Called the “Redneck Jeff Beck” by The Village Voice, a “funky mix of Jeff Beck and Chet Atkins” by Rust Magazine, and “Claptonesque” by The San Diego Troubadour, acclaimed performer and ace studio guitarist Joe Taylor continues to delight audiences across the country with his fiery, groove- laden shows.
Joe has worked both as guitarist and producer with everyone from Ahmet Ertegun to Dave Koz.... Al B. Sure to Donna Summer.
His solo albums on RCA Victor have achieved critical praise and top charting notoriety, and his chillstep series on RCA as Oracle were club hits.
His first RCA album, Spellbound, topped the radio charts at Number One, and his album Accidental Sugar was Most-Added at Smooth Jazz Radio; entering at Number Seventeen on the Contemporary Instrumental charts.
A twenty-year member of NARAS, Joe is an active advocate for The Recording Academy, and continues his career as an in-demand film and television composer.
From an island of 1.6 million souls to an island of 30: a drastic but welcome change for studio ace guitarist and producer Joe Taylor.
Speaking from his studio on a little island off the coast of South Carolina, Taylor related the highlights of a musical journey that began in South Carolina and led to New York City.
Taylor’s earliest and greatest influence was the legendary guitarist Chet Atkins, with whom he became friends at the end of the late, great Atkins’ life.
Flash Forward to 1999: “I was formally introduced to Chet by veteran music-biz man Harry Warner, who saw me playing at the Exit Inn in Nashville.
Harry came up after the show and said ‘Son, you sound real good, and it sounds like you’re a Chet Atkins fan. How would you like to have breakfast with me and Chet Saturday morning?”
Upon regaining my composure, I said ‘Well, yessir, I believe I would like that!….and I became an infrequent member of Chet’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Club.”
Long before this extraordinary and serendipitous event, Taylor started along the path that led him to a varied and illustrious career.
After playing guitar around the Southeast in various outfits, he began working as a sideman in Nashville, and, after a year or so, events and aspiration led to Manhattan, where he began his ‘Scrapple in the Apple’.
Landing a dues-paying gig at famed Greenwich Village Jazz club Lush Life, he began making contacts and connections, while his influences became more widely varied.
“I was able to spend after-hours time at Lush Life with an amazing array of Jazz greats. Once we locked the doors after closing, you never knew who would remain hanging at the bar….Art Blakey, George Benson, the Marsalis brothers, Charlie Rouse, Buster Williams…and incredible opportunity to listen and learn.”
Taylor’s first break came when a chance meeting with David Bowie saxophonist Steve Elson led to his first studio session work. Another meeting with legendary drummer Peter Erskine led to more sessions on some dance records with uberproducer Nile Rodgers.
Word got around, and it wasn’t long before the famed Ahmet Ertegun personally picked him to work on a project he was producing, and Taylor was on his way. “Ahmet was a wonderful fellow; a raconteur and a wild man! I’d love to relate that whole story to you; perhaps another time.” he said with a smile. “Suffice it to say that it was an unforgettable adventure.”
This association led to Taylor’s albums as a solo artist. His first release, Mystery Walk, was a top-ten Billboard charting instrumental. “Here,” stated a review in JazzTimes, “Taylor shows himself to be a passionate, confident player, a brilliant writer and producer.” This led to his signing with historic label RCA Victor (Chet Atkins’ label) in the nineties, resulting in the hit release Spellbound.
Spellbound became a top-five Billboard charting album, featuring guest artists like Dave Koz, Al B. Sure, and, completing the circle, Joe’s old friend Steve Elson.
Another chance meeting, with writer/producer Keith Diamond, who enjoyed enormous international success with Billy Ocean and Mick Jagger, led to numerous opportunities.
“At a late-night jam at The China Club in New York I met Keith, who asked me the very next day to play guitar on a Donna Summer album he was producing: Mistaken Identity.” “This led to a long friendship with Keith, who was one of the most talented people I ever knew.”
“The China Club was a terrific meeting place for New York musicians. One late-night jam led to my being asked to occupy the first-guitar chair in the orchestra for the Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash Starlight Express.”
Rock and R&B fans were not the only ones impressed with Taylor’s music; his records attracted the attention of filmmakers, which led to his career as a successful film and TV composer. Taylor composed the score for Stephen King’s “Golden Years” on CBS. for which he won the praise of the Los Angeles Times for “adding the proper air of mystery and intrigue,” and additional critical acclaim for the A&E Network’s “Spies”, as well as the Discovery Channel’s “SpyTek with Roger Moore”.
Around 2001 the multi-faceted Taylor, who finds “labels and categories other than guitar-player” to be ill-fitting, sensed, like many of his peers, a shift in the music business.
“It no longer seemed necessary for me to be in the center of Manhattan 24/7, so I started thinking about making a change to a more serene environment, where I could continue to build on my career, while opting for a bit more sanity in the day to day.”
This led to a return to his roots, an island in the Low Country of his native South Carolina, where he built a state-of-the-art studio, Salt Creek Recording. At Salt Creek Taylor continues to produce artists from all over the country, as well as record his solo albums; the latest of which is Sugar Dust in the Devil Wind. (release date November 18)
“I have been fortunate enough to create an environment that all my friends from NYC, LA and Nashville enjoy visiting, so we continue to make great, world-class music while also being able to walk over to the shrimp dock, hop on the boat, or go horseback riding.”
The heat and diversity of the music on Sugar Dust in the Devil Wind certainly attests to that fact. Joining Taylor on the album are an array of super musicians, including drummer Steve Holley (Paul McCartney and Wings, Joe Cocker, Ian Hunter), drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith (Jeff Beck, Santana, Lou Reed) and bassist Sean O’Bryan Smith (Larry Carlton, Esperanza Spaulding, Lady Antebellum).
Sugar Dust is a collection of tunes Taylor has been touring behind for the last year or so, and it represents “a slight departure from my earlier albums. Half of the record really brings the heat, while the other half keeps it mellow; thus the Devil and the Sugar.”
On the road The Joe Taylor Group has been “making new fans and delighting the old ones with a fiery, groove-laden mix of old and new Taylor tunes.”
From his place in the Low Country, Taylor concludes with this: “I feel like things are just heating up all over again. With all the great players from all over the country that I am blessed to work with, and being able to have my base of operations in this beautiful place, I am so excited about the future.”
If Sugar Dust in the Devil Wind is any indication of things to come, then there is plenty to be excited about.