Nov
17

Willy “Tea” Taylor & The Smell of Old Baseball Gloves

November 17, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  24 Comments

willy-tea-taylor

If you asked me point blank who I thought was the best songwriter of our generation regardless of genre, scene, commercial or critical success, I would tell you without hesitation that it is Willy “Tea” Taylor from the interior valley cattle town of Oakdale, CA. His ability to enrich the perspective of life and all of its many wonders is unparalleled.

Willy “Tea” Taylor is an enigma, while at the same time being the most down-to-earth person you would ever meet. The co-frontman of The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, who also has a robust solo career, is cherished amongst his songwriting circles as someone who both challenges and inspires his contemporaries, making better songwriters out of the artists he comes in contact with. This is the motivation behind the 52 Week Club that Willy founded with fellow songwriters Tom VandenAvond and Chris Doud. Set in a game format, it pushes songwriters to increase their output and refine their craft through healthy competition, and has resulted in some of the remarkable output we’ve see from songwriters such as Olds Sleeper.

The mythos that bonds the songwriting circles around Willy “Tea” Taylor is embodied in the phrase “Searching for Guy Clark’s Kitchen”— inspired by the moments in the classic Outlaw country film Heartworn Highways where legendary songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Steve Earle shared their most intimate compositions before they were known outside of Austin. Willy and Tom VandenAvond have a living film project shot in both HD and Super 8 also called Searching For Guy Clark’s Kitchen. “It’s gonna be at least 10 years, maybe 20 years before we finish it. I mean, do you ever find Guy Clark’s kitchen?” Willy says to me when he was gracious enough to sit down for a conversation ahead of a show at Austin’s White Horse Tavern.

Willy also shared how his love for baseball is interchangeable with his love for music and friends, why his tool of choice is a 4-string tenor guitar, and what makes him tick as both a songwriter and a person.

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The people that know about Willy “Tea” Taylor, almost to a man will say that you’re the best songwriter they know, but not many people seem to know Willy “Tea” Taylor. You don’t really come across as a guy who wants to promote yourself. What is your goal with music?

I’m not sure. I think I’m a lot like my grandad. He passed away a couple of years ago. He was just a cattleman, and that’s all he did. Until the day he died, he went and fed his cows. I’m a lot like him, because I think I’m just a songwriter. He surrounded himself with cattlemen. He wasn’t a world-renown cattleman, but around his circles, he was one of the best damn cattleman they had ever met. That’s just kind of what we know I reckon. It’s what I know. I really like meeting people. That’s probably the main thing. We’re all in the same web. If we’re really going to live together as one and be at peace, we should meet as many of each other if we can. And I think that’s kind of fun. So maybe it’s just fun to be an ambassador to my family and friends, go around and meet awesome people and introduce them to each other, and that’s a big part of it.

Kind of using music as a forum to break down barriers between people and create relationships and connections?

And create. It’s like an old ball glove. You can just smell it. That’s kind of how I want to feel as I live, is that smell. And everything I want to do and portray, that’s like the foundation of me is that smell of old saddles and old leather. There’s something swift going on, and it even gets me sometimes. It’s going way too fast for a lot of people to catch up, and most of us, we have a hard time just taking a break and realizing what’s real anymore, and what that baseball glove smells like. Then it’s hard to even trust anything anymore, and then you forget how to trust. And it’s all just going so fast. And it’s got me a little depressed as a human.

How important is your hometown of Oakdale, CA to you and your music?

It’s all of it. 38 years. I’m almost 38. It’s pretty much everything I reckon. Going through the country, there’s other inspirations, but I always seem to come back to where I’m at. Tom VandenAvond, he sings about every town. He just pulls from everywhere and it’s so amazing. He’s such a great writer, such an observer, and a thoughtful person. I think I maybe just get more self-absorbed in my town and my history, maybe just trying to figure myself out. Once I decided to just be a songwriter…because I used to be a construction worker, I used to be a glass blower. I used to be a pizza guy throughout my life. I’m like, “I’m just gonna be a songwriter.” If I can say I’m a construction worker, I can just as easily say that I’m a songwriter. And it magically starts providing in this weird way if you become what you really are.

You’re also in a band called the Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit with this other excellent songwriter Chris Doud. The relationship y’all have is as dual songwriters for this band. Do you see it as more like a healthy, friendly competition, or ….

That’s definitely it. When me and Tommy (Tom VandenAvond) started the 52 Week Club, that’s all it was, and Chris Doud has always been in that spirit since we were young. He’s one of the best creators I know. He’s a teacher, he’s got 2 kids, he all over the place, he’s always recording, and I have no idea where he finds the time. But he dazzles me all the time. He’s one of the best songwriters I know. When me and Tommy first met, every song from there on out has been from that meeting. It was like, “Hey, where you been? There’s my best friend.” And then it’s just been this creation and we started this giant web of songwriting. Like, “You want to write a song? Bring it! Do it!” And there’s so many people that had never done it before, and Chris, Me, and Tom just came out on fire with that. Chris keeps up on it all the time; he likes that game a lot. I imagine he’s got like hundreds and hundreds of songs that are just great and nobody’s ever heard, and he’s always working on something. I’m just the total opposite. It just comes when it comes, you know. It’s all about finding where your groove is I guess.

I want to talk about your guitar. You play this 4-string tenor guitar. Your original one, was it a Gibson?

Yeah, a 1929 Gibson.

And now you showed me today a new one you got.

A 1927 Martin. This one’s a little smaller. But man is she groovy. I like her a lot. I love the Gibson. I haven’t played it in a while. The Gibson is beautiful. I just learned to play the banjo first, and then I learned to play the mandolin, and I thought there’s got to be something in the middle there. And I always remembered there was an Irish guitar I saw in a book. I’m like, “Well that’s got 4 strings.” Tune it like a banjo, and there you go. A ‘G’ tuning mostly. I’ve found all kinds of fun tunings, but mostly just in a standard open ‘G’.

Does baseball and music have more similarities than people would think?

Oh yeah. Baseball has more similarities to Earth. It’s quite a sport, I’ll tell you that right now. It’s pretty special. The more I learn similarities is being on the road with your pals, and you realize, we’re actually a barnstorming baseball team right now.  We’re going from town to town, and you’re obviously a starting pitcher, you’re obviously a 3rd baseman in the way you play the banjo and just carry yourself. You can see the similarities of who a second baseman is, or who’s got potential as a pitcher, and you learn your friends. And if you learn your team, you can go to The World Series, or you can be the Bad News Bears, which is fine too. That’s kind of what the baseball movie I’m making is about. It’s basically a team of ten dudes, and all the characters are based on all my friends who are traveling musicians. If you were like, “How do I go back to a barnstorming baseball team? What we’re they thinking?” And then I’m sitting in a van with Larry & His Flask for a month and I’m like, “Oh, I know what they’re thinking.” It’s exactly the mentality of it. It’s great. You know your buddies and you’re like, “Dude, you’re going to The Show.” There’s no doubt about it. He’s batting .400. And you watch your friends and they go to The Show. It’s far out.

You’ve talked about how you feel the world is speeding up too much and people are becoming cattle. Do you have an underlying theme or message that you’re trying to convey through your music?

I’m just trying to pull myself out of the herd. I don’t necessarily want to preach to anybody. I’m afraid of going through the cattle shoot myself. I’d rather live as a rogue bull. I guess if I was to evaluate my game if I was catching, my music is just kind of notes I take. Maybe it’s something to look at myself. I find that I write songs that, I don’t know why I wrote them, but then three years later it’s like, “Oh, I wrote that for myself, and now here I’m at,” and I get past fucking it up again. You know, from being with women, being with my kids. You know, just learning how to live. Sure, sometimes I like to make a fun story up, but usually there’s a purpose behind it that is partly to do with my learning in life.

24 Comments to “Willy “Tea” Taylor & The Smell of Old Baseball Gloves”

  • Willy Tea Taylor represents the true heart of country music: regular people finding beauty in the seeming simplicity of everyday life.

       2 likes

  • Interesting choice,

    I nominate Jerry Douglas.
    http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jerry-douglas-mn0000327130/credits

    My Second Nod: Chris Stapleton
    It should be noted that I am not a fan of Chris Stapleton’s output.
    I wont even put a link for it. But, I respect his considerable skills.

       0 likes

    • Interesting choice for what?

      This is an interview.

         4 likes

      • And an excellent interview it was. I went out and grabbed both “4 strings” and “Born and Raised” because it impressed me enough to shell out for them.

        My reference was to your statement that he is the …
        “best songwriter of our generation”

        I found that to be an interesting choice, and while I cant claim to be as knowledgeable about Willy Taylor as you, I do have strong enough opinions about Jerry Douglas, Chris Stapleton, and possibly Anders Osbourne to know that they all have strong claims to that title. Many others would nominate Bob Dylan is the king, and I would argue against them due to his extreme inconsistency, and he isn’t really of “Our Generation” for most people.

           0 likes

  • Any word on when he’s puttin out a new solo album?

       0 likes

  • Trig-
    Read the ENTIRE article and still disagree that he’s the greatest songwriter alive. Please don’t berate me again. . . No more cyber beatings.

    Good piece though. He certainly is top 5. The vastly different styles would be aobstacle, but it would be just peachy if he and Dwight yoakum worked together to invigorate Bakersfield country. Californias never been a stronghold, but it’s certainly fallen off.

       0 likes

    • Jimbo,

      Look, I’m not berating you or anyone else. But the title of this article is “Willy “Tea” Taylor & The Smell of Old Baseball Gloves,” not “Willy “Tea” Taylor, The Greatest Songwriter Ever” (which I never claimed), or even “Willy “Tea” Taylor, One Of The Greatest Songwriters of Our Generation.”

      The point of this article was not to establish Willy as the greatest songwriter of our generation, it was an interview, and nothing more. Whether I feel like he’s the greatest songwriter of our generation, or you don’t, is somewhat irrelevant to the conversation. It was simply a positioning statement, and one I have taken numerous times over the years with Willy, yet seemed to only draw ire on this particular occasion. I could point out as the commenter Karl did above that simply reading the article and watching a few videos, or even downloading an artist’s entire discography and listening through it a few times is not grounds enough to be able to make a judgement call on any artist. But even if it was, my positioning statement that started out this article is an opinion, and so it is not something that can be argued, just like I would never attempt to argue that Willy “Tea” deserves more than a “Top 5″ placement. I’m not declaring how history should judge Willy or any other songwriter, I’m just conveying my personal feelings.

      What frustrates me is that some people took a buzzword from social network or from the first sentence of this article and latched onto it as if it was the entire theme of the article, when the true theme was the attempt to convey the wisdom of Willy “Tea” Taylor symbolized by the slowing down of life to appreciate the beautiful things like the smell of a baseball glove. Ironically, the fact some people were unwilling to read the entire article and only read the first sentence and then gave a polarized reactionary response proves the very assertions that Willy made about life going too fast and us missing the big picture, and why his wisdom is so important to partake in.

      In the end it just makes me very depressed that this wisdom is going to be lost by some who are simply going to approach this article asking themselves, “Is he the greatest songwriter ever?” (which again, was never said) instead of approaching it with an open heart and potentially being turned onto a new artist, and the wisdom that artist conveys through their story.

      All that said, I really do appreciate you taking the time to read the article and check the artist out. People are busy, and not everyone has time for extra curricular music discovery. I just wish in a case like this that they would reserve opinion unless they have the time to appreciate what was is truly attempting to be conveyed.

         5 likes

      • Understood & agreed

           1 likes

      • You succeeded in getting one person turned on to a new artist.
        Thanks!

           2 likes

        • And THIS ^^^^ right here is what it’s all about, in my opinion! Good work! And he’s awesome / incredible / so on / so forth nice interview, I still always have this mental image of him from the first video I saw (where he’s driving that tractor & hanging out with his kids).. I showed god knows how many people that song / video, and everyone from my mom to my friends that “listen to anything BUT ‘Country’ ” was left speechless. In a good way…..

             0 likes

  • Holy crap, Everywhere Now. Feels like the kinda song my dad would have posted on FB after a long day at the office over a gin. Miss ‘im, and he’s everywhere now.

       4 likes

  • i know that moods come and go, and there’s a song for almost all of em. Willy’s songs always hit me most when im feelin that lonely ache in my body…at times whem im pretty sure im isolated and lost, and tumbling in a bit of self-doubt.
    i live in that world a lot-more often than i want to-, and willy’s songs seem to hit me hardest when im scrapin that last bit from the barrel.
    there is a vulnerability in his words, none of it forced or fake. i think a lot of country songs and music in general, possess a bravado of sorts, and that bravado sells ….makes ya feel good for the flash of a second because its illusion—just like a rap video where the wordsmith is throwing money at the screen and drinkin top shelf liquors off the butts of models. —its fake…and if you can embrace illusion to make yourself feel better…well, drink up. nothing wrong with that.

    but if you want a little company when your down, ..and a story about real honest-to-god livin and gettin up and dustin yourself off a bit…acknowledging the scars and learnin from them…willy’s there.

    best songwriter? who knows? but dont turn away the medicine when you need it.

       3 likes

  • He is an interesting person.

    Live performance, Willy must be remarkable, cause even watching on a little screen, a lot of feeling comes across.

    Is he descended from Oklahoma dustbowl refugees? There’s a bit of Woody Guthrie in him I think.

    great tune by good luck thrift store outfit that I think Willy sings

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okFL33to3w8

    Thanks a lot, good interview, nice to read a little bit about Willy, another artist I was introduced to here.

       1 likes

  • Great article. The livestock crush aka cattle chute…

       0 likes

  • The feeling evoked by “Life is Beautiful” reminds me so much of Robert Earl Keen’s “Lonely Feeling.” If you can find the live version of that song from Marfa After Dark, its excellent…

       2 likes

  • great archive live show of willy …hearing the story behind the song sometimes really just puts the whole thing over the top…this is one of the best ive heard.
    https://archive.org/details/wt2012-04-11

       2 likes

  • I think I’d go with sturgill simpson, I saw him last night, spoke to him and his band after the show for a while, great guys. During it I requested him to play HERO and he said he couldn’t because he can never make it through the whole song because he starts to cry. Feel like he puts so much heart, love and personal experience into his songs that no one can tough him. BTW e is so much better live than he is on his records, he belts it out and he and his new guitarist tear it up

       0 likes

    • Sturgill Simpson is a great lyricist, but in my opinion Willy Tea Taylor is both a great lyricist and a great melody composer.

         0 likes

  • To me his style and voice reminds me of Bob Dylan

       0 likes

  • To me, he sounds like Bob Dylan.

       0 likes

  • This was a great interview. Willy is an incredible performer and songwriter, and a very nice guy. Sitting in a room, large or small, listening to him and that sweet 4-string is an experience I hope to repeat many more times.

    “Everywhere Now” is probably the most poignant song I’ve ever heard, I swear I can feel my late husband hugging me.

       3 likes

  • Opinions are just that. Weather or not Will Taylor is the best of this generation or any is just a matter of opinion. While my opinion only truly matters to me and the ones who fancy it I will say he humbles me as a song writer and performer. If I could use only one word to describe Willy Tea Taylor it would be “authentic”. While other songwriters strike a chord with me Will floors me with his honesty and pure love of life, music and people which surround him. He has taught me a lot about myself as an artist. When we were kids we would write songs we hoped would change the world getting all preachy and spiritual. Now I just write and what ever comes out comes out in the moment. If the moment is pure it may stick and may stay around for a while as long as people are willing to listen.

       2 likes

    • In my experience, I have found that songs that preach can be very counterproductive. They only appeal to those who already agree with the songwriter’s message and may even antagonize those on the fence.

      The best way to convey a point of view in song and win over converts is through storytelling.

         1 likes

  • Zac Brown and the smell of his stinky ole hat!!! :-D :-D

       2 likes

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