One of the nicest things about doing this column is the opportunity to write about what I think is good and interesting in music around town. What makes that part of the job particularly sweet is interviewing friends and discovering neat pieces of their lives I didn’t know. This week I am fortunate to tell the tale of a longtime friend and much respected and much admired musician, Michael Taylor.
Born and raised in Greenwood, Miss., his grandparents lived near Clarksdale, a town often referred to as the birthplace of the blues. Young Michael soaked up the music and the culture of the turbulent Deep South in the 60s and 70s.
“I remember swimming in the public pool and seeing black kids looking in and wondering, ‘Why can’t they come in?’” he says. “People talked about knowing who killed Medgar Evers. My 1976 graduation class was integrated, but we were really separate cultures living together.”
From an early age, Michael took an interest in music, gravitating toward the type of guitar-oriented styles popular at the time. One might think that growing up near the home of the blues would encourage him to be an early student of the music, but that was not the case.
“It took me moving to Illinois to find out about the blues,” he says. “Meeting Fenton Robinson at SSU (Sangamon State University) got me introduced to the blues.”
His love and desire for playing music has not diminished in more than three decades as a professional musician. From leading popular cover bands in the 80s to his jazz combo adventures and forays into the blues, Taylor always keeps the music challenging and the spirit enlightened. Taylor Music, Michael’s personal enterprise based in his hometown of Pawnee, produced many significant projects over the years and he continues to use the studio for both recording sessions and private lessons on guitar.
Asked what is his favorite type of music to play and the answer comes back as “music that moves me” in whatever genre is available for guitar picking. In the last few years he’s been moved by fingerstyle guitar music, absorbing and studying the playing of Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Martin Taylor and Tommy Emmanuel, “among hundreds of others,” to learn the challenging finger picking techniques. He tries to attend the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society gatherings each year in Nashville, hanging with others bent on studying and experiencing the immense talents of the late, great guitarist.
Now involved with a self-invented project called “Excursion,” Taylor finds himself back out playing live in clubs, attempting to display newfound techniques and perform different music than ever before. He explains the concept of “Excursion” as “more of an idea than a band” developing the plan to “allow a presentation of diverse musical ideas,” sometimes varying performers from show to show, in essence doing whatever is necessary to bring inspiration to life.
“In most ensembles that I have performed with I was limited stylistically to a particular genre, ‘Excursion’ will have no such stylistic limits,” he says, “The presentation of fingerstyle compositions and arrangements will be our focus this time.”
For this particular show, Taylor enjoys the bass accompaniment of William B. Hart, a renowned national bassist who moved back to Springfield after Hurricane Katrina washed him and many steady bass gigs out of New Orleans.
As he continues to travel the artist’s path, experimenting and ever changing, the chance to expand the mind and an audience is forever present and reachable.
“This is really an opportunity to play what I haven’t gotten to do in any other ensemble I’ve worked with and to play what no one has seen me do before,” says Taylor. “The journey will always be an eclectic one.”