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.
My 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.
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