Striking a Balance, with Jackson Taylor
With a catalog of songs like, “Whisky Drinking song”, “Cocaine”, and “Jack’s Drunk Again”, and the many wild tales that circle the reputation of Jackson Taylor, one would consider Taylor to be a true outlaw bad boy; however Taylor has found solace in wife Stefani, and Sex Machine, his Bulldog. I caught up with him on a Thursday evening, not at a bar, but at home watching an episode of “Supernatural,” one of his favorite television shows, and petting Sex Machine. It has been a hard road, and a crazy ride for Taylor getting to this point. Taylor shared with me a bit about his past, his life now, and his excitement in recording a new album, set for release this Fall.
Taylor grew up the son of migrant farm workers, traveling from California to Washington, to Oregon. He had a tough upbringing that resembles the classic Steinbeck novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”. It is there that he fell in love with Honky-Tonk music, which he is sure to make the separation from Honky-Tonk to Country. If you label Taylor’s music as Country he will quickly correct you. Taylor did not grow up listening to Country, he grew up on Honky-Tonk, and traditional Mexican music, working in the fields. Taylor shared, “I’ve never been a Country music fan, I’ve been a Honky-Tonk fan and that is because it’s what I was brought up with. I was brought up by migrant workers in California, Washington State, and Oregon and my whole life has been out working in the fields, picking apples, cherries, and peaches. The only music I heard at all was the music my dad played; Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings; that’s all I heard period except for Elvis, Elvis was always the main one.” Taylor continued to share, “I heard a lot of Spanish music in the fields, but as far as Country music I never listened to it. I listened to Merle Haggard, and Buck Owens, and a lot of Waylon’s stuff.” To Taylor Honky-Tonk is about real life. Something in the tone of the music makes it work for Taylor. He said, “There’s something in that twang in a Buck Owens or Merle Haggard record, that if you grew up like I did, working really hard, and wanting to play hard, you grew up in little Honky-Tonks and bars, and when I grew up you heard Merle on the jukebox, you didn’t hear what was popular on the radio, at the time.” Taylor went on to say, “when you have a steel guitar, and a back- beat, and a vocalist; those songs relate to real life; it’s a lot more everyday life, real heartache, and real loss.” Taylor described himself by saying, “I am a Honky-Tonk guy. The stuff that would hit me is the bar room Honky-Tonk stuff from the 1950’s, Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and in the eighties Dwight Yoakam.” He also cites some of his other main influences as Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Schaeffer, Merle Haggard, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding. He also shared that, “A lot of people don’t realize I am just as much a Sam Cooke and Otis Redding guy as I am Waylon and Willie.” He further went on to say, “I’m a Rockabilly guy, and a Punk guy too, it’s very simple and very poignant”.
“when you have a steel guitar, and a back- beat, and a vocalist; those songs relate to real life; it’s a lot more
everyday life, real heartache, and real loss.”
JACKSON TAYLOR PAYS HOMAGE TO HIS HEROES IN HIS VISUAL ART
Taylor does not write music, he does not sit around with an acoustic guitar developing hooks, and he does not practice with his band. He is set to roll into Sun Records, in October of 2018, and record his next album; without a shard of anything written down, and he has done this with every album so far. He goes out of stage every night and he has no set list, and no pre-arranged idea of what he is going to play. This might sound absurd, but Taylor shared with me that process. “Sometimes I’ll go in the studio with nothing at all, the crazy thing the last two albums I’ve written nothing, but I booked studio time on the last two albums, so I showed up every day, and a song came to me every day; it came to me in the morning and I’d say, “ ok, here is what I’ve got.” Taylor described his process for the next album by saying, “we are going to show up at Sun Records, and cut whatever feels good; and we are going to do it live. It’s really expensive, but if I try to show up prepared it won’t be organic when I get there. I’ll try to be inspired by whatever that day.” To Taylor music comes to him automatically. He has had this ability since he was twelve years old. In fact music floods over Taylor, it is often so loud it drowns out whatever else is around him, and often can render him unable to do basic tasks. Taylor talked about that with me, and tried to share what that is like.
I don’t know how to explain it it’s like the songs come, it’s like I can’t function very well, you won’t want to drive with me when songs come beaming down on me, or I get flooded with stuff. When songs are in my head I can’t do anything else, I’m totally cut off from regular functions. My guys in the band, and my wife, they all know the deal when I go into these manic creative times. Tthey can last a couple days, or a couple weeks, when music just pounds in my head non-stop and drowns out everything else. I can’t carry on conversations, because the music is so loud in my head, I can’t do shows, the music in my head is so much louder than is what is coming from the stage, it’s a hard thing to get through sometimes. As I got older it’s not quite as much, or as intense; but when I was younger it was all the time. I couldn’t really hold down a job, I couldn’t function, it’s like having head phones on, turned up to 50 (decibels) and trying to talk to people; and it’s so loud it gives me headaches, and migraines. It’s a blessing and a curse; when songs start coming at me I’m almost incapable of doing everything, I have to get where I am going; and I walk into things, I’m almost totally on auto pilot, my brain is so manic with the creative side of it.
Songs will occur to Taylor at the most inopportune times, He will be driving, taking a shower, just trying to do daily tasks and the song will overtake him. Everything is autobiographical; Taylor does not come up with songs about other people or things that he does not know. The songs come out of the things that he is dealing with somewhere in his subconscious. Taylor shared, “whatever my mind is self-consciously dealing with at the time, my song writing, I don’t even like to call it writing; my songs are delivered to me completely mix and match in my head, and I have no idea where they come from or why they come. I’ll have a song that will pop up, and I’ll go back and listen to it and say, “that song is about so and so in 1987, why is that in my mind, why am I dealing with that, why did that bubble up”, you know what I mean?
Taylor says anything you want to know about his life you can find out listening to his songs. Taylor spoke in depth about that, and tried to pinpoint the sources of his music.
If anyone wants to know anything about me they just have to listen to my music, I don’t censor myself, if I censor it I’ll corrupt the conduit as it comes to me. I believe totally and completely in the process, I believe in my ability to tap into what I need to tap into. I’ve always been faithful and honest to it, if I corrupt it one little bit I’ll lose it. I don’t censor myself ever my biggest song is about free basing cocaine. My music is totally honest, and totally organic, and totally uncorrupted. Everybody has to have a north star, or something that guides them, my thing has always been about expressing the music that is given to me, it came down to me and my job is to share that as safely as I can. There’s no effort, or thought that goes into it, it’s totally passive; I feel bad taking credit for something that I have no hand in creating. I follow life where it takes me, and it takes some dangerous places, some good places, and some painful places. I go with the flow; I’ll take off and go to Europe for a few weeks, where I don’t know anybody, and I’ll meet people, and I’ll let life guide me to adventures and I’ve always done that, and that is where my songs come from.”
Taylor has never done well with structure; Taylor has always lived in the wind, going where ever life has taken him. This could be due to his musical affliction, or the fact that he has been diagnosed with Bi-Polar 2 disorders. Taylor opened up and shared, “I’m manic depressive, and I have Bi-Polar 2, a doctor told me I might be high functioning autistic, I have no idea. Growing up we were really poor, I had really bad dyslexia and at school they thought I was stupid. There are a lot of things that I was dealing with as a kid, that I had to learn how to control myself.” When speaking about the manic creative states Taylor said,” It’s almost impossible to function in a structured life; most of my life is defined by chaos and conflict, because at the time I’m not able to function.” He shared one example, “I’ll drive to a store to get a Coke and end up three states away, and completely spaced out, and I have no idea what happened at that time. “ Taylor also shared how he moved to New York City unintentionally.
I moved to New York City on a fluke without planning to move there. I was going to college, I got out of the Army, and I was going to a trade school in Washington state; I don’t like computers, and I couldn’t take this wrong turn anymore, and I left the house and I couldn’t do it. So, I turned right and I ended up in Montauk in Long Island, I couldn’t drive any more East, and I turned around. I found this dinner and luckily I got this job waiting tables right away, and for six months I lived in New York; then I ended up in San Diego, and then L.A. I don’t give any thoughts to consequences, like “do I know anybody here, or is this a dangerous place?” When you live your life in the moment you are free.
In fact it has not been until in recent years that Taylor has invited more structure into his life. He has always been a visual artist as well as musician; however his portraits of his musical heroes have been created with as much manic expression as his songs. However, with his ability to draw Taylor is also working on a graphic novel. The process of creating the novel has forced some direction into Taylor’s life. Taylor shared the difference in the process of working on his graphic novel.
With the comic book I’ve had to learn things like perspective, and foreshadowing; my portraits and stuff I’ll just sit down, and I don’t plan them out. I’ll just have some ink, and white out, and it will be like twelve hours, and be totally manic; and I’ll go a few months, and not do it again; my visual art is a lot like my music. Comics and stuff I have to think it out, and write a script, and I have to learn how to do things. In a lot of ways it makes me not want to do it, but I make myself do it to have some form of structure and some form of direction. With the graphic novel there are rules I have to follow, I have to make myself perform, and come up with things when I don’t feel like it. “
In fact, this form of structure is fairly new for Taylor. Even the way he met and went about courting his wife Stefani, was on a complete whim. Taylor saw Stefani’s picture on someone’s social media page, and knew nothing about her. She lived with her family in Canada, and Taylor went about courting and winning her over. He told me that story.
I saw my wife’s picture on Facebook, on someone else’s profile, and I said, “That’s the woman I’m going to marry, and I went to Canada to win her over. I went to Canada, and won her over, and she is the first person that I have ever been in that situation with. Now she lives here as an immigrant. She goes with me on the road, and she helps me when I’m manic, she takes care of me like I take care of her. It’s the first time I’ve been in a relationship like that. A relationship where I seek someone out, and there is huge effort to win a beautiful woman from Canada over, she had no idea who I was, and then I took her on the road with me.
Taylor described the challenges of explaining that to Stefani’s family, of how he wanted her to move from Canada to be with him, and how he would take her on tour. Stefani provides the balance that Taylor needs, possibly it was meant to be for Taylor. Stefani grounds Taylor, and helps him to manage his moods, giving him a sense of stability he has never known before. Stefani goes on every tour with Taylor, and also manages the business end of Taylor’s music.
Taylor spoke about the changes he has seen in his life since marrying Stefani. Taylor is no longer the reckless guy of his youth, now at almost 48 years of age, the highlight of his day is not doing drugs, and getting into a bar room brawls, he is more excited to get back to his hotel room, with Stefani, and spend time with Sex Machine. Taylor has been married before but those relationships did not work out for Taylor. It was always difficult for Taylor going on the road, as his former wives had lives of their own, careers of their own; and did not accompany him. The fact that Stefani is there keeps Taylor out of trouble so to speak. Taylor revealed, “if it’s just me and a couple of rowdy boys I’ll get in trouble, but having my wife with me keeps me in check, and having my Bulldog to take care of keeps me out of trouble.”
Gone are the days of partying after every show. Taylor describes his new and calmer tour life.
(Stefani) travels with me and tours with me, my other wives all had careers, and their own lives. We are partners and she is with me all the time. It’s amazing to have someone live with you in the moment all the time, completely and totally. I used to be a guy who drank more booze, did more drugs, and chased more women than anybody. Now I’m a guy who literally, all I do is watch “Supernatural”, play guitar, and pet my Bulldog, and laugh out loud with my wife. It’s a lifestyle I never thought in my biggest nightmares or dreams; I would live, or care to live. If someone said, “Jackson Taylor you’re going to be sitting down with your wife, and you guys are going to be together all the time, and you’re not going to be out doing drugs, or chasing women, or fighting, or hardly drinking, you are just going to be playing music, and being with that little group that you love”, I would have laughed out loud at them. I’d say, “I’m not taking a fucking chick on the road are you crazy? I’m not putting a dog in my van, they stink!”
As soon as I get off stage all I think about is getting back to the hotel room, and letting her out of her cage, and scratching her belly. The highlight of my life is getting back to the room, with my wife, and her letting the little Bulldog out of the kennel, and when she opens it, and the dog burst out, and it barking like a little Bull, and watching the two of them roll on the floor, that is the highlight of my day and the thing I enjoy the most. Going back to my room and hanging out with my Bulldog, and my wife is fun to me. Getting belligerent drunk, and waking up with busted knuckles and hangovers, is not fun to me; dealing with the legal ramifications of my life, it’s not fun anymore.
For Taylor he has finally found a sense of home, and belonging. It works for Taylor because the things he loves most go with him on the road. Taylor shared, “my home travels with me now, my home is my wife, and my band, and my dog, and the problem in the past is my home never came with me. I was always away from my wife, and my kids, and it was emotionally painful, my career and my home life have never been compatible, but in the past four years, they have been which is why I don’t enjoy the things I used to enjoy. If I have my wife and my dog; I’d like to get high and drunk, and have orgies in my hotel room, but it’s not as fun as being with my wife and petting my Bulldog’s belly. It’s just not as much fun.”
With Stefani, Taylor is now anticipating a release date and pre-order for his next album, is looking forward to building his own in home recording studio, and is able to have more attention paid to the business side of his music. Taylor is looking forward to recording at Sun records, using a 1950’s style technique of placing mics. He is more focused on the quality of the sound, and what he is making, and is excited to learn the technical aspects of the process. Stefani handles a lot of the press marketing, and touring aspects of the band. Taylor is able to make his music, and to take comfort that those aspects of the music business are handled. Taylor stated in regards to Stefani’s help, “There is no way I could function like I do, I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now. The reason why I haven’t done better, is I’ve always ignored the business side of it. I’ve always just put records on my merch table and toured, this is the first time I have a release date for a record. “For the first time in seventeen years of touring, Stefani is giving Taylor the right amount of structure to take his music to the next level, while inspiring him to keep his life on track. Taylor sighed, “I feel I’m where I’m supposed to be at. I’m happy.”