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20 Questions: Otis Taylor

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Friday, May 9, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Multi-instrumentalist and respected bluesman, re-imagines the banjo on his latest work, Recapturing the Banjo, released in February on Telarc Records. Collaborating with the likes of Guy Davis, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb’ Mo’ and Don Vappie, Recapturing the Banjo got an 8 from PopMatters back in March. Our very own Lou Friedman said: "Otis Taylor is the only "modern day" bluesman who can make the blues sound primitive without being phony or contrived. And it really doesn’t matter what weapon he’s using to fire his musical provocations. In this case, he’s chosen a banjo as the primary cannon from his arsenal. Something way better than Recapturing the Banjo is going to have to come along to knock this off the pedestal as the best blues release of 2008.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
When I was six years old I cried at Old Yeller and then I never cried at another movie again. 

2. The fictional character most like you?
The black guy in Gladiator (I think his name was Juba), he was loyal and had a family, as well. He was always trying to get back home which I feel like I am doing every time I leave my family.

cover art

Otis Taylor

Recapturing the Banjo

(Telarc; US: 5 Feb 2008; UK: Available as import)

Review [12.Mar.2008]

3. The greatest album, ever?
Take Five by Dave Brubeck.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek definitely, Spock is the man!

5. Your ideal brain food?
For me, waking up each day and really experiencing life, the colors, smells, sounds is what stimulates me. Each day is different.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
The thing that I am most proud of us being a father and a black man in a mixed marriage. It is tough to be in a mixed marriage and I feel like it is a huge accomplishment.

7. You want to be remembered for…?
Being somebody who was always on the edge and never comprimised anything, like putting art first and commercialism second. It sounds simple but it is really hard.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I’d have to say Charlie Pride, he was a black man in the ‘60s and ‘70s and played country music, I had the chance to do that and didn’t. The other person is Josephine Baker. She took France by storm and she adopted many children of different races. Both Pride and Baker were like musical diplomats. 

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Once when I was teaching blues in the schools and I had kids write down what made them upset and one kid says when my fish coughs, I wish I would have written that line.

10. Your hidden talents…?
Being a comedian. I was going to do this, but in the ‘60s they said you had to be in Vegas and I didn’t want to be there.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Work like an immigrant and don’t take anything for granted.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
My first Ode 5-string banjo, I bought it when I was 16 at the Denver Folklore Center, it cost me $120. I saved up the money by shoveling walks and cutting lawns. 

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Levis with good shoes and a great watch preferably Gucci shoes and a great ‘60s diving watch.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
My family for sure because they are stuck at home when I go to all these exotic places on tour.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Someplace where a black man would be safe, not sure if that is the future so I guess I would have to say a place in the past where I could feel safe.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
I work more when I am stressed out, I don’t necessarily retreat.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Popcorn and chocolate milk. I have loved both since childhood. 

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I have traveled internationally and I would have to say, I wouldn’t want to be any other place than where I live, Boulder, Colorado.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
If I told you I’d have to kill you.

Related Articles
21 Feb 2013
Talented Colorado bluesman once again overrates his voice and underrates his instrumental texturing. To say that the depth of lyrical commentary here centers on the treatment of Native Americans only extends to the cover photo would be wrong, but it's depressingly not far off.
21 Feb 2012
A stumble from a master still has plenty of rewards on it, but isn't essential.
21 Jul 2010
Propelled first and foremost by Taylor’s extraordinary vocals, this is a welcome addition to Taylor’s discography, even if it doesn’t wildly diverge from earlier records.
20 Jul 2009
The critically acclaimed bluesman talks to PopMatters about his musical path, bringing the banjo back to its roots in black music, and his new album Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs that marks his return to the guitar.

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