music and there will be some more. I don't have a clue about the music business and I never have.

I have always been a fan of Shaver. I got to see him play several times back at the Old Quarter in Houston. Just him and a guitar, that's the way to see Billy Joe. I like some of Hayes Carll as well. The first time I ever heard him was when he opened a show for me in Houston a few years ago. He's got something, and I'm glad he's getting some recognition for it.

AR: What is next for you?

ET: Keep writing. I'm still looking toward working on more prose work and maybe bring back some of the plays. As it stands now, I'm really just enjoying the work and the travel and shows. These last twelve years of touring have been good for me because I've discovered how much I like to perform. That wasn't always the case. I just finished seven weeks in Europe and the UK with only two real days off. I loved it.

AR: You mentioned working on plays. Anything in particular you would like to elaborate or mention?

ET: I've worked on several things over the years, going all the way back to Joseph Cross. It's one thing to write a play, it's another to get it picked up by the people with enough money to make you look smart and underdressed. Theater is a very expensive undertaking. I hate dealing with people over money, so I just lose interest in the fight during the discussion. It's agents and advisors and all that goes with it. I'd still love to get it done.

AR: Have you written, or plan on writing, any books either autobigraphical or otherwise?

ET: I haven't finished any books, but I've probably written several that are waiting to be put together in some kind of logical order of words. Over the last year, I have started an outline that might turn into something.

AR: You have been playing music for a while now. Is there anyone in the music business today who you would love to work with, but have not had the opportunity to do so yet?

ET: Anybody but Jimmy Buffet, I suppose.

AR: You close out Hollywood Pocketknife with a traditional song titled "Rally Around the Flag". You even get help from Vince Bell for this song. What was the story behind this song for you?

ET: When the idea for using the song came around, I had not one thought about the things that are going on today.

It's a traditional song, written during or after the Civil War, that I've known of for many years. There's a great version done by Ry Cooder, I think, on the Boomer's Story record. Any case, I was looking for something that Vince, Steve, and I could do together. It turned out that the only remaining studio time on this project fell on the fourth of July. Vince, Steve, and I are close and long runnin' friends and partners. I'm really proud of how it sounds because it's so simple and Vince sounds so much like Vince and the same with Steve. Fromholz had a major stroke a few years back. This is the first recording of him, in the studio, since the stroke. Steve Fromholz wrote The Texas Trilogy. The song is on there because it's just us pullin' for each other. It's about us and the friendship of three good fighters. Seems like I came up with the idea at the last minute of the night before. Maybe that's why it works.

John resides in the heartland of the US, in the great state of Indiana. An IU alum, John enjoys a variety of music genres, but prefers artists who write their own music and deliver it with passion. When not writing about his music addiction, John can be seen out spreading his love of music by singing in a band with his wife Stephanie.