You know you’re in the presence of greatness when the artist onstage is recounting his recent meetings with Tom Petty and Elvis Costello and you just know that they were in awe of the artist as opposed to the other way around. But then not everyone is Chip Taylor, a man whose story is so entwined with the history of rock music that they’re virtually inseparable. Of course he’s the man who famously penned Wild Thing and Angel Of The Morning, really just the tips of his musical iceberg. Able to draw together county, pop, rock and rythym’n’blues he penned hits for a host of names in the sixties before releasing his own prototype of outlaw country on several seventies albums. In the eighties he turned his hand to professional gambling and apparently excelled at this, reputedly banned from every casino in Atlantic City as they couldn’t keep up with his winnings. The late nineties saw him return to music with his own solo albums abetted by several acclaimed collaborations with Texan violinist Carrie Rodriguez. On his albums Taylor comes across as a sage, the songs ruminations on life and in particular, the absurdities and injustices that life throws up enveloped by his dry wit, comforting voice and occasional scabrous lyric.
Taylor was finally recognised this year by his peers as he was inducted into the American Songwriters Hall Of Fame, the occasion of his meeting with Petty and Costello. His recollection of this evening was just one of the many memories he shared tonight as he took the rapt audience through a recap of his life starting with his childhood in Yonkers, NY. Now in his seventies Taylor is a wonderful raconteur and he brought to life key moments in his career with wit and clarity, his occasional lapse into a “what was I saying there?” perhaps more for effect than an indication that his synapses aren’t still firing on all cylinders. His amazing tale of three brothers who have all achieved recognition (Barry Voight, a renowned volcanologist and the one who Taylor acknowledged has served humanity with his work on predicting eruptions and of course, actor Jon Voight) was warm and affectionate. His parents were accorded due respect as he recalled his father’s cunning ruse to get the kids out of school on a weekday in order to spend time with them while a trip to the cinema with brother Jon to see Rock around The Clock offered an indication into their separate career paths, Chip enthused by the music, Jon dissecting the scenes.
Of course the stories were punctuated by his wonderful songs ably supported by his guitar foil, another legend of sorts in the shape of John Platania (best known for his work with Van Morrison). An incredibly talented player Platania was plangent and lyrical, his breaks masterful be it country styled bending notes or wicked slide playing as Taylor roamed across his career. There were childhood memories in the muted Charcoal Sky and the mildly rocking I Want The Real Thing, the latter recalling his introduction to rock’n’roll via the family radio. Paying tribute to Evie Sands and Reg Presley with Angel Of The Morning and Wild Thing Taylor also offered a delightful Any Way That You Want Me (recorded by both Sands and The Troggs) and dug deep into his own history with a rendition of Spring Time, the start of a productive relationship with Chet Atkins.
After a short break the duo returned and concentrated on more recent songs. Here Taylor’s humanity was plain to see as he opened with Dance With a Hole in Your Shoe setting out his philosophy. He played a few requests including Dirty Little Texas Story (recorded with Rodriguez) and I Wasn’t Born In Tennessee while a rollicking I Read It In The Rolling Stone (from his 70’s album Last Chance) allowed the cosmic cowboys in the audience a chance to sing along. Refugee Children (from his latest album Little Brothers) was a powerful reminder of the plight of immigrants with audience participation while Who’s Gonna Build That Wall, recorded only a few weeks ago with Carrie Rodriguez, was a simple and effective contemporary protest song delivered with a devastating power.
Over the course of 90 minutes Taylor held sway over the audience like a wise and genial seer truly deserving of that oft abused term, legend. The abiding memory of the night is of the entire audience singing along to his humanitarian ode, Fuck All The Perfect People.