Taylor Pie – The Music Never Dies
The Pozo-Seco Singers were one of those groups I had a strong affinity for when I “discovered” folk music in the late 80’s, and early 90’s. Sure it was some twenty odd years after the great folk scare was over, but I was much too young to experience it first hand. And while punk and grunge may have been the predominate movements at the time, I felt more comfortable strapping on an acoustic guitar and wailing on my Hohner harmonica (still do). I took it all in – from the protest music of Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, and early Bob Dylan to the traditional mountain music of The Carter Family, Doc Watson and on to the more introspective folk stylings of Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, Leonard Cohen, Ian and Sylvia, and Gordon Lightfoot. At about the same time, a new folk movement was brewing and featured a new breed of articulate folk artists like John Gorka, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, and Tracy Chapman. The faces may have changed, but the great folk tradition lived on.
I remember the first time I picked up a Pozo-Seco album. It was in one of those quaint little used record stores that don’t exist anymore. The photo was comprised of the trio that made up Pozo-Seco: Don Williams, Lofton Kline, and the fetching blonde in the center – Susan Taylor. As it turned out, Taylor had the heavenly voice to match the angelic visage. She teamed up with Williams and Kline in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1964 and helped propel the group to national fame. The song that provided the spark the group needed was Time, written by a wise beyond his years Michael Merchant. Merchant was a friend of Taylor’s and immediately impressed her with the words and melody. The song was a bittersweet rumination on what else…time. The song would rise to the top of the influential Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston radio markets. This success garnered attention from the promotion team at Columbia records. The trio were signed to a record deal and later managed by the legendary influential folk impresario Albert Grossman. One cannot over emphasize the importance of the Grossman connection. He did not waste his time on the untalented and the undedicated. His roster over time also included Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, Lightfoot, The Band, and Janis Joplin. Kline would later leave the group and was replaced by Ron Shaw (he of The Hillside Singers I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing fame).
The Pozos disbanded in 1970, but the individual members went on to productive musical endeavors. Williams catapulted to country music super stardom in the 70’s and 80’s. Kline and Shaw would stay engaged with musical projects. And Susan Taylor? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t do so shabby herself. Now performing as Taylor Pie (her friends just call her Pie), it seems the music never died. These days she is just as busy as she ever was. It was a thrill to catch up with her recently and discuss life after The Pozo-Seco Singers.
We started off discussing the imminent release of Finally Getting Home on her own label Puff Bunny Records. It’s a company started with the help of old high school chums Kathy Harrison and Eben Wood. It was her first solo effort after the breakup of Pozo-Seco. Produced by the highly regarded Allen Reynolds, the album was originally released in 1972 but didn’t receive a fair shake due to disagreement about how to market it. It didn’t fit into a nice and neat category. Rooted in folk, the songs veer toward country, blues, and pop as well. We would call it Americana today, but in 1972 that format didn’t exist. And back then, radio was the be all and end all of a record’s success. What should have been one of the best albums of 1972 is poised to become one of the best albums of 2012. It sounds as fresh today as it did back forty years ago. Standout tracks include Looking Through The Looking Glass, Sand Mountain Blues, and a cover of Dolly Parton’s Blue Ridge Mountain Boy. It is with Blue Ridge Mountain Boy that Pie takes the song to a place where Parton was afraid to go. Ignoring an up-tempo shift in the middle of Parton’s version, Pie lays out that beautiful voice of hers and wrings out every bit of emotion laden in those heartbreaking lyrics. While Parton may have seen a sliver of hope, Pie makes no such pretensions and that makes her version that much more powerful. Also coming in January is a rerelease of Pozo-Seco material called Shades Of Time by Real Gone Music.
It was about the time of the initial release of Finally Getting Home that Pie decided to head out for New York and began to hone her skills as a songwriter. She played at venerable folk clubs like Folk City and The Bottom Line. These clubs, essential to the spread of the earlier folk movement began to transition to singer/songwriter venues in the 70’s in order to survive. Pie told me the story about the night Bette Midler wandered into Folk City and heard her play. Pie offered to buy Midler a drink, but Bette replied, “I need to buy you a drink, this place is a dump”. By that time, Mike Porco who was always a champion of the folk crowd had allowed his establishment to become unkempt and dissolve into a sad state of disrepair. Midler would go on to use one of Pie’s songs in her Clams on the Half Shell Review.
In the 80’s, Pie hung out with Arlo Guthrie and others ensconced in an energized folk scene happening in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. She played there and made a decent living until that scene eventually fizzled out. But no matter where Pie called home, she always made it back to Nashville twice a year to write – often with Reynolds and Dickey Lee. Her songs were covered by popular country artists Tanya Tucker, Mickey Gilley, The Forester Sisters, John Conlee. and her once former band mate Don Williams to name a few. In 1986, she bought a farm in Liberty, Tennessee which she still calls home today. It is there that she presides as music director of the Liberty Arts Center where she is engaged in promoting house concerts. Visiting musicians play in an intimate setting that the center provides.
Once you talk to Taylor Pie, you can’t help but be impressed by her exuberance and positive vibe. That having been said, one cannot dismiss all of the hardships, disappointments, and frustration she has endured in a long career. Just some of the obstacles she has encountered include: record and publishing deals promised but never materialized, being a woman and trying to break into that good ol’ boys 70’s Nashville songwriter clique, and staying true to her folk roots when going mainstream would have been more advantageous for her career. But through all of those trials and tribulations, Pie never gave up. It always came down to the music and that marvelous voice. And Pie made it clear to me that having Allen Reynolds in her corner as friend, mentor, and encourager didn’t hurt either. Perhaps one of the last true gentlemen in the music business, he was an old school guy who could seal deals with just a handshake.
In order to get a glimse into Pie’s songwriting process, I asked her about a song she had written and recorded in 2007 called So Little Has Changed. Written after watching a news report about war torn Afghanistan, the sentiments expressed hearken back to Pete Seeger’s classic anti-war song Where Have All The Flowers Gone. Within the song’s lyrics, Pie skillfully evokes the imagery of her father who was a distinguished WWII fighter pilot. Upon returning home, he threw all of his medals away becoming disheartened and disillusioned with what he had experienced in battle. As she so aptly puts it, they killed so many, we killed so many more…So little has changed. As a writer of songs myself, I began to calculate in my mind the time and energy required to create such a brilliant song. I concluded that it evolved into a lengthy process perhaps requiring weeks. Pie disabused me of that conclusion almost immediately. “It basically wrote itself”, she replied. It was finished in most of one day.
I also asked Pie about the role social media has had on her career and music. Without hesitating she told me ” It’s been a savior”. It has rejuvenated and reinvigorated a fan base that was always there but didn’t know where to find her. Now they know, and the response has been overwhelming. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask her about the possibility of a Pozo-Seco reunion, but according to Pie that doesn’t appear to be in the offing anytime soon.
Sometimes success can’t be measured in purely monetary terms. It comes down to being able to do things on your own terms. And by that yardstick, Taylor Pie has been hugely successful. The music never dies.
(Republished from Scene4 magazine)