Sister Kate Gets The Blues

By A.J. Wachtel
April 2010

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Kate Taylor is a state treasure and her talent and good nature attest to the fact that Martha's Vineyard is home to some of the best sounds being made on the scene today. Kate and her band's latest project, Fair Time is a lesson in superior songwriting and showmanship and the following is her testimony on the influence of blues and R&B in her musical world.

AJ Wachtel: Your music sounds like you have different blues and R&B influences. Can you name some of these artists? What female vocalists did you grow up listening to and who do you listen to now?

Kate Taylor: When I was a kid, I heard James Brown live. I had Ike and Tina Turner's “Dynamite” record, and I listened endlessly to the Staple Singers and Ray Charles. I saw Otis in person. That makes me sanctified. I heard Bobby “Blue” Bland live. I heard Esther Phillips sing live. I heard Ruth Brown live, and Charles Brown. I went to both of their memorial services and heard the soulful moans and joyous tones of their friends. I have had the honor of hearing Little Jimmy Scott live. I saw Jackie Wilson sing live on TV. One of the first songs I sang live was an Etta James tune.

I fell in love with Sam Cooke, was he the Mohair Sam? I was one of my whole generation who watched the kids dance to the hits on American Bandstand. I took a picture of the TV set the night the Beatles played on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. I saw the Allman Brothers play in a high school auditorium in Macon, GA. I heard Mahalia Jackson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I heard that someone shot John Kennedy and I saw, live on TV, someone shoot the man they said shot Kennedy.

I heard they shot Robert Kennedy and mine was one of a billion stomachs that got punched when someone shot Martin Luther King.

If these things don't wake your soul and put you in touch with the Blues, I don't know what will.

AJ:: When your brother Alex Taylor joined James Montgomery what was your reaction to him forming an electric blues and R&B band, The Funkbusters, with a harpist from Detroit and two singers (Buck and Bird Taylor--no relation) from Louisville, Kentucky?

KT:: I thought that wherever, with whomever, Alex sang, the joint would jump and the people would stand up and cheer. The fact that the players were James Montgomery, the biggest-hearted blues singer this side of the Pacific, and Buck and Byrd, our soul brothers, and the rest of that amazing crew, just made sense. These folks took no prisoners. They left nothing behind but the greasy pan.

AJ:: You just came back from a family visit in North Carolina. How are the music scenes different in the North and the South? How are the audiences different?

KT:: Those folks love their music and I believe that the music scene in Chapel Hill is rich and deep. Audiences are great everywhere.

AJ:: Any advice to musicians trying to make it in this tough music scene?

KT:: Keep playing.

AJ:: You've said that growing up with four brothers had sort of prepared you for some of the “more shocking” realities of the entertainment world. Any funny stories you'd like to share that you look back at now and laugh that proves this?

KT:: Have you got brothers? Then you know the stories!

AJ:: Alex Taylor once told me (and showed me) his Terra Nova tattoo that he told me all of your siblings had. He said it was the name of your father's boat. Is this true or was A.T. just pulling my chain? And where is your Terra Nova tattoo? And where is the boat now?

KT:: The story of the tattoo is this:

When I was 16 I went with some girlfriends from school on a trip to Grand Cayman Island. It was a quiet little place then, with long stretches of empty beaches and tortoises.

We met a tattoo artist at the bar in the little motel we were in. I realized my desire to have a tattoo, and thought that my earlobe would be a good spot. With the help of my friend Phoebe Sheldon, we came up with a small, circular symbol that encoded the sun, the moon and the water within it. I took it to our new friend to have it put on. He decided that I was too young to get a tattoo. This was, after all, way back in the mid '60s.

So a couple of years later, at the age of 18, I was visiting James in London. It was while he was working on his record that he made at Apple Records. This was where and when I met Peter Asher, who later was my manager and produced my first record, Sister Kate.

We were on King's Road one Saturday; they would close the road down and vendors would line the street with tables of antiques. It was very festive and colorful. On the street I saw a huge man, covered in tattoos. I asked him if I could ask him about them. He said yes. When I asked him where he had gotten them, he told me he had been all over the world and had gotten tattoos from many artists in many places, but his favorite artist was a guy who was sixty miles outside of London. I got his name and James, a friend of ours and I got in a car and made the trip out there to see him.

James and I discussed the tattoo on the way there. He and I decided that it would be cool if we could both get the tattoo that Phoebe and I had come up with. When we approached the parlor, there was a sign on the front door saying: “No men under 18, no women under 21”. It occurred to me that I would be disappointed if I weren't able to get mine. James said he'd go to bat for me. The fellow said no several times.

But when I asked him if he would ever consider giving someone a tattoo that they had designed themselves, he got interested and asked to see it. I showed him the design, and he said OK. However, he wouldn't condone my putting it above my neck or below my wrist. So my earlobe was out. He put me in a far room, and sent his girlfriend in to give me mine. She entered the room and I was struck by the vision of the tattoo around her neck that was a dotted line with the words “Cut Here”.

I had her put the tattoo on my foot. As is the way with tattoos, it's there to this day!

Subsequently, my mom put the symbol on the tool box on the back of the pick up she was driving at the time, and dad incorporated the symbol into the flag of his sailboat, “The New Jerusalem”. No, maybe it was called “Terra Nova”. Hmmm, I'll find out for you. Now several of the next generation have the tattoo.

AJ:: Are the performers in your band local musicians? And what do you look for in the musicians you get for your band?

KT:: I have to be the luckiest gal in show biz, to have gotten to play with some of the best. The boys I'm working with now live in New England, though each one is from a different state. We got together through the good grace of our dear mutual friend, Mindy Jostyn. She didn't just play music, she was music. We all met at her memorial service.

I guess I look for like-minded souls who love the music I love and who love to play. The rest falls into place.

AJ:: What's in the future for Kate Taylor?

KT:: More songs, more gigs and more fun!

AJ:: Is “Sun Did Shine (On Carolina)” about your brothers?

KT:: Maybe I should play this like Carly has played “You're so Vain” and not say who it's about!

No, it's too dang obvious. It's about my brothers and our time in Chapel Hill, NC, where we grew up. Both James and Livingston had written songs about it, and I wanted to also. Billy Derby put my thoughts on it all to music.

Questions or comments? Contact AJ: at [email protected]


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