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Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008 11:40 am

Carrying on the song


My recent interview with Eric Taylor, a legendary songwriter and irascible character, got off to a lovely start. While explaining I wasn't a real journalist, just a musician writing a column for much fun and little profit, he told of a recent exchange with a genuine professional writer.

"Some other journalist from your town called and his first question was to ask me to tell him a little about my music — you know, what it was about," Taylor says in a husky, Texan drawl drowning in disdain. Then with a laugh he continues, "And I thought, 'Can I tell you to f-ck off first and we'll go from there?'"

So go his dealings with the willfully ignorant. Taylor is an artist's artist. He takes his work seriously and expects to be treated with thoughtfulness and respect. If you do so then he gladly reciprocates. If you don't, well you heard his response. Granted he's not for everyone, nor does he intend to be, but for those who care for a masterful presentation of short story in song he's absolutely one of the best.

"A lot of my show is the piece that comes along with the song, the character development," he says in explaining his strong suit of song introduction. "It's not just storytelling — not the patter before each song — the story is part of the piece."

While we talk on the phone, Taylor tells of storms caused by Hurricane Gustav blowing by his home near Houston. I hear a train whistle whine in the background and another strange sound like someone talking, but with an odd-toned voice.

"Got a parrot. Named after Townes' son. Had it 'bout 20 years," he explains.

Townes would be the late, great Townes Van Zandt, writer of folk-country standards, If I Needed You, Pancho and Lefty, and Tecumseh Valley, hero of dark side singer-songwriters everywhere, and a compadre and contemporary of Taylor in the fertile Houston music scene of the 1970s. Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen, and Steve Earle are other known Texas entities directly associated with Taylor somewhere in the span of his nearly four-decade career.

"It all got started down here by Mickey Newbury," he says of the late, immensely talented and successful musician. "Nobody could ever match him."

Taylor then lists, along with Newbury's incredible songwriting talent and commercial success, other areas in which the Houston resident garnered no competition, including drinking, partying and getting girls.

"He really gave us something to shoot for," he says with a laugh.

While relating with great respect and reverence lessons learned in his formative years from old blues players like Lightning Hopkins and Mississippi Fred McDowell, ("I've been a very lucky f-cker," I believe were his words), Taylor appreciates what he was given, yet senses situations aren't the same for writers today.

"Some things are not going to come back. Taking the personal perspective, as a kid it was a very fortunate time in my life," he says. "I wouldn't be the performer I am today without it. And that's what's lost in the writing scene — the carrying on."

Eric Taylor performs for WUIS' Bedrock 66 Live! concert series on Friday, Sept 5, in the Club Room of the Hoogland Center for the Arts. Tom Irwin opens at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17, available at 217-523-ARTS or at the door.

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