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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

living.

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

lessons.”

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

moments.”

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

least.

“Over the winter, I sat in with my brother, Livingston, in New Hope,”

she says.

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

rockabilly.”

Kate Taylor, Thursday, June 30, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., John

& Peter’s, 96 S. Main Street, New Hope, Pennsylvania. $15 in advance,

$20 at the door. 215-862-5981.


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