This weekend Texas songwriter and artist Chris Taylor releases an album of Bob Dylan covers called Down Dead End Street. It is a brilliant record and I will review it later in the week. First up, here's an interview I did with Chris about his love for Dylan and how the record came about...
When do you first remember hearing Bob Dylan songs?
CT: I heard Bob's songs most of my life, coming from down the hall in my house or blasting from a car stereo, "Like A Rolling Stone" but I didn't wake up to Bob Dylan's music until much later in 1989 when I played his album Oh Mercy through my headphones. Everything changed. The only reason I even gave that record a play was because it was produced by Daniel Lanois, who is one of my all time favorites.
When did you first cover a Dylan song?
CT: I immersed myself in Dylan's catalog. I fell in love with with his Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. I remember learning Tangled Up In Blue and If You See Her, Say Hello, right away. But I was never good with cover songs, so I only played them at home. In the 90's, I was in a rock and roll band and we decided to cover All Along The Watchtower. I payed absolutely attention to the fact Jimi Hendrix already immortalized a Bob Dylan classic. Which is insane and probably the only way I can move forward with a cover song. I can't worry about who did it before me. If I love the song, and it speaks to me, I can sing it and deliver it in a way that is completely mine.
How has Dylan influenced your writing.
CT: Oh my goodness, in every possible way. He stretched the length of how long a song can be. He let me know there was nothing I couldn't write about. He made me realize that if you own your voice, no matter what it sounds like, you can stand and deliver in a recorded or live performance. He gave me permission to be spontaneous with my band and go for vibe over perfection when I'm recording a song. He tells me how to deliver my lyrics within the song... he challenges the rhyme and meter concept... all these kinds of things and more. He also taught me a lot about attitude and swagger & fame means nothing compared to great songwriting.
Any songs particularly?
CT: In 1998 I recorded a song called Down Goes The Day up in Nashville, TN. that mix mashes thoughts about my marriage that was falling apart with his Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie... Because in my life, I was searching and clawing away to find something very special to make me feel alive night after night. That was the first among many songs that Dylan has inspired me to write.
When did you come up with the idea of a Dylan covers record?
CT: About a year ago, I started doing gigs where I only play Bob Dylan songs and it would be on a whim... I'd decide the day of the show, on some occasions! If I was bored of playing my own music, I would step into the shoes and behind the shades of Bob Dylan's genius songs and live on the edge for a few hours that night. It was a thrill and another way to wake myself up to the power of music.
How did you decide which songs to record?
CT: That was impossible! For every song I recorded, there were five more I wish I could include. So I just started picking some of my favorites that I perform live until I got to Blind Willie McTell, I just have loved that song since I first heard it... I wanted to do something special with that song, while keeping the same spirit behind it.
The Ballad Of Hollis Brown is perhaps the most different arrangement. What was your idea?
CT: This was another song very precious to me. Both Dylan's version and The Neville Brother's version produced by Daniel Lanois. I started playing at my shows as a finale or last song of the night. When I played with a band, I just wanted there to be a heavy kick drum, hypnotic rhythm going on, so Mitchell Connell's psychedelic guitar could float over the top of it all. I used loop delay on some of my vocals to just add more tension as the lyrics tell this haunted and sad story of what is happening in this man's mind and with his family. I felt the rage in Dylan's version, even though it was not in the music itself... so I brought that rage and tension to the surface, musically... and for those not paying a bit of attention to any of that... they can dance to it. Ha!
You are an artist. You have reason for everything you create. What do you hope people will get from this Dylan covers record?
CT: I played a set of Dylan songs a few months back at this little bar in San Antonio, TX and as I was heading out the door after the gig, the bartender stops me and said "All those songs were Bob Dylan songs?" I nodded my head. "I didn't realize how much I like Bob Dylan!" To me that was the ultimate compliment. I think I did this record more for myself as a way of taking a master class of genius songwriting. Since I also produced it, I had to be fearless and not let the stature of the man, the myth, the legend of Dylan and all the other greats who have covered his songs - keep me from honoring him with my own take on his music. It all boils down to love for me. If I was Bob's next door neighbor, I'd be offering to mow his yard or run errands for him, instead of doing an album of his songs!
Are you looking forward to the Gospel Years Box Set?
CT: Oh yes! I've been counting the clock and trying to pick up an extra gig or two so I can actually pay for this thing! Haha. This will be the only music I listen to until December 1st rolls around. There's something more meaningful to me when Dylan sings and writes gospel songs that I just don't get within the typical places one might think great gospel music should exist.
Have you read Clinton Heylin’s book Trouble In Mind on the Gospel Years?
CT: Somehow, I've only just heard about this book and cannot wait to get my hands on a copy!
Only 9 songs… Is there another Dylan covers record? Who else might you do a covers record of?
CT: Since 2016, I've put out three albums, one of those a double album, and in 2017 a five song EP. In my mind, I figured the few fans I have, maybe they've heard enough from me for a while! So I entered 2017 cautiously in my musical output. I'm as busy as ever, with this Bob Dylan tribute album and two more albums almost finished... but not sure when to put them into existence! So when I was recording Down A Dead End Street... less songs felt right. Since some of them are quite long... It feels like a complete project. No filler. All killer.
I doubt I will ever do another type of tribute album in full, although I did cover The Choir song "Cross That River" for a brand new tribute album called Pants On Fire Volume 1. BUT - if I could... I would pay homage to The Waterboys, Tom Petty and Hothouse Flowers, to name a few. These amazing people have proved to be my big brothers, helping me get through this life.