Eric Taylor’s voice sounds a little like God’s might, starting off low and considered and ending up booming and insistent, as though he were speaking a truth that no one else had yet discovered. One of those intimidating kind of guys, big and smart, singing and staring you down, even when his eyes are on the floor. It is almost certain that this man’s mind stretches to places that are just beyond the reach of the rest of us, places of darkness, but also places of inspiration.
As a boy, Taylor was a natural student of the ways of people, particularly drawn to the plight of the black community in Atlanta. He took to their culture and was soon enough learning their music, playing bass in a succession of soul and R&B bands, often the only white person on the stage. By the early seventies he headed to California, “like everyone else”, but only made it to Houston. There he was welcomed into the songwriting scene, perfecting his craft at places like Anderson Fair and Sand Mountain with folks like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett. He also found work at the Family Band Club, and met and played with blues legends Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
Houston was a cultural melting pot of people who knew no labels and followed no rules. Taylor absorbed the influences swirling around him and began to construct something all his own.
Almost literature (Griffith called him the William Faulkner of songwriting), his work combines complex lyrics, that tell a story you long to hear, with ethereal melodies that seem to float above the broken characters he describes. It is all delivered by voice and guitar that is a bit more polished than many of his peers.
Taylor has developed a unique and mesmerizing style of fingerpicking that blends traditional folk with blues licks he learned at the Family Band Club. To this day he makes his dreadnought ring and sparkle, almost effortlessly, tucked up high under his beard. His voice has grown rough and gravelly, but the important words come through clear and pure, the meaning never in doubt. Often he speaks instead of sings, like some hard-edged preacher from a different time, warning of the end and demanding repentance. Then he’ll look up and smile, and you wonder if he was playing all along.
In his long and distinguished career, Taylor has released nine albums, most notably Shameless Love (1981), Eric Taylor (1995), Resurrect (1998), Shuffletown (2001), The Great Divide (2005) and Hollywood Pocketknife (2007). He shows no signs of slowing down.
Three things you should know about Eric Taylor: (1) no less than Steve Earle refers to him as one of his heroes, (2) Vince Bell sang back-up on Hollywood Pocketknife, and (3) he has hosted songwriting workshops in England and Wales.