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Interview:
Otis Taylor Recapturing The Banjo
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

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On his latest album, Colorado blues and roots specialist Otis Taylor means “Recapturing the Banjo” on a couple of levels.

“People don’t know — whites don’t know — that blacks play the banjo,” explains Taylor, 60, who became an active recording artist in 1995, after a hiatus from music during which he was an antique dealer and cycling team coach. “Historically it’s important that people understand that. We don’t play like Bela Fleck. It’s a whole different techinque.

“The blues came from the banjo, and people don’t know that, either. I didn’t know until about 15 years ago that (the banjo) came from Africa. I talked to my banjo teacher one day and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ He was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think about it,’ but that definitely changed the way I look at the music.”

Banjo was actually the first instrument Taylor learned to play, as a child growing up in Denver.

He discovered it on a trip to the city’s Folkways Center, where he took his mother’s ukelele to have a broken string repaired.

“I went there and never came out,” Taylor recalls. “ I’d go there every day after school and just hang out. As a little kid I wanted to play clarinet but we were too poor. I wanted to play drums but didn’t get it together. I wanted to be a mandolin player in the ’70s but wasn’t very good.

“I just picked up a banjo there and it never left my hands. It was the perfect fit.”



Otis Taylor performs at 8 p.m. Friday (May 16) at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $15. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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