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The world through your fingertips

art frIt’s about speaking with your hands.

For guitarist Joe Taylor, his lifelong passion and career as a musician is one that finds itself at the crossroads of emotional purity and technical aptitude. With the melodic prowess akin to the likes of Jeff Beck, Bill Frisell or Steve Vai, the six-string ace has come a long way from his South Carolina roots. 

It’s a journey that has landed him onstage at legendary Manhattan nightclubs and Nashville honkytonks, all the while perfecting his craft. When he straps on his guitar, Taylor is not only connecting to the amplifier, he’s also tapping into the furthest corners of his soul, only to expose and project those sentiments through his fingertips, radiating the joy and sorrow of a sometimes haphazard world. 

Garret K. Woodward: Where does it all begin for you? When did the lightning bolt of rock-n-roll strike? 

Joe Taylor: Around age 10 I was sitting in my Grandma’s house, plunking away at her piano when I accidentally spaced my fingers just right and discovered thirds — G and B, C and D. That seems random and trivial, but to me, I was all-of-a-sudden making music. Time passed and I became aware of Chet Atkins, and my journey on guitar began.

GKW: What are your influences? 

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JT: Chet Atkins first got my attention, as he so often did with guitar players everywhere. I was also greatly influenced by British guitarist Steve Howe of Yes. Later in my career, I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with both, and they were very kind to me. Between Chet and the great Wes Montgomery, I seem to be attracted to players that don’t use guitar picks. I’m happy to report that I have not used a pick in this century. 

GKW: In your musical journey, what do you see, physically and emotionally, when you look back at your career, and also where you currently stand today? 

JT: Looking back, I feel a great warmth for those folks that gave me a helping hand along the way, from Steven Gates at RCA, to Ahmet Ertugen at Atlantic Records, to the great producer Keith Diamond. This is also accompanied by some sense of melancholy, as all three of those great men have passed. I’m currently touring in support of my new album, “Sugardust In The Devil Wind” (Moonwatcher Records). Later this year, I will be working with engineer/producer extraordinaire Steve Churchyard at EastWest Studios in Los Angeles on my next album, accompanied by a couple of old friends — the great Blair Shotts (Rihanna/Macy Gray) on drums and Steve Vai’s bassist Philip Bynoe.

GKW: In your time in the music industry, it has evolved and changed, for good or ill. When you look out at the current musical landscape, what do you see? 

JT: You’re right, things have really changed. Record sales and performance royalties from radio airplay used to be significant sources of income for journeymen musicians like me. Streaming and other fallout or advances in the digital landscape have destroyed many wonderful things about the old music business. Gone are the days of labels advancing significant record budgets and developing acts. That said, there are exciting new opportunities for players that want to take the bull-by-the-horns and build on an existing fan base and develop new followers. Touring and social media are the most obvious tools, plus, there is a huge community of great players and the people that support them by listening to great live music.

GKW: Where is rock-n-roll these days? For me, there will always be some kid starting a garage band, ready to take on the world. For you, what do you see as the state of rock in the 21st century?

JT: Genres are blending, and that is a wonderful thing. You have Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo producing a film tribute to jazz giant Jaco Pastorius and the late David Bowie’s final album populated by the best jazz players in New York. This has always been the case — Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” or Joni Mitchell’s “Mingus” — but it is now widespread, hip-hop, soul, rock, all just a way to categorize. As Duke Ellington said, “There are two kinds of music…good and bad.”

GKW: When you’re onstage and in the moment, what’s going through your head? What are you feeling? What are you seeing and experiencing?

JT: That is a great question. On a good night, there is nothing going through my head but the moment. That moment when the shortest distance between my brain and my fingers is found, the groove is right and the group takes the listener on the journey along with us, chasing colors. At least that is my intention, though sometimes I’m just thinking about fishing.

GKW: What has a life playing music taught you about what it means to be a human being?

JT: The language of music is universal, and I’ve been fortunate to spend a lifetime immersed in it.



Want to go?

The Joe Taylor Group (rock/jazz) will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, July 8, at the Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center in Franklin. 

The event is part of the second annual Moonlight Moonshine Concert Series hosted by the Cowee Community Development Organization. Grammy nominee Taylor will be showcasing songs from his Top 10 Billboard charting albums "Mystery Walk” and "Spellbound," and his most recent album, "Sugar Dust in the Devil Wind."

Tickets are $10 per person and $7.50 per child under 10, both until July 4. Thereafter, tickets are $15 per person and $8 per child under 10. 

The Moonlight Moonshine 10K and Half-Pint Fun Run & Walk fundraiser will be on Saturday, July 9, at the Tassee Shelter Greenway in Franklin. Race day registration is at 5 p.m. with the Fun Run at 5:30 p.m. and the 10K at 6 p.m. For more information, contact Dave Linn at 828.421.7637. or

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