TAYLOR MADE: When I moved to Tucson in 1987, one of the first local musicians I encountered at the bars was Sam Taylor. Although my bar-hopping accomplice and I weren't much interested in the blues at the time, we suddenly found ourselves adding Sam to our list of local faves, checking the music listings each week for his club dates, along with those of the Sidewinders, River Roses and The Host (a sampling of our tastes for you old-timers).
Why did a couple of musically narrow-minded, white, teenaged indie-rock snobs latch on to a local blues guy? Because Sam was the real deal. He didn't have to sell the blues to his audience, as so many attempt to do; he just dished it out, straight-up. How could we refuse that? We heard all sorts of rumors about Sam -- stuff along the lines of Did you know the Stones stole '"Midnight Rambler" from Sam? He wrote it, and they just took it, changed a few words, and re-titled it, and never gave Sam any credit -- stuff that only enhanced his mystique.
I never found out if that was true, but I have learned a few things about Sam over the years -- especially how lucky I was to experience the times he graced the clubs so regularly. As it turns out, his stay in Tucson was a stopover while he recovered from his second heart bypass surgery, and a chance, as he puts it, "(to) clean up my life." For Sam it was just a blip in time.
Born in Alabama, but raised from age 11 in Brooklyn, his first love was boxing. He eventually won the Golden Gloves title in the featherweight class before enlisting in the Air Force the following year, after his high-school graduation. He remained in the service for seven years, boxing the entire time. But his boxing coach was a hobby musician as well, and taught Sam how to play guitar. Once he realized that putting the poems he had been writing in his spare time to music was both more rewarding and less dangerous than a career in boxing, he never looked back.
Soon, his songs were being covered by the likes of Joe Tex and Freddie King, and he cut solo albums for Atlantic and Capitol Records, as well as for a slew of indie labels. For five years during the early '60s, he was a member of Joey Dee and the Starlighters, best known for their hit single "The Peppermint Twist." Later he worked as a producer, musician and arranger at the Beach Boys' label, Brother Records; enjoyed gold record status with B.T. Express; and even dabbled in film acting.
He's finally released a brand new album, I Came from the Dirt (Well!!! Records) -- a collection of nine originals, some recently penned, others dating back some 30 years -- recorded in town at Wavelab Studios. He's embarking on a national tour to promote it -- not bad for a guy of 65. And as the new record attests, he hasn't missed a beat.
Catch the Sam Taylor Reunion Band with The In Your Face Horns as they return to Tucson at 6 p.m. Sunday, October 3, at St. Philip's Plaza, at Campbell Avenue and River Road. Tickets are $6 for TJS and TBS members, $11 for everyone else. Call 743-3399 for details.
CONGRESSIONAL RUCKUS: If you've been waiting for the perfect event to show off your best flapper dress or velvet smoking jacket and creepers, then look no further than the bash Hotel Congress is throwing to celebrate its 80 years in Tucson. History is the hotel's middle name, and the event the folks at the Congo have in store will add another notch to their historical bedpost.
First off, there's the outdoor parking lot area, which promises to be a dazzling array of tiny lights strung against the stars, with one swank lineup providing the entertainment on the corner stage. The best damn swing band on the planet (and at 10 years, probably the longest running), Royal Crown Revue, headlines the festivities in support of their new album, Walk on Fire (RCR Records), released on July 20. Even if you weary of the (not so) new neo-swing renaissance, I guarantee this is one band that will still blow you away. Add to that a stellar crew of local openers -- the greatest cover-medley group from (to quote the band) "somewhere far middle-eastern Europe possibly," The Zsa-Zsa's; the fabulously ass-kickin' Al Perry; and the deservedly world-renowned Calexico -- and you've got yerself a shindig, m'friend.
The party extends inside the Hotel's lobby and club, where DJ extraordinaire Tasha Bundy will be spinning wax spanning the years of the Hotel's existence, pausing only for a puppet show courtesy of The Big Head Puppet Co. There'll be free champagne and birthday cake for the revelers, and all your kind hosts ask is that you dress accordingly for this formal event. Well...that and the 20 buck cover, but, trust me, it's money well spent.
Don't miss the Hotel Congress' 80th Birthday Celebration, at 311 E. Congress St., starting at 9 p.m. Friday, October 1. Call 622-8848 for more information.
THREE'S COMPANY: If seeing Pavement, one of the greatest and most influential bands of the last decade (see this week's music feature, page 51), isn't enough to get you out on a Tuesday night, consider the two opening bands as further enticement.
Anyone who witnessed Australia's Dirty Three tear it up in town a year or so ago at Club Congress became a convert. The trio consists of spare but powerful drumming from Jim White, wandering but cataclysmic guitar playing from Mick Turner, and the beautiful but violent violin magic of Warren Ellis. The band's forte (and perhaps formula, but an infallible one) is lulling the audience into a sweeping, majestic quietude while deceptively upping the ante, until, before you can even stop to think about it, they've somehow crept into an overwhelming crescendo, and then suddenly reverted to pianissimo. Powerful stuff. And just as you recover enough to start clapping, violinist Ellis has the audacity to toss out a rambling and hilarious anecdote that would put most comedians on the circuit to shame. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be the first to hear songs from their forthcoming fifth album on Touch and Go Records, due out in early 2000.
Though they recently parted ways with their latest record label, V2, prior to the release of their completely amazing recording Chore of Enchantment, Giant Sand -- Howe Gelb, John Convertino and Joey Burns -- seems to be experiencing a resurgence. Having spent the last few years alternating between working on Enchantment; Convertino and Burns recording and touring with their band Calexico; Gelb releasing last year's Hisser (V2); as well as individual involvement in other collaborations too numerous to mention here; Giant Sand has been conspicuously missing from local clubs. Until recently.
With all three permanent members of the band spending extended spells in town, they've started playing gigs every few weeks or so; but the real fun has been the standing Tuesday night gig at 7 Black Cats. Billed most recently as "Howe Gelb on piano," it's become a free-for-all populated by all the Giant Sanders, a regularly revolving cast of contributors, and the occasional special guest such as Victoria Williams and Richard Buckner. Hell, on one particularly drunken night, yours truly was seen smacking a conga drum and playing a little piano. (Much to the chagrin of everyone involved, as I have absolutely no idea how to play piano.) It's terrific to watch a bunch of really great musicians who haven't played together in a while realize why they came together in the first place: they all enjoy the process of creating, and they all enjoy the process of creating together. It's always a great experience to witness a band having fun, and Giant Sand seems to be doing just that.
Seeing Pavement with The Dirty Three and Giant Sand this week is a gift straight from the heavens (or, more accurately, promoter Steven Eye -- more on that next week). Don't squander this opportunity, people! Information on the show follows this week's music feature.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Most of the single, lonely guy-who-records-his-heart-on-his-sleeve lo-fi stuff out there is heart-wrenching (albeit with an occasional humorous wink); Think Palace, Smog, Elliot Smith, East River Pipe, early Lou Barlow -- the cracking voices and crappy production only add to the ambiance of despair those puppy dogs of lost love flaunt regularly.
Now meet Larry Yes, who is all about love. Love for life and all that it encompasses, whether it's his "Blue Bike," his hometown (Portland, Ore.), his dog, Anna ("She's a dog/With a heart/As big as Atlanta"), or his cat, Madison ("You're not like a cat to me/You're more like a human/I love you, Madison/Maybe we come from the same spaceship, Madison"). It's all presented in earnest, irony-free fashion, sorta like a savant John Lennon on Prozac. Every note of every song on Yes' self-released solo debut, All Numbers Are Mystical, save for one guitar solo, is performed by Yes himself; and while it's slightly more lush in production values than several of the aforementioned artists' earlier work, it's still got that semi-rough-hewn one-man's-vision thing happening.
Slow, moody and atmospheric: those are the first three adjectives that popped into my mind upon listening to fellow Portlanders' VI Foot Sloth's self-titled and self-released EP. The multi-instrumentalist trio is a little bit Low, with the ethereal touch of Rachel's, a hint of Godspeed You Black Emperor without the super-crescendo dramatics, and some pretty male/female vocal melodies. If you're not afraid of the dark, these guys come highly recommended.
Larry Yes and VI Foot Sloth appear with Cortex Bomb and the Weird Lovemakers at 8 p.m. Friday, October 1, at Double Zero, 121 E. Congress St. Call 670-9332 for details.