Spotlight On: Eric Taylor juggles his songs at Godfrey's
The songs of Eric Taylor, who is regarded as a lyrical genius and one of the finest songwriters of our time by contemporaries such as Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, are narratives woven with insightful musings and intricate roots-inspired guitar playing.
With nine albums to date, culminating with his most recent release, "Studio 10" (Blue Ruby Records, 2013), Taylor has toured extensively in the United States and Europe, appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman," won folk music awards, and held songwriting workshops in the U.S., England and Wales.
Taylor plays at 8 p.m. May 2, Godfrey Daniels, 7 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem.
In a recent phone interview with Taylor from the small town of Borden, Tex., where he lives, he tells of the fame of his home's former owner: "The guy who invented condensed milk once owned this property. He was a complete failure as a cattle rancher, but he was involved in the Texas Revolution."
Atlanta native Taylor lived briefly in South Carolina, and made his way to Houston during his 20s. "I was a young writer in 1969 and Houston was a writer's town. The clubs there insisted you write your own songs. It was fertile ground."
"We were experiencing The Great Folk Scare of the 1960's," jokes Taylor. "People were buying guitars and listening to the Beatles, but I was into rhythm and blues and soul -- people like Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and The Temptations."
"I'd always been writing poetry and short stories. Then becoming a guitar player, it was a natural progression into songwriting. But the guys I played with said, 'We love this stuff but we can't sing it.' So, I went out on my own, found my niche."
His resonant tunes are sometimes referred to as dark. Taylor thinks his songs are simply honest. Songs like "Prison Movie" ("Live at the Red Shack," 2011) and "Hollywood Pocketknife" ("Hollywood Pocketknife," 2007) reveal deep insight into the human condition.
Taylor is involved in other artistic endeavors. In 2002, he created The Texas Song Theater, a concept that was, in essence, improvisation in song form.
"It was an idea that, luckily, the two people I asked to join, said, 'Yes,'" says Taylor.
The trio of Taylor, David Olney and Denice Franke performed skits onstage similar to a theater ensemble, but in music form, with lighting and props.
"The idea was we would act out each other's songs, and each song had to lead into another," says Taylor. "I wanted to keep it very spontaneous, so we got together just one or two hours before the show to review songs and take notes."
Texas Song Theater received wonderful reviews and delighted audiences. "We all had a wonderful time and it changed us in many ways," says Taylor.
Another project was writing music for a documentary film about American writer Jim Tully. "He was one of the biggest-selling authors of the 1920's," says Taylor. Tully was also a reporter, who wrote unsavory items about celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, earning himself the title of "most hated man in Hollywood."
"I found it to be one of the most fascinating stories," says Taylor. "It was right up my alley." Two songs on the "Studio 10" album are about Tully.
"['Studio 10' was] the most personal record that I've ever done. I don't like to talk about myself. I find other people's stories so much more interesting.
"Like the song 'Bill,' about my friend, Bill Morrissey, who died of alcoholism around that time. It was very cathartic.
"The songs surrounding 'Studio 10' are tributes to people in the business that I've loved, or loved how they lived their lives."
Taylor didn't always relish playing before a live audience and it took some getting used to. "I didn't used to like performing. People paid me. It felt cheap. I feel like a carny, still.
"I'm a word juggler, a fire-eater."