Otis Taylor readdresses ‘Hey Joe’ in latest album

Otis Taylor rarely records a cover song, but for the last 19 years he’s played “Hey Joe,” a tune written by folk artist Billy Roberts and made famous by Jimi Hendrix.

Taylor estimated he has only six cover songs on his 14 albums, three of which include “Hey Joe.” The first recording is arranged with just guitar and bass, the second with banjos, guitars and harmonica.

His new album, “Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat,” has two versions and includes drums and fiddle. The concept of returning to a song was first used by Pink Floyd on the album “Wish You Were Here.” Taylor takes the idea further in that the music never stops. “Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat” is one continuous groove.

Otis Taylor touring bandHe says the music is trance blues.

“I’m a singer-songwriter, but if you are black, you are a blues musician,” said Taylor, who not only embraces the label, he has his own label named Trance Blues Festival.

Taylor, who said he was influenced by Ravi Shankar and Howlin’ Wolf, began playing banjo when he was 14.

“Banjo is trance music when there are no chord changes,” Taylor told Tahoe Onstage.
Mississippi Hill Country music has that same hypnotic sound with roots that go all the way back to Haitian voodoo drums.

“Trance music is about repetition and building a circle and people losing the sense of time,” he said. “I play songs for 5 minutes and I play songs for 25-30 minutes. I don’t write 3-minute songs.”

That’s why Taylor’s music is seldom heard on radio, which is generally formatted for short songs. However, Taylor is famous in the industry. Warren Haynes, Langhorne Slim and String Cheese Incident’s Bill Nershi appear on “Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat,” and the late Gary Moore played on three of Taylor’s albums. Taylor’s daughter is Cassie Taylor, an indie and blues artist who sometimes plays bass in her dad’s band.

Otis Taylor 3Taylor, who moved with his family from Chicago to Colorado when he was 4 years old, played in Colorado bands with Kenny Passarelli (Joe Walsh, Elton John) and Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) before they became famous.

“I knew Tommy Bolin when he was 16,” Taylor said. “It was sort of like knowing Billy the Kid before he killed anybody.”

Taylor left the music industry for 19 years when he was an art dealer and managed competitive cycling teams.
The Otis Taylor Band, which plays in Europe more than it does in the United States, will appear in Northern Nevada for the first time on Saturday, Sept. 26, in the Nugget Casino Resort’s venerable Celebrity Showroom. The talented group includes esteemed fiddle player Anne Harris and acclaimed guitarist Shawn Starski.

“My concerts are a lot more aggressive than my albums,” Taylor said. “Everybody asks me when am I going to do a live concert album, and I go, ‘When I’m dead. I am a songwriter. I want my songs on albums.”
Like a concert, “Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat” is intended to be listened to in its entirety. Taylor explained the concept on his website:

“(It’s) about decisions and their consequences. It’s about how decisions and the actions that result can change our lives, the lives of our families and the lives of people we don’t even know. Sometimes you win in life; sometimes you lose. You want the outcome of your decisions to be good, but sometimes it’s bad. And that’s when you don’t eat the meat. The meat eats you.”

Here’s a link to the opening track, the album’s first version of “Hey Joe.” – CLICK HERE

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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