MELVIN TAYLOR

L1010246_3bwWHAT WAS THE FIRST GUITAR YOU EVER OWNED AND WHAT WAS THE BEST THING YOU RECALL ABOUT IT?  

My very first guitar was given to me by my teacher, Father Duffacy at Saint Francis Cabrini.  I was 13. It was a white Kingston and he also gave me an amplifier. I couldn’t believe it – my family could not afford to buy me one.  What a wonderful, generous man.  I loved that guitar.  I polished it, slept with it… The best part about the guitar was that it was my very own.

ANY GUITARS YOU’VE HAD OVER THE YEARS THAT YOU WISH YOU STILL HAD NOW?

One guitar I wish I had now was a cherry red Gretch Country Gentleman. It was a reissue of 1967 Chet Adkins model.  I lost it when my basement flooded in 1998. I was on the road, out of town at the time.  It was completely ruined by the time home.

IN TERMS OF PLAIN OLD FEELING GOOD, DO YOU PREFER PLAYING GUITAR AT HOME ALONE, IN THE STUDIO OR LIVE ON STAGE?

For me there is nothing like performing live on stage.  I feed off of the energy the audience puts out and I throw it right back to them.

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO MAKING NEW RECORDS? DOES THERE NEED TO BE A MUSICAL THEME FOR A GIVEN RELEASE OR DO YOU PREFER THE FREEDOM TO CHANGE IT UP THROUGHOUT?

When I started out I recorded for a label – my first 6 CD’s were done that way;  the producer sets the approach and theme for a release. The music turned out great but financially it did not work well for me.

melvinMy most recent CD’s, Beyond the Burning Guitar (2010), Sweet Taste of Guitar (2011), and Taylor Made (2013) I composed, recorded and produced on my own.  It gave me the freedom to record and present the music the way I want.  It had been almost 10 years since my last CD so there was lots of discussion with my management about how to proceed.  BTBG is all instrumental, 23 original songs plus my arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth (Melvin Meets Beethoven).  The CD covers several styles of music including, jazz, latin, blues and classical. The idea was to feature my guitar playing.  I love ALL kinds of music and I’ve been blessed with my talent. I’ve never had a guitar lesson, no one taught me how to play; I would just hear a song and could play it.

Throughout my career I constantly heard producers, music critics, other musicians say, “pick one style, just one, and stay with That”.  I thought the idea was absurd and could get very boring. I did not want to limit myself.

Basically I created my own sound by combining elements from many areas of music and I think I have done it well. Once again with my latest release, Taylor Made (2013), the theme is exactly that.  The title explains the music on the CD – All kinds of music is who I am.

WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WERE GOING TO PLAY GUITAR FOR A LIVING AND THERE WAS NO TURNING BACK?

Around age 11 or 12 I began performing on Maxwell Street in Chicago.  I would play with my Uncle Floyd and his friends. I did not even have my own guitar so I would play my uncle’s Fender Mustang. When people started crowding around us and throwing money in the tip jar – I knew right then there was no turning back.

WHAT’S THE BEST BLUES GUITAR SHOWDOWN YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN OR WITNESSED LIVE ON STAGE?

I think this answer will surprise you – the late 1980’s – I believe 1987, George Benson and Earl Klugh at Carnegie Hall of all places.  Fabulous blues by two exceptionally talented guitarists.

HOW DID THE HABIT OF TURNING YOUR AMP BACKWARDS ‘TO THE WALL’ COME ABOUT?

Good music and sound levels go hand in hand.  Lots of people think the louder the music the better – not true! Inexperience with sound engineering can ruin a show.  Sound levels of each band member need to blend.  Whether it’s a 3 piece band or a symphony orchestra.  When playing in a smaller club I often turn my amp to face backwards or away from the audience.  I don’t want to shatter their eardrums.

MelvinTaylorWHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE GUITAR(S) FOR THE CLEANER, MORE JAZZ INFLUENCED MATERIAL VERSES THE BLUESIER, MORE ROCKIN’ BONZO BLUES STUFF?

My personal favorite guitar is my Ibanez SA200.  I can play everything on this guitar – jazz, blues, rock. Now let me add that I modify ALL of my guitars, amps and pedals.  If someone goes out and buys the same brand names of equipment they will not get the same sound that I do.  Recently I’ve been beta testing ceramic wire for a company in Japan. Some day I hope to market my own line of guitars and equipment.

WHAT EARLY BLUES RECORDS HAD THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON YOU AS A YOUNGSTER AND DO YOU STILL LISTEN TO THEM TODAY?

Freddie King –  Hide Away. Jimmy Reed Shuffle. These 2 are at the top of my list. Remember I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s – EVERYTHING was going on. Motown, James Brown, Hendrix, Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.   It was funk/soul, rock, jazz – an absolutely amazing time to be growing up and soaking in all this music especially for a young guitar player.

DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE BLUES TO PLAY THEM OR IS IT MORE A WAY OF LIFE THAN A STATE OF MIND?

When I think of guys who put blues on the map I would have to name Albert King, Pinetop, Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) and Willie Dixon as major forces. The blues is a “feeling”.  Broken and in pain, sadness and misery. Unfortunately it WAS a way of life for these people. Many people have come to me to teach them to play the blues – I can teach them blues chords and blues licks but the real blues comes from deep within….MELVIN TAYLOR

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CHRISTMAS DAVIS

1.0  – How did you catch the rock & roll bug?
Ha ha, “Catch” is funny word. I believe that my fever was congenital, and my condition is probably genetic. Connie’s definitely is. There were no “rockers” in my family, but my great-great-grand father used to play a single string gourd instrument at local dances in the turpentine towns of north Florida. According to some accounts he was the only musician at these events, which would make for a pretty strange dance party. My father had the hi-fi on all the time, mostly big band stuff. It made an impression. The first time I saw a rock band it was at a school assembly to promote a talent show. They brought my elementary school class in to fill some seats. It was the first time I saw an electric guitar in person. I think the older kids in the band were playing Skynyrd, but I can’t be sure. I was hooked though. That was it for me. Connie definitely has music deep in her, and she was absolutely born with it. For her music is like an extra limb. It’s just a part of her. Her dad played sax in bands her whole life. He’s an amazing guy. Connie grew up in music. I had to go exploring.
 
2.0 – What was the first guitar you ever owned?
When I was 12 I borrowed a guitar from a friend who’s father had an old harmony acoustic, the jazz kind with f-holes and painted on “wood grain.” The action was terrible, but I bloodied up my fingers and tried to learn some chords. The older kids on the school bus used to ask me why I played such a big violin. Then a kid up the street sold me a terrible no-name electric. It was plywood painted candy apple red and shaped like an SG.  The action was even worse than the harmony – a real archery set – and to sweeten the deal the bridge had sharp screws sticking out of it. I had resolved myself to guitar playing being a painful sport.  But that was my first guitar, bought the old fashioned way – with money from my paper route.  I was glad to have it.
 
3.0 – What was the first song you learned to play well?
Play well? I’m still working on that. But the first song that I got up enough confidence to play in front of anybody was “Tangled Up In Blue,” the Bob Dylan song.  We were cruising in a friend’s car in high school. My friend and his girlfriend were up in the front seat and the radio was busted. I was too young to drive so I was in the back seat alone with his guitar. “Tangled Up In Blue” was the only song I knew all the way through so I played it while we drove around. They didn’t seem annoyed. They were very kind.
 
4.0 – When did you start writing songs?
When I was 15 I started a punk band with two other kids from my high school, and we needed some original songs. As far as song writing goes, I didn’t think anything of it, we needed songs and somebody had to write them. So I wrote 12 songs in one week – all power chords and shouting – just so we’d have something to play. Nothing seemed unusual about this. Back then I figured anybody bored enough could write a dozen songs. Only one of them was any good though, and it was only good because it was funny. I think it was called “Vomit Omelet.” Yup, funny stuff. I don’t think that I ever really wrote a song that I was satisfied with until I started writing for Connie and The Tall Pines. Hearing her sing the songs that I write makes them feel real to me.
 
5.0 – as your style changed much over time or did you find your thing early on? 
It always changes. It has to. Tall Pines Music is just a mash up of everything that Connie and I have ever loved. You can make collages forever if you have enough material,and they should all look different. We’re always looking for material. Your style is just how you combine and present the things that you’ve always loved anyway.  
 
6.0 – How long have you been playing with Connie Lynn Petruk and how did you meet?
Connie and I have been playing together for a few years. We dated for a while before we started making music together. She is such a great singer – really incredible – and I had all of these songs that I’d started writing, so we just began to put things together one night and found that we really enjoyed collaborating on music. We met because I was a huge fan of a band she sings with in New York called The Losers Lounge. I used to go see them all the time, and because I had a huge crush on her I would try to “accidentally” meet her at the shows and around town. Unfortunately my efforts to casually cross paths with her all resulted in failure. She is a truly elusive person. At one point I expressed my frustration to a mutual friend – Sean Altman, who founded the group Rockapella – and he said he’d set me up on a date with Connie if I promised to be a gentleman. I did not want to be “set up” and I told him to forget it. But, he set us up anyway and we’ve been together ever since. Thanks Sean.
 
7.0 – Is it a challenge writing tunes for a female singer in terms of perspective or attitude when it comes to lyrics or titles?
Sometimes.  Some songs I just write from a male point of view and then change all the gender based words when I give them to Connie. “Always True” and “Because I Love You” are like this. Other songs I write for her, but more for her as a “female character” than for her as the real person that I know. That makes it easier. I have been accused of writing songs for her that are sexist or that praise the man in her life a little too much. Bill Bragin from Lincoln Center called me out on this after he heard “Good Woman” and “Love You Better” from the Campfire Songs record. He’s a friend and we had a laugh about it, but I felt like a bit of a jerk because I’d never thought of the characters in those songs as being Connie and me. As strange as that sounds, I had written both songs about other people, and I almost always think of the couples in my songs as being like two characters in a film or short story that I made up, but not us. Now that I’ve had this pointed out to me, I realize that I may be on to something. How many guys can get their lady to sing their praises – literally – into a microphone every night? Thanks Bill.  
 
8.0 – You just re-recorded Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wang Dang Doodle”, is that branding by association or did it come about more innocently?
Connie and I host aincredibly fun monthly jukejoint party in New York City called “The Tall Pines Review.”  “Wang Dang Doodle” is hands down one of the all time greatest songs ever about throwing a party. We’ve always loved it and wanted to cover it, even played with it some at rehearsals a long long time ago, but we never had a reason to do it before. Once we started putting on our monthly “Tall Pines Review” parties we wanted a theme song that represented what we were doing, and all of the great characters that come out of the wood-work when people have a good time. No song does that better than “Wang Dang Doodle.” We usually hang up a picture of Howlin’ Wolf on the side of the stage, but we also have a picture of Koko Taylor which we swap out from time to time. Heroes.  If you’re ever in New York on the third Thursday of the month you should come by. We always have a great time, “…all night long!
 
9.0 – What song would you say captures the quintessential essence of what The Tall Pines are all about?
There are a few, “If The Devil Knows You By Name,” is our choice at the moment. It’s about redemptioneternity, and the dark and light sides of human nature, which are some of the recurring themes in our songs. Also because it rocks live, we love playing it, and because we both get to sing together. We have some new songs that we’re working on now which I hope will change this answer, but for this interview, “If The Devil Knows You By Name” is the one.
 
10.0 – Are you ever torn by the struggle to experiment and yet be a relative purist?
Experimental and Pure don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I don’t think about things in those terms.  I just write songs that come from an honest place and that feel like something that I would like to hear and share with my friends.  Connie let’s me know if what I’ve come up with is worth working on, and then we take it from there. I may write the songs that we do perform, but she’s the arranger, and the editor in charge of what we don’t perform. I can be hard headed, so she’s got a big job too.

BILL WYMAN

How did Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings come together originally?

As a simple continuation of the band Willie & The Poor Boys I put together in 1985

What can fans look forward to on the UK tour starting October 17th?

New songs of the same variety as ever – blues, jazz, soul music, early R&B & Rock ‘n’ Roll, ballads – by a great team – & guest Mary Wilson (Supremes)   

It’s like you are on a life-long expedition into the heart of rhythm & blues, Bill Wyman Signature Metal Detector aside, are there similarities to treasure hunting when considering what material to play?

Yes, it’s like an archaeological dig into the roots of music & coming up with some forgotten gems…

What do you think has lead to the recent resurgence of interest in more traditional Americana roots music?

The lack of very few people writing decent songs anymore.

You helped define the stereo-type of the bass player as the unassuming one; how do you like being more up front now in your own band?

I’m not – I stand beside the drums – I only come to the front on a few necessary occasions.

 Dynamics have always been a hallmark of your playing, do you vary your amp or bass settings during a show?

Neither – I vary the pressure I play on the strings with my thumb.

You occasionally play with the bass vertical, is that subtle theatrics? a love of playing stand-up? a chance to rest and reposition your fingers?

Playing the bass vertical was because of my short reach – since I now played short-scale basses it has become mostly unnecessary.

What was so special about the amp you showed up with the day you auditioned for the Rolling Stones and do you recall what became of it? 

I showed up with 3 amps & a big bass cabinet with an 18” speaker – I gave the bass amp & speaker cabinet to my old band mates – who later became The Herd (Peter Frampton)

What players were you most influenced by early on in your career?

Duck Dunn – Willie Dixon – Duck Dunn – Duck Dunn – & Duck Dunn – my great mate.

What are your recollections of The London Howlin Wolf Sessions and did the experience have any impact on you as a player at the time?

Good to play with Eric Clapton & Hubert Sumlin & help to put a great album together for Wolf – a man that I became close to later.