Who exactly is Taz Taylor, and what was he thinking? You can't just fly over from Birmingham, England to Los Angeles — alone, without an agent, or even a place to stay, and expect to make it in the music world. Can you? Not unless you've got balls of steel. Arriving in the States in 1997 with his guitar and little else, Taz took a job as a truck driver driving a big rig. He drove cross-country and during his breaks he would practice guitar in the cab of the truck.
As you may know, I like to find atypical and unusual guitarists, and in Taz Taylor, we have one. I hadn't heard of Taz until someone sent me a copy of Taz's first (instrumental) album, Caffeine Racer. What I discovered was a damn fine Dino guitarist. But more than that, Taz is a working Dino guitarist trying to make it in a non-Dino world. I'd say he's doing quite well against almost impossible odds. Nine years after landing in the States with nothing but his guitar, he's released a new album of great songs called Welcome to America and featuring ex Rainbow/MSG/Alcatrazz member Graham Bonnet on vocals. Through all the ups and downs, Taz hasn't lost his down-to-earth personality. This is the reason I wanted to interview him. For more on Taz, visit his website at TazTaylor.com. Let's begin.
7/18/06 Interview conducted by Steve Bluemlein.
DRG: All right Taz!
Taz Taylor: So you live in the boonies?
DRG: I live in northern Arkansas near the Missouri border. Also known as the Ozark Mountains.
Taylor: I know you're also from Europe. When did you come over?
DRG: When I was eight years old, a long time ago. By the way, Taz keep in mind you'll be addressing mainly guitarists in this interview.
Taylor: I understand. It's like talking to Guitar World instead of Rolling Stone. (laughs)
DRG: Yes, exactly! You know, Taz, with the advent of the internet I became able to speak directly with my childhood heroes, who are all guitar players! It's like a baseball fanatic being able to talk to Mickey Mantle or somebody.
Taylor: I can imagine. I think I was one of the last people to actually go online. I was a few years behind everyone else in finally getting a computer. But it is amazing. It's like it brings your whole world right into focus.
DRG: It's the greatest communication tool ever invented IMO. And yes, there's a lot of bullshit on it, you know . . .
Taylor: Yeah but you could say the same thing about TV now, couldn't you?
DRG: Absolutely. And I've been following your career on the net lately. I heard your new tune last night Fighter's Fist (click to hear it). Excellent . In all the years I've been hearing (Taz's vocalist) Graham Bonnet, he actually sounds kind of relaxed!
Taylor: (Laughs) You know, it's tough for me to say because obviously I feel very close to the project, but I'll go ahead and say it: I think he sounds absolutely incredible on this album (Welcome To America). The thing with Graham is, he won't listen to stuff that he's done. I mean he'll absolutely refuse. We're on the way to a photo session in the car and I told him that we had mixed one of the tracks we'd been working on and that it was pretty much finished. It was in the player in the car and as soon as my hand goes towards the button he's like: "No, no, no." (laughs) But when he (finally) does listen to this record I think he's going to be as proud of this as anything he's ever done.
Taz Taylor Band.
DRG: So Welcome To America is out now. Was it on schedule?
Taylor: It was supposed to come out in June. The record company, Escape, wanted it by a certain date, so they could do some PR and everything, but it took forever because they had other projects and so forth that had to be squeezed in before us. But it's been done since April!
DRG: You know, years ago I remember seeing the video to All Night Long (during Bonnet's stint in Rainbow) and my singer and I were thinking: He's gotta be ripping his throat out singing like that. He was screaming everything. How he could possibly keep that up over time amazes me to this day.
Taylor: He's always been my favorite singer, there's no doubt about that.
DRG: He's played with a lot of legendary guitarists: Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, even Chris Impellittreri. That's quite a handful! Are you intimidated by that at all?
Taylor: Nah. (Laughs) I'm me. I do what I do and that's it. It's the same way when I play gigs. I don't care who opens, or who comes on after us. You know like, God this guy's good, I'm gonna be compared. I just never look at it that way. I just do what I do.
DRG: If you can tune out all that other bullshit . . . I mean let's face it, if you're gonna be a professional musician in this world, there's a lot of ways to get yourself lost. There's drugs and women and everything else. You gotta be worried about all the crazies, and you don't even have to be an international star anymore to have your own collection of lunatics following you. If you can negotiate this path . . .
DRG: How did you meet Graham?
Taylor: I wanted a vocalist, and I figured I might as well start at the very top of my list and work down. He is my favorite vocalist and I just found his email address and sent him an email.
DRG: Is he now a permanent band member or is he still officially guesting on eight tunes?
Taylor: The way we look at it is this: It all depends on how the record does. We're definitely gonna be playing some shows. How many shows we play will depend entirely on how the record is received and how it sells. We are planning to play shows in the UK and Europe.
DRG: When is that going to happen?
Taylor: Early 2007. Whether that turns out to be eight or eighty shows remains to be seen!
DRG: I don't need to tell you about the musical wasteland we've been wading through this last decade. It's time for some guitar histrionics again. I hate the term Guitar Hero, but what the hell. We could use some! I'm sitting here in my studio, my musical cubicle, with my guitars and my Macs and without this isolation booth I'd have gone mad over the last fifteen years.
Taylor: I know. It's a shame that when Nirvana and all that other stuff came out people considered it really cool not to be able to play. And I mean everything of course goes in cycles and circles but did we think it would last twenty years??
DRG: No, and here's the thing about that: I'm not adamantly against all the music which came out of these past years because some of it I've really liked, and I keep an open mind. A piece doesn't necessarily have to be complex for me to like it, but the musicianship has to be there.
DRG: I'm gonna get a lot of flack for this at DRG but I really like the band Evanescence and I know you do, too. Especially the singer, Amy Lee.
Taylor: Exactly. It's funny because I kept hearing the record on the radio at the gym, constantly they would play it. So I bought the CD (Fallen), kept it in my car and played it to death for about a week. And I don't think I've listened to it since. But her voice is just incredible. So pure and such power. I think it's the only record in my collection that I've ever bought for the vocals and not the guitar. Her voice makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck!
DRG: Taz, I know you're heavily influenced by Michael Schenker, as are many of us at DRG, but I also know that you don't sit down and try to copy his licks note for note and that's a good thing.
Taylor: Yes, you're right. I've never done that.
DRG: One thing I don't hear in your playing is his vibrato. In fact, you don't concentrate very much on vibrato, neither wrist nor wang bar. Is that a deliberate thing on your part?
Taylor: No, it definitely isn't a conscious thing and it surprises me that you would mention it. It's something that I don't think about, but it is there.
DRG: I'm talking about a rip-snortin, piss cuttin' vibrato that's very pronounced and obviously dramatic.
Taylor: I guess I've never really analyzed it. At all.
DRG: Let me put it this way: I would not consider you a player who uses a lot of heavy vibrato.
Taylor: Ok. Yeah, I think it's fast and tight.
DRG: Sounds like my last girlfriend.
Taylor: It's a very tight vibrato and it's fast. But even though I don't think about it, it kind of comes and goes and changes a lot. And I suppose the only time I've ever really thought about it was when we were recording the first album because the producer commented on my vibrato and I told him, uh, it actually made me somewhat self-conscious because it was something I'd never really thought about. But then you do start thinking about it because somebody mentioned it and it's like, God, I wish he hadn't said anything. But what he did say was that it was different every time, but very expressive.
DRG: There are players who never use vibrato, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. There are also players who shouldn't use vibrato because they sound better without it. Kirk Hammet comes to mind. And there are other players who have a great vibrato but overuse it, ala Zakk Wylde who does that low E string skwaa with heavy vibrato so much that I don't think I can take anymore! Overkill.
Taylor: I don't rate him at all. I don't get him. I mean I'm happy for his success and everything, and he's a great player but I think a lot of that is due to his image.
DRG: I just can't believe that anyone that drinks the way he does can play that well.
Taylor: I don't think he drinks nearly as much as people think he does. I think a lot of it is just show. Recently, at least.
DRG: In my hand I'm holding a copy of your first record Caffeine Racer. By the way, that thing I said in print about Caffeine Racer — "In 1982 this record would have been groundbreaking, in 2004 it's merely excellent." — that quote is circulating around. I wanted to tell you that it was in no way meant to be derogatory towards you. Some people have made it out to be negative . . .
Taylor: I love that quote! You don't have to worry about me misinterpreting that because I've already re quoted that myself on my CD. (Laughs).
DRG: I really enjoyed the track, George's Song.
Taylor: Thank you. We still play it live.
DRG: I know it's about your dad. Was your father a musician?
Taylor: No. In fact we weren't on the same wavelength in regard to music at all. We actually had very little in common, you know, but still there's that bond between father and son.
DRG: Boy does that sound familiar.
DRG: Now I know you recorded this album with a Gibson Flying V even though you prefer Explorers.
Taylor: Yes, that's true.
DRG: Do you still have the V?
Taylor: No. I sold it. The only guitar I've ever played on stage is the Explorer, as weird as that is.
DRG: How many Explorers do you have?
Taylor: I only have two now, which I guess is enough. (Laughs) I'm so fussy and particular with guitars that if I had more of them I'd probably drive myself insane.
DRG: Do you have a guitar tech?
Taylor: I'm not in a financial situation to have one, but even if I was, I couldn't imagine letting someone else set up my guitars! I don't know if you're the same or not but I'm so connected to it.
DRG: I used to play in a band called Seizure and the bass player would constantly tell me: "Your intonation's off, let me set it up for you'' and I told him: no thanks I'll set up my own guitars. Especially if you're playing with a wang bar, which I know you don't do, and even with a Floyd it's just not gonna stay in tune all the time. I noticed on Caffeine Racer there's a little acoustic guitar segment. What kind of guitar was it?
Taylor: (Laughs) An $80.00 Sunlight acoustic. It's amazing how well it recorded. The engineer was stunned because he had a Guild, a Taylor, and others there. I just said: "let's try it," and it was so crisp and clean we just went with it.
DRG: Just goes to show you, cost isn't everything. In a studio environment only experimentation will tell the true story of what's gonna work best for any given track.
Let's shift gears: You and I are both self-taught but you did much of your learning in the back of a semi truck! Did you use a small amp to practice in the truck?
Taylor: I had a Korg Pandora about the size of a cigarette pack. Somehow I had it hooked up through a Walkman CD player and into a couple of tiny speakers. And this way I could jam along with the music on the CD. Which is still the way I practice — always in a musical context. I very rarely just sit there and start ripping scales.
DRG: So you're not the kind of player who will watch TV while noodling on guitar?
Taylor: No, not really.
DRG: How often do you work out the band? Every night?
Taylor: Actually, we rehearse very very little. Once Caffeine Racer was up and rolling, we would just rehearse one time before a show.
DRG: Really? Wow.
Taylor: I've always said that everyone should walk into the rehearsal room absolutely knowing their parts. We're not going into the rehearsal room so that I can teach people how to play stuff. And we're not gonna go in there three or four times a week to hang out and drink beer.
DRG: How do you feel about playing gigs and/or rehearsals under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Are you adamantly against it? Or do you like to get lubed up a little bit, or a little speedy perhaps?
Taylor: I have a couple of Jack and Cokes before going on stage. I don't believe that it affects me because you're so caught up in the atmosphere of the gig itself and I don't get a buzz off of that small amount of alcohol and I'm still perfectly able to play.
DRG: Has there ever been a time when you've overdone it and then had to play?
Taylor: No. I'm disciplined when it comes to that.
DRG: Here's a bunch of unrelated, free-form, maybe even fun questions: Why are you bald? Are you bald because you want to be bald or because you lost it all?
Taylor: Well you know it just did the typical thinning thing on top, and I thought hey this is only gonna go one way. So I shaved it all off!
DRG: How long have you actually been in the States?
Taylor: Since January 97. There was no welcoming committee, I was by myself.
DRG: Are you in L.A.?
Taylor: San Diego. But I landed in L.A.
DRG: Did you have a place to go when you got here?
Taylor: No. (Both laugh)
DRG: Did you have a little bit of money to live on?
Taylor: Yeah, but not a lot. A few thousand.
DRG: But you had a guitar with you . . .
Taylor: Oh yeah. At the time I actually had a Les Paul.
DRG: Did you get rid of it?
Taylor: No, I still have it. It's funny, to cut a long story short, I drifted away from playing in the early 90s when the whole grunge thing and Nirvana were happening and I just didn't want to be associated with that scene. I thought it was crappy. I grew up on Randy Rhoads and Michael Schenker, and I held these people up in high regard. Then all of a sudden the idea of being a rock musician in the musical climate (grunge) made me think I don't want to be a part of that. I more or less gave up playing until 1995 and then like, wow, I just got completely re-addicted to it. So I bought the Les Paul on the spur of the moment kind of decision.
DRG: Is it a LP Custom?
Taylor: No, it's a Les Paul Studio, and it's a nice guitar-a 95 which I think was the first year for that model and it has an ebony fretboard. And it's the guitar I used when I did all my practice and practice and practice when I got back into it, and that was the guitar I had in the truck. But when it came time to kick the whole thing into gear (pun) I felt the whole guitar was ungainly especially playing it standing up. It just doesn't fit right against me, and my hand collides with the heel at the body.
DRG: Yeah. I feel they're just clumsy pieces of furniture.
Taylor: Exactly. I felt: my favorite player is Michael Schenker so I'll try one of those Vs. So I got a V and recorded Caffeine Racer with it. Then I was looking through the local newspaper and I noticed someone was selling a Hamer Standard which as you know is almost an exact copy of a Gibson Explorer. It was only a couple of hundred bucks, so I went and got it. I took it home and started playing it and said to myself What's wrong with me? Why did I ever stop playing Explorers? (laughs) So I immediately went out and bought a Gibson Explorer and haven't put it down since.
DRG: Taz, I wish you great luck and thanks so much for your time. Let's stay in touch like we have been. It's been a blast!
Taylor: You got it man. Talk to you soon.
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Taz Taylor for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved.