ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 21, 2003
By Steve Newton
On the sidewalk outside the Fairview Pub, dreadlocked hippies and shaggy snowboarder types gather in small groups as the familiar odour of B.C. bud wafts sweetly through the air. North Vancouver–based promoter Upstream Entertainment has drawn its typical jam-band crowd, portions of which get casually buzzed while improvisational jazz-funk quartet Garaj Mahal sets up shop inside.
Among the clubgoers is Todd Taylor, former guitarist for local blues-rock acts Two Trains and Brick House, who invites yours truly to hear his latest project, Todd Taylor & the New Vehicle. After jaywalking across busy West Broadway we pile into his pickup to play a cassette dubbed from a video shot at the Waldorf Hotel. Although the sound is far from hi-fi, there’s no denying the fierce talent displayed on the tape’s original instrumentals, and on a fiery reworking of the Allman Brothers’ “Hot ’Lanta”. Soon after, Garaj Mahal keyboardist Eric Levy strolls by, and, at this scribbler’s urging, climbs into the truck to check out the funky sounds. What I didn’t know at the time was that Taylor’s rough recording included his new band’s version of the GM tune “B-Dope”.
“He loved it,” says Taylor, when we reconnect some time later. “He said he’s never, ever heard anybody else playin’ their songs, so that was cool. We do a couple of their songs, actually. They’ve definitely been an inspiration.”
Those with a similar fondness for the extended jam are urged to check out Taylor’s quartet when it plays the Fairview tonight (August 21) or the Yale on Wednesday (August 27). Along for the ride in his New Vehicle are keyboardist Dave Webb, bassist Darren Parris, and She Stole My Beer drummer Geoff Hicks. (Hicks also used to play in the local ’80s act Imamu Baraka, which included keyboardist-vocalist and actor Mike Weaver before he and Taylor hooked up in Two Trains.)
“It’s all over the map,” says the 31-year-old picker of his current group’s music. “I mean we funk, we blues, we jazz, we rock, we groove. I really don’t even know what to call it, to be honest with you; we cover so many different bases. But it’s basically a lot of groove-based improv jam.
“I’ve got about three or four lyrical songs,” he continues, “but we don’t play those ones too much, because they don’t fly quite as well. The instrumentals seem to be going over a lot better, and we’ve been tryin’ to get on to the Upstream Entertainment groove thing, get the jam-happy people. We hope to get recognized in that sort of a vein, ’cause we’re not just a blues act that’s been playin’ around town.”
When he’s not blowing six-string aficionados away at live gigs, Taylor gives lessons on guitar, both privately and through Tom Lee Music in North Van (previously known as Calder Music). He’s been teaching for seven years and finds it an endlessly rewarding experience. “The best part about it is watching people grow,” he claims, “being happy for them. You watch them walk away after they’ve actually absorbed something, then they come back and they’re like, ‘I got it! I love it!’ ”
So what kind of licks are the guitar-crazed kids of today asking Taylor to show them? “Believe it or not, it’s the same shit they were learning 20 years ago,” he relates. “I get tons of [requests for] Led Zeppelin, Cream—Hendrix, of course. That stuff really gets ’em goin’, ’cause it’s kinda what their parents have lyin’ around the house. But when they get around 15 or so they start getting into the heavier stuff like P.O.D., a lot of more alternative stuff—Sum 54 or whatever the hell it’s called. I don’t keep tabs on the alternative stuff.”
This October Taylor will take time off from his teaching duties to travel to New York City. His former bandmate Weaver is tying the knot and flying his old buddy’s New Vehicle out to play at the reception. Weaver should be able to afford it, as he recently scored a starring role on the TV sitcom The Mullets, which begins airing weekly on UPN this fall. Taylor reveals that he’s never actually seen Weaver with a full mullet, but retro hairstyles notwithstanding, he’s psyched about the upcoming wedding gig. The pair might even resurrect some Two Trains material for old times’ sake.
“I would imagine!” Taylor enthuses. “I sent him an e-mail today and said, ‘So what’s up, man? Whaddaya want us to play? We can’t jam out Allman Brothers stuff all night.’ ”