Though he was born in Chicago, Otis Taylor grew up in Denver, where his family moved after his uncle was shot to death. He was the son of two parents who loved music, especially jazz, and when he was fourteen years old he wandered into the Denver Folklore Center, the acoustic-music shop run by Harry Tuft. He soon formed his first band, the Butterscotch Fire Department Blue Band. His next was the Otis Taylor Blues Band.
He moved to London in the ‘60s and signed with Blue Horizon Record, but the label did not share his vision and he soon returned to Boulder, where he played with the likes of Tommy Bolin, Zephyr and the Legendary 4-Nikators. In 1977, though, he took a break from the music business, starting a successful business in antiques and helping to develop one of the first African-American bicycle racing teams.
He didn’t get back to making music until 1995, when Taylor returned to the stage of Buchanan’s Coffee Pub on the Hill in Boulder, alongside Kenny Passarelli and Eddie Turner. That performance drew such a response from the crowd that it brought him back to recording and performing with a renewed passion for writing fresh music in the blues genre.
- His 1996 album, Blue-Eyed Monster, produced by Passarelli, was his first solo project.
- The 1997 followup, When Negroes Walked the Earth, was also a collaboration with Passarelli.
- White African, a third Passarelli production released in 2000, this time with NorthernBlues Music, is widely considered Taylor’s breakthrough album.
- Respect the Dead was released in 2002 to broad acclaim.
- The most recognizable Otis Taylor album may be Truth Is Not Fiction, released in 2003 on Telarc Records.
Accolades for Otis Taylor include:
- In 2000, Otis Taylor received a fellowship at the Sundance Composers Lab in Park City, Utah. That opportunity helped him connect with Hollywood for music-sourcing contracts.
- The album White African earned four W.C. Handy nominations and a Best New Artist Debut award.
- In 2003, Respect the Dead received W.C. Handy nominations for Best Acoustic Artist and Best Contemporary Blues Album.
- Truth Is Not Fiction made the New York Times’ Top 10 Album of the Year list and won a Downbeat Critics’ Award for Blues Album of the Year.
- Double V (2004) won another Downbeat Critics’ Award.
- Definition of a Circle (2007) scored yet again with a Downbeat award for Blues CD of the Year.
How Has Otis Taylor Influenced Colorado’s Music Scene?
Taylor is proficient in several instruments, including the guitar and harmonica. He has a much more complicated relationship with the banjo; as a young musician, he turned away from the instrument because of its connections to the minstrel shows in the American South.
But when he later learned of the banjo’s African roots, he embraced the banjo, winning awards for his music in that category.He also started tackling difficult topics in his music, including racial injustice and inequality, and even the lynching of his great-grandfather.
Today Taylor is known not just for his fearless exploration of history with his music, but also his trail-blazing style known as “trance blues.”
Learn More about Otis Taylor
On December 3, 2019, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame welcomed Otis Taylor into the family. To learn more about him and his music, visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Image Credit: Shutterstock By Robert Crum