Like a modern-day John Lee Hooker, Otis Taylor can make an entire song from a single riff. Hooker conjured powerful emotions with little more than a guitar and a somnolent mumble. Taylor, a multi-instrumentalist and blues singer, broke out in 2001 with his White African, a CD that did much justice to the Hooker blues tradition, but with modern tools. He built a new music from simple chords and dressed it in layers of studio reverb and gritty distortion that made his songs shimmer like broken bottles on pavement. But, unlike Hooker, Otis Taylor shied away from making party songs. On White African he relived some of the darkest days in American history. “Well, the white man pointed his finger and said what he always says/ They didn’t bother to hang me, they just shot me on the spot.” You go to Otis Taylor for bleak.
On the phone from his home in Boulder, I ask if he is in general a dark and moody guy. “Do I sound depressed?” he asks in a baritone that is just above a whisper. No, he does not, but I didn’t know what to expect. “Everybody says that,” he laughs. “What you have a talent for doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who you are. I’m just good at dark.”
White African has been called a masterwork; I wonder if it has been hard for him to live up to his own success.
“It’s like gambling. If I go out on a limb, will I make it this time? For me, so far, I’ve made it. And every time I make it, people go, ‘He can’t do that again.’ That’s part of the excitement for me of making a record, is to see if I can survive.” He laughs again, which coming from him is a sound both unsettling and relieving. “Maybe I should do Bob Dylan covers. That’d be different.”
- Friday, January 15, 2010, 9:30 p.m.
1337 India Street,
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