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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the June 29,
2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Kate Taylor Is (Happily) On the Road Again
Unlike so many of today’s younger singer-songwriters, veteran folk
singer Kate Taylor has an understanding and appreciation for American
music’s African-American roots.
Her recent album, “Beautiful Road,” released on her own label, Front
Door Records, in 2002, has elements of gospel, blues, and pioneering
rock ‘n’ roll. Musical guests include some of America’s finest roots
musicians: drummer Levon Helm from the Band; bassist Tony Garnier from
Bob Dylan’s touring band; Chicago-based gospel vocalist Mavis Staples;
and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell.
The album marks Taylor’s return to performing and touring. It was her
first album in 21 years after taking time off to raise three
daughters, care for a sick husband, and deal with a number of traumas,
including the death of one of her bandmates, Woodstock-based violinist
Mindy Jostyn, earlier this year. On September 12, 2001, Taylor lost
her husband, Charlie Witham, to liver disease. After a roller coaster
of an illness and a move to the hospital as his condition became
critical, Witham was in intensive care at a hospital in Boston, and
was unaware of events of the previous day.
Interestingly, the songs on “Beautiful Road” were all written before
Witham died. The title track is a metaphor for the journey we all take
through life, Taylor says. “This project was something that was really
close to Charlie’s heart, and he was on a mission to get it done,”
Taylor says in a phone interview from her home in Martha’s Vineyard.
Taylor’s mother still has her place on Martha’s Vineyard, and the
younger Taylor bought in to a summer place there in the early 1970s,
when real estate on the island was still relatively inexpensive. She
cautions, her place has no heat, and is not suitable for winter
Once Taylor’s husband died, it became a fait accompli for her to
release “Beautiful Road” and continue performing. At John & Peter’s,
Taylor will be accompanied only by her guitarist, Taylor Brown.
If you were wondering, yes, Kate Taylor is one of those Taylor’s: her
brothers include singers James Taylor, Livingston Taylor, and a
younger brother, Huey, who also sings but never pursued music
professionally. Her oldest brother, Alex Taylor, died in 1995. Taylor
and her brothers were raised mostly in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,
spending summers on the Vineyard.
Their mother had five children in six years, no small feat. “We were
all very close in age and very close knit as a unit,” Taylor says. “I
had a band in high school, which we called Sister Kate’s Soul Stew,
and later, Submarine Sandwich Shop. When we were kids, music was a
very strong means of communication. As a generation we turned on the
radio. Music was a way we had to hear and express to each other what
was going on. Music was such an important force in the 1960s.
“It was the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll, and the musical heritage in
North Carolina was rich. There was country music, blues, Appalachian
music, and we were all drawn into it. Our parents were very
encouraging and supportive of all of us, by way of getting us music
In a classic record business story, Taylor was signed to Atlantic
Records and recorded her debut, “Sister Kate,” in 1970 for the
Atlantic/Cotillion label. The bosses at that time at Atlantic included
Ahmet Ertegun, who had signed the Rolling Stones, as well as Jerry
Wexler, the legendary producer who worked with Aretha Franklin, Ray
Charles, Doug Sahm, and so many others who became bona fide stars.
Taylor was signed by Peter Asher, who had worked with her older
brother, James, in London.
She says: “Soon after I got out of high school, James invited me to
come visit him in London while he was recording for Apple Records.
There I got to meet Peter Asher, and James and I played at the bottom
of Peter’s empty swimming pool. About a month later I got a call from
Peter saying he was moving to Los Angeles, and did I want to make a
record?” Of course, she agreed.
“Sister Kate” was followed by another major label deal with Columbia
Records, where, in 1978, she recorded two albums, “Kate Taylor” and
“It’s In There And It’s Got To Come Out.” The first was produced by
her brother James, and the second album was produced by veteran studio
musician Barry Beckett.
Taylor’s daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1975. A second daughter,
Aretha, arrived in 1981. She also raised a stepdaughter from her late
husband’s previous marriage.
“My husband Charlie and I were getting songs together for another
album, and it became evident it wasn’t going to be possible to tour
much anymore with young children,” she says, “so we stuck pretty close
to the house and did some regional touring.” “Beautiful Road,” as it
turns out, was at least 12 years in the making, she says.
“Charlie and I were always writing songs together,” she says, “and
about six years ago when Bob Dylan had to cancel his tour because of
his heart infection, we were able to tour with Chuck Leavell and
(Dylan band member) Tony Garnier. In the meantime, another one of our
band mates, Arlen Roth, lost his wife and daughter in a car accident,
so recording this album was a matter of grabbing the precious
Now Taylor, older and wiser, is ready to tour and record again, with
renewed vigor. She is rebuilding her following the way so many
younger, up-and-coming folk singers have to build their followings —
given today’s record business climate — by developing mailing lists of
fans ready to come out to shows in various parts of the country.
She welcomes the chance to play a small venue like John & Peter’s,
with affordable Mexican food, a seating capacity of 85 people, a good
stage, and a good sound system. The club is intimate, to say the
“Over the winter, I sat in with my brother, Livingston, in New Hope,”
The audience can expect a well-orchestrated show that includes
original songs from “Beautiful Road” and other songs that touch on the
roots of American rock music. “I love singing the stuff that gets you
moving, the blues and gospel stuff,” Taylor says, “but I also love
singing ballads too. So my show will include tunes from the new album,
some older standards, and things by Marvin Gaye and the Staples
Singers, as well as some traditional folk tunes and even some
& Peter’s, 96 S. Main Street, New Hope, Pennsylvania. $15 in advance,
$20 at the door. 215-862-5981.
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