Interview: Kate Taylor on waiting over 50 years to revisit the sound of “Sister Kate”

Recording again with Peter Asher in LA and touring with Scotland’s Alan Thomson.

The only sister of James, Livingstone, Hugh, and Alex, Kate Taylor’s 1971 debut album ‘Sister Kate’ was not just a great listen, it was also a significant recording in the development of the ‘70s LA sound epitomised by the production work of UK producer Peter Asher. It was only the second record to include the now legendary LA crew of musicians that included the likes of Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, and Danny Kortchmar. Despite being in at the ground level of what was then a new and exciting sound, Kate Taylor didn’t release another album until 1978 before dropping out of the music industry for over twenty years in 1979 after the release of her third album which was recorded in Muscle Shoals. She has released infrequent albums in the 21st Century culminating in 2021’s ‘Why Wait’ which is a reunion with producer Peter Asher and the LA musicians of the ‘70s and is also a celebration of that time and sound. Serendipity played a part in Kate Taylor getting to know Scottish musician and bassist Alan Thomson, who has his own impressive CV and provides backing for Kate Taylor’s US and European Tour. Alan Thomson’s cousin was John Martyn and he played bass with Martyn for the final thirty years of his career, he has also played with a whole host of musicians including The Hellecasters, Robert Palmer, Phil Collins, Hank Marvin, Bert Jansch, Dick Gaughan, Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre, Rick Wakeman, Amos Garrett, and many, many more. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Kate Taylor over Zoom to talk about her career, working with Peter Asher, and her new album ‘Why Wait!’. She also shares an anecdote and her admiration for guitarist Albert Lee and explains that Alan Thomson is one of the best musicians she has worked with. 

How are you? 

I’m fine and I’m really looking forward to getting over there to play these gigs that Alan Thomson, who will be playing bass with me, has arranged for me. I also think it is great how americana music is being supported over there and over here. I mean the diaspora, those English and Scottish folks, who came to America and brought their music. We then put out stamp on it, and then there is the African influence and the Native American influence, and we’ve ended up with something that just rocks.

Not only are you touring, but you’ve also released one of your infrequent albums, ‘Why Wait!’. 

Yes, they are very precious, haha. In 2021 it was fifty years ago that I made my first record, ‘Sister Kate’, and it was produced by Peter Asher. I met Peter, Peter Asher, when I went to see my brother James when he was recording with Peter at Apple Records, and James and I went out to afternoon tea at Peter’s house in the country. It was lovely, and that is when I discovered that tea is a sugar delivery system, haha, so it was early June and we were out there and in Peter’s backyard there was this ancient stone-lined swimming pool, and James and I got down into that pool and started singing some songs that we had sung since we were kids, Staple Singers was maybe one, that Inex & Charlie  Foxx tune, it was fun and it sounded great because of the echo in that chamber of a stone swimming pool. I left and came home, and then I got a call from Peter who said he was leaving Apple and moving to Los Angeles, and did I want to come to Los Angeles and make a record, and I was like, let me think about it, yes, haha. I went out to Los Angeles in 1970, and the record, ‘Sister Kate’, was released in 1971. I did a tour and enjoyed it immensely, I was a very excitable girl, and I realised I needed a little grounding, so I went home, and one thing led to another, and I ended up making a couple more records. I made a record in Muscle Shoals with my brother James producing for Columbia Records, and then I had my second daughter, and recording and touring were always on simmer, but there were other things taking up my time.

Fifty years later I was doing some shows with Peter, and I’d watched Peter from afar making all these iconic albums and getting all these Grammys, and he was sort of a member of the family because he managed and produced James for twenty years, so I saw him a lot and we were very friendly, but I hadn’t recorded or done anything with him. I started to do some shows with him, and we realised it was the fiftieth anniversary coming up of our recording together. So, we started on this route, and it was the middle of COVID, and Peter was ensconced in LA, and most of the players from the first album were off the road and in LA. I flew out there and we started this album, and we got it done and it is called ‘Why Wait!’.

Why wait fifty years? 

Haha, I don’t want to wait for another fifty, haha.  I’d love to work with Peter again, he is a wonderful producer, he loves the music, and he is so in tune and his gifts are so much richer and deeper after fifty years, and he is so much fun to work with. One thing I found that is really special about him is that he listens, he is game to try things and he comes up with great ideas for songs. On the first record, ‘Sister Kate’, he came up with a lot of great tunes for us to do, and he did the same thing on ‘Why Wait!’. He had an R&B version of ‘Good Day Sunshine’ that he had heard in his back pocket just waiting for the right artist to come along to sing it, and bang, it was me, haha. There were also songs I’d been singing for a long time that are on the record, a James tune, and a Staple Singers song. It was fun, we had a good time.

I say Peter Asher with Albert Lee pre-COVID, they had two acoustic guitars and were telling stories as well as singing songs from each other’s past. 

He is so cool, and I love those shows where he gets to tell those stories, and Albert is just an amazing guy. One of the really precious things about touring is getting to hear all these stories backstage as you are waiting to go on and what have you. Just the camaraderie that is achieved when you are working on the road with people like that. You know, Peter just had his finger on the pulse of our entire musical lives, starting with the music he must have heard in his home because his mother was a concert oboist. That story he tells of when Paul McCartney was living in his house and he and John would write songs in the basement in Peter’s mother’s studio. Paul called out to Peter to come and listen to a new song they had written, they were sitting on the piano bench, and they played ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. That is just it, the end of that story and on to infamy, haha. I loved that the Beatles brought American music back to us, and it was just a wonderful exchange of musical ideas. 

Your latest album, ‘Why Wait!’, seems to be a celebration of your career, and Peter’s to an extent, and that particular sound with lots of legendary musicians accompanying you, is that how you envisaged it? 

It was just meant to be, all the energies aligned and there we were. It was so wonderful because a lot of those players like Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, and Danny Kortchmar. I mean, I’ve known Danny the guitar player since I was eight years old, and James used to pal around with him when we were visited in the summertime on Martha’s Vineyard. Danny and James learnt to play the guitar together, and from day one it was magic with the two of them. I knew Danny when I was recording that first record, and it was one of the first albums Russ and Leland played on.  I think Peter had found those guys and put them together for James’ first record in LA, ‘Sweet Baby James’, and then they played on the ‘Sister Kate’ record. It was like going home to play with those guys, and Albert Lee played guitar as well as Waddy Wachtel, you can’t beat that. I’m sorry to other musicians out there, and Alan Thomson is included in my list of musicians whom I’d want on my album, but those guys and Jeff Alan Ross are just wonderful to have on your album. It was a great experience, and we had to accommodate COVID a little bit, but off we go, keep on going.

Technology has certainly changed since your debut album. 

Yes, it is amazing. I remember when Peter was mixing ‘Sister Kate’, and he’d been doing some editing because as my vocal was going along, he knew he wanted to switch this line with that line in the take on the track, you know across the takes, and each time he had to do that by hand. I think he is very happy about all the technology.

How will your live shows with Alan Thomson work, what are the arrangements going to be like? 

I just know it is going to be fun, he is great and just masterful. He will cover me when I screw up, haha.

It is called improvisation Kate, haha. 

We have got some great songs, I’m going to be singing some songs from the ‘Sister Kate’ record and ‘Why Wait!’, and some songs from in between, and we have a lot of stories. There are a lot of great stories and I’m looking forward to sharing those as well.

How did you work up the arrangements for the songs? 

I sent Alan some tunes I hoped we could do, and he had also listened to my records I’d had out and he picked some as well, and I loved the songs he picked out because some of them I haven’t sung in a long time, and they mean a lot to me so I’m really glad to resurrect them in my show. A lot of them are kind of personal about life on The Vineyard and my family life and it will be really nice to sing them, and we have a few days to really get our act together. He was out in Los Angeles, and I met Alan through our friend Jeff Alan Ross, and Jeff plays with Alan sometimes when he is in England and Scotland, and Alan stays with Jeff sometimes when he’s touring with Martin Barre, and I was staying with Jeff at the same time, and he is just such a lovely guy I really enjoyed talking with him. We also did a recording of the first song I had actually written called ‘Luckiest Mama’ and Alan played on the recording and sang on it. We talked about my coming to Scotland and this time just felt right, and we have time to rehearse and shake it out a bit, but that first show is going to be interesting, we will have our fresh victims, haha.

Are there any plans to record some of the shows? 

That would be great, I want to record them, it would be great to do but I can’t listen to them, haha. I was advised that you come off stage having played your best show, the audience is going nuts creating this bigtime experience together, and then I listen to a playback and just go oh my God what was I thinking, I can no longer trust my judgement, so I was advised to take some time before you listen to a show, let it breathe a little bit, a little distance helps. 

At Americana UK we like to ask interviewees what are they listening to now, the top three artists, albums, or tracks? 

I listen to a lot of early R&B, on Pandora, I just go onto the Jackie Wilson channel, and they send me all these Jackie Wilson songs, Otis and Aretha’s, The Staples, and that is really my go-to music. I have friends who make music and I like to listen to them, I have a friend Jemima James who writes some great songs and puts them down and I listen to them. We have a great radio station on The Vineyard WMVY, they are an independent station, and they play great songs, and great music, so you might want to tune into them. Have you seen that website with the globe, Radio Garden I think it is called, and you just click on the rotating globe for a radio station? You can tap into say Lebanon and hear what they are doing over there, we are so fortunate to live in these times.

Possibly fortunate, but I do worry music has become so available it has been devalued. 

I know, I think we did live in a golden era for music with delivery systems like the radio stations, and the record labels would really promote an artist and really see you through a few albums and help you along with the workings of it. Those days are gone, unfortunately, and what I miss and really feel sorry for the kids about, but maybe they have their own network, is that when we were coming up, we all listened to the same music, and we were all connected with each other through that music. It was a common thread that brought joy and comfort and all the things music does, and we were all in this shared experience. There is so much music and it is quite hard to know where to find it and be able to share it. It is an interesting time, it is a double-edged sword, and we will just have to see what we can make out of it. I think live music gives the most solace at this point, when you hear somebody live, you know what, it is wonderful. People are also just so glad we can be together and have a shared experience through the music. I am grateful for all of it, and I’m just glad to see where the road takes me. For my tour, we are doing the States and the UK, and then over to Denmark and Norway, where I’ve never been before. We will have a chance to see my brother James on the 7th October in Glasgow, which will be good.

What did James think of ‘Why Wait!’, because it was sort of a celebration of his sound in a way. 

He gave me the thumbs up and certainly it was. I did one of his tunes ‘I Will Follow’, it was one Peter had produced on James’ record a beautiful song and we did it with a little bit more groove. We did a Tommy James tune, ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ which was a hit for Tommy back in 1970 or ’71, or something. When I sing that song the audience gasps, they just love it, and it is very pertinent to today. It is also good, I think.

Is there anything you want to say to our UK Readers? 

Apart from the obvious of coming to a show if you can and listening to the record, just thank you for being fans of music, and supporting live and recorded music, the americana audience is precious and as artists, it is what we need to know is that we are communicating and reaching people. If anyone wants to write to me, I’m Kate at Kate Taylor Music. Albert Lee is on the next day after my Barnoldswick show, and that reminds me of when he came in to do some overdubs on my record he brought this little amp with him, and his playing was so wonderful I fantasised that if I played through an amp like that, I would be wonderful. It didn’t work, haha.

It is not his amp, it’s his fingers, I think. 

I know that’s probably the case, haha, he is wonderful, a really special guy.

Kate Taylor’s ‘Why Wait!’ is out now on Red House Records.
2022 European Tour Dates 

Barnoldswick Music and Arts Centre  Tuesday October 4th 2022.

  18-22  Rainhill Rd, Barnoldswick BB18 5AF.

Backstage at The Green         Wednesday, 5th October 2022. 

2 Muirs, Kinross KY13 8AS.

Svendborg Forsamlingshus    Wednesday, 12th October, 2022.

Lundevej 2, 5700 Svendborg, Denmark.

The Note Café og Musikkbar            Thursday 13th October 2022.

Peter Grøns gate 2B, 3210 Sandefjord, Norway.

About Martin Johnson 399 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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good to see my friend kate getting interviewed in england see so deserves this