Unplugged sounds are Tom Taylor’s first love



TOM TAYLOR LOVES acoustic guitars. That’s why, when he shows up at the Georgia Straight building to chat about his new CD, Running Late, he’s sporting a baseball cap that reads Santa Cruz Guitar Co. Taylor didn’t use any of those instruments on his latest album, though, choosing instead the highly prized Martins in his collection.

“I had four acoustic guitars,” he explains, wrapping his hands around a decaf at a West Broadway coffee joint, “but I had to downsize, because I had a deal with my wife. I wanted a new Martin and it was a little pricey, so two gotta go to finance the one. But it’s nice, because if I keep playing music I can justify buying an acoustic guitar!”

Taylor doesn’t seem likely to lose his passion for acoustic-based music anytime soon. He’s had it ever since his Grade 10 English teacher at West Van’s Hillside secondary school pulled out a 12-string to introduce his charges to the open-chord glory of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”.

“It was a split class,” Taylor recalls, “and some older kid yelled out, ”˜Neil Young, “Sugar Mountain”!’ I’d never heard of Neil Young at the time, and I was like, ”˜Oh, if it’s anything like this, it’s gotta be good.’ So after hearing that, I left class and went down to Park Royal and bought Live Rust.”

In the years following that fateful day, Taylor’s love of guitar-based music led him to become the main songwriter, and co-singer-guitarist, for She Stole My Beer, a roots-rock sextet that released two albums and became a local club sensation in the mid ’90s.

He made his solo debut with 2005’s King of July before releasing Running Late three months ago. On the current disc, Taylor focuses on laid-back folk-pop and country-roots stylings, the highlight of which is “Wagon Train”, a story-song depicting the hard times faced by a pioneer family in the American West.

Taylor hasn’t harboured a long-standing interest in Western lore, but he’s had the song’s opening line—“I was a boy being pulled around by horses”—in his head for ages.

“I thought it would be about some kind of epic battle between the wagon train and the Indians,” he explains. “Then I got on the Internet to find out some history—so I wouldn’t get the dates and the places wrong—and I found out that the settlers were never really attacked by Indians, they were usually dyin’ of starvation and sickness. I said, ”˜Aw, that’s a cool twist,’ and it just went from there.”

“Wagon Train”, like most of the songs on Running Late—and the sparser King of July—benefits from the sterling guitar work of coproducer Steve Dawson, who also accompanied Taylor on-stage at the Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival on August 10 when Taylor opened for the likes of Shelby Lynne, Jonny Lang, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Dawson handles acoustic and electric guitars, Weissenborn, pedal steel, mandotar, pump organ, and glockenspiel on Running Late.

“He has gotta be one of the best multi-instrumentalists in the world, hands down,” raves Taylor. “And the nice thing about him is he’ll be the last person to tell ya that.”

In his spare time, Taylor enjoys listening to female roots artists like Lucinda Williams, Iris DeMent, and Gillian Welch, but he also has a soft spot for John Hiatt, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young.

“I often find myself going back to the same old stuff that I listened to years and years ago,” he says, “so I’ll throw on ZZ Top’s Tejas and things like that.” When he’s not indulging in the music of yesteryear, making solo records, or performing with She Stole My Beer—which recently started gigging again—the 42-year-old tunesmith runs a construction company with Cody Bentall, son of Vancouver music veteran Barney.

Taylor reveals that he’s much more comfortable pounding nails than taking centre stage as a singer-songwriter.

“If I could just write songs and not have to play them, I’d be fine,” he relates. “I never liked photo shoots, I never liked making videos, I never liked anything that’s industry-related at all. I’m a pretty reluctant performer, but I realize now that you’ve got to get out there and play to get the songs out. And when you’re supported by great players, it’s one of the biggest rushes around.”

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