Singer-songwriter slates return visit

June 05, 2013 11:06 am
With a fist full of new songs and a rejuvenated voice, Eric Taylor returns to Wallowa County.

Taylor makes Wallowa County a stop on his Northwest tour year after year. His Americana-style songs and storytelling set the mood for a season of rodeos and the county fairs. Along the way, he’s made close ties.

“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again. It’s a special time for me because as much as we like to have a good time, when I leave there I feel like I’m going to work,” said Taylor in a recent interview.

“Studio 10,” Taylor’s new album, was released June 4, and will accompany Taylor to Joseph’s Josephy Center Tuesday, where he’ll play a solo show.

“‘Studio 10’ is different purposely — I wanted it to be. I think that there’s ways I grow as a producer, as a musician and as a performer — things that need to be said and stories that need to be told.”

He describes it as sparse. “After doing ‘Live at the Red Shack’ I wanted to come back to my own personal stories and my own personal insights — as a writer you always wonder what’s next.”

In 2011 Taylor produced “Live at Red Shack” with old friends and collaborators Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith. The album is a compilation of favorites from a career that stretches back to his days washing dishes in Houston’s blues joints and playing with legends like Lightning Hopkins an Townes Van Zandt.

He likens his short story style of songwriting to old blues songs, when a black man couldn’t say what he wanted to directly, but if he said it in a song, like Hopkins’ “Mr. Charlie”, it would be accepted.

“Lightning didn’t say, ‘Hey you ignorant white man!’ He could get away with saying things you couldn’t otherwise — it’s a really interesting way to write — if you were in that much trouble just for being you, how would you tell the truth?”

Taylor said Hopkins and Fred McDowell were great inspirations.

“I was lucky enough when I was a young guy to meet with them and play with them — the fingerprints are still on me.”

A new twist to his songwriting is writing from a female perspective.

“It started with a conversation with a friend of mine up around the Portland area. She played a couple of her songs and I thought, ‘You know those are songs you can only write from a female perspective.’ A little seed germinated around that conversation,” Taylor said.

One such song, “Molly’s Painted Pony,” he said, “started as a short story. That’s why I like these songs — the production is different. I wanted to leave a lot of space in it — like reading a book of short stories — even more like that than my other records. They were written as prose before I made songs out of them.”

In a life filled with music and touring the country year after year, Taylor’s amassed hundreds of friends.

“I lost a lot of friends the last two years. The song ‘String of Pearls’ is about a really dear friend who is dying of cancer in Holland — he was skeletal when I saw him, but he was so glad I came and I was so glad I got to say goodbye. I haven’t wanted to say goodbye when I’ve had the opportunity; I never wanted to do that last visit. I’m really glad that I did because ‘String of Pearls’ is one of my favorite songs on the record. It’s so personal, but there’s so much space that people get to interpret it their own way. I think that’s what writing is — if you tell too much of the story you aren’t giving people a chance to get it, to ‘dig it’.”

Besides fine storytelling, “Studio 10” features Taylor’s crystalline voice, which he said was injured during his recuperation from heart surgery three years ago.

“I kind of had to learn to sing again. I was incubated for so long my vocal cords were just trashed. When I left hospital, I had no voice and the doctor told me I couldn’t go to Europe. So I went to Europe and the only way I could get anything out of my voice was I had to push it really hard. In Amsterdam at the Paradisio a fan said, ‘Man, you sound like Joe Cocker!’ I had to learn how to work with it more than I ever had before.”

Taylor said Europe is a favorite of his year-round tours, where he sells more albums than he does in the U.S. He even keeps a couple guitars there.

“One made in Britain, I keep just there. Then I have an old 1963 Guild, weighs about 40 pounds — made in the USA — it’s a real guitar, I keep it in Germany,” Taylor said.

Always keeping a few irons in the fire, Taylor said two of his new album’s songs will be in a documentary about Jim Tully, an Irish immigrant and early 20th century writer.

“A friend of mine wrote his biography and he’s one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever run into; I’m almost obsessed with this book. I started writing lines — prose stuff. I wrote a song of all titles of the books he wrote. Then I got a call from a filmmaker, ‘Would you be interested in using the songs doing instrumentals?’ So in between touring I wrote music for the film, which is coming out in another couple months.”

Contact Katy Nesbitt at 541-786-4235 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it