OTIS TAYLOR INTERVIEW
By Trace Keane
Trace: When was the first time you remember seeing meeting Tommy Bolin?
Otis: When he was about 16 I think, I was playing at a local club, I think it was The Family Dog, and I was doing some experimenting with a violin onstage. He was in there all time, like a lot of the kids were. I remember him playing with what would become American Standard.
Trace: Do you remember when things started to happen for Zephyr?
Otis: The way that Zephyr came about, Tommy was playing for me for about $5.00 a jam. I would have all kinds of different guitar players playing with me. I had a drummer named Shark and a bearded guitar tech named Jeff, British guy, and one time Candy and David (Givens) had seen Tommy play at one of my jams, met with me to play with them, Tommy and Ethereal Zephyr was born. Then they got rid of Jeff and got Robbie, then brought in John Faris. The first time Zephyr played was someplace called The Fawcett Room. Chuck Morris was running it. I remember people going crazy and carrying Candy out to the street on their shoulders after a show, it was wild. I’ll never forget that experience, it was really a trip. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about that before. We were all playing at The Fawcett Room, upstairs from the Sink, and we were all always bringing in new players to play. I was always checking out the other players, and we all knew each other.
Trace: Was Zephyr kind of “The Peoples Band”?
Otis: You know sometimes a band comes around at just the right time and all the kids really dug what they were doing. We were all kids and it was kind of an over swell.
Trace: What did you think when you first heard Tommy had joined Deep Purple?
Otis: I remember the day he told me, I was there when he told all of us. We were doing a 4Nikators gig at Art’s Bar & Grill, a Monday night thing, and Tommy came and he told us that this would be his last song because he was about to join Deep Purple. He was standing by the bar when he was saying that. I remember that as much as when the President got shot. Do you know what I mean?
Trace: It stands out to you that clearly?
Otis: Yeah because none of us were stars, we were all trying to make it. To me I was so happy for him, he was going to be famous and his work would be appreciated. I never knew anybody famous. None of us had that breakout and I was really happy that one of us had finally made it.
Trace: It had to be a huge step up from the work he had done with the James Gang.
Otis: For us you know it was like “Wow, Tommy is going to be a big star.”
Trace: One of your crowd had broken through to the mainstream.
Otis: Yeah, yeah, that’s how it was, oh man ya’ know, it was great!
Trace: Did you have a chance to have much contact with Tommy after he joined Deep Purple?
Otis: I wasn’t that close to Tommy, I was closer to David & Candy at that time. Tommy and I would talk and I would give him some advise, but Jeff Cook and John Tesar were tighter with him. I was kind of the type that stayed to myself to a certain degree.
Trace: Was Deep Purple still considered one of the big bands at that time?
Otis: Oh yeah, they were huge! A very big deal. I’m not a real rocker, I’m more of a blues folk rocker. Somebody told me once I was the lost link between Hendrix and Taj Majhal. Dan Fong has a picture of me playing harmonica with Zephyr and Tommy in front of the Northern Library. I’ve got my hair back in a ponytail, it was sometime around 1969. I was so skinny my daughter said I looked anorexic. It’s a pretty cool shot.
Trace: When you speak of Art’s Bar & Grill, was that a hot spot for live music?
Otis: The 4Nikators would play there every Monday night. There were two versions of the band, the second version Harold, Candy and David would play there on Mondays.
Trace: There seems to be a resurgence in Tommy’s music, what do you think is behind that?
Otis: I don’t know, I never know what’s behind anything. Tommy was as good as Stevie Ray Vaughn, both guitarists have incredible rhythm, and Gary Moore is very good too ya’ know. He’s little younger, maybe the same age as Tommy. Tommy was an incredible rhythm guitar player, that’s what people don’t understand. He could really drive the rhythm, to be an incredible lead guitar player you need to be an incredible rhythm player too. You have to have the right timing, the right phrasing, you know what I mean? That’s the amazement about Tommy, plus he could play anything. He could hear anything and reproduce it, just like that.
Trace: What recording are you most satisfied with from your career?
Otis: Oh I don’t know, I like them all, they are all apart of my history. This album I did called Below The Fold I always felt was a breakthrough in sound. I was really happy with that, it made a sound nobody else had made before, with the cello and fiddles. But only a few people picked up on it. Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs is liking taking jazz, I did it the other kind of way than the other guys did it. I took blues fusion is stead of rock or funk fusion. There are some really great jazz players on it.
Trace: Was Kenny Passarelli instrumental in you coming back to music after so long?
Otis: Yeah, he definitely was. He just called me last night to wake me up, said he had an idea he wanted to bounce off of me. So he’s on my mind.
Trace: What are you working on these days?
Otis: I just finished an album called Clovis People Volume III. I gotta put Gary Moore on it, but the basic parts are mixed. After that I’ll be working on a new album for my daughter. I don’t play that much anymore, last year I played at Montrose, Monte Rey.
Trace: I recall you playing a show in Omaha Nebraska with Bobby Berge on drums a year or two ago.
Otis: That was pretty great, playing with Bobby again was an historical blast from the past. It was just really great seeing him again. That was different, it was pretty crazy.
Otis Taylor played with Tommy Bolin many times starting very soon after Tommy arrived in Colorado. Otis is currently riding a long wave of critical popularity for his outstanding modern blues albums.