Songwriting Great Eric Taylor: "Houston Is Still a Real Music Town"

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Rocks Off hadn't seen Eric Taylor, once a contemporary of Townes Van Zandt, since his last Houston date at 14 Pews in January 2012. But with the release party for Taylor's latest CD, Studio 10, this Sunday at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, we caught up with the veteran Texas singer-songwriter behind "Shoeshine Boy," "Whooping Crane" and Nanci Griffith's "Dollar Matinee" (among many others), from the road.

Rocks Off: I think we have something in common in that Facebook seems to make us both angry. I'm not sure I ever enjoy that Web site. Do you?

Eric Taylor: The Facebook thing is a double-edged sword. Perhaps a necessary evil for some. There are times that it seems a conduit for race-baiting bigots, and there are times it becomes a way for pictures to be shown of little kitties or something someone ate for lunch.

It is supposed to be social networking, and if you can't be somewhat angry about that, then you're not breathing. That being said, it's good to talk to some of my friends.

RO: In live shows you're humorous. Between songs the audience laughs with you nearly every time you tell a story. But the songs seem melancholy even if the words aren't specifically sad. Since you write really beautiful, sad songs, I wonder do the beautiful things in life make you sad?

ET: My live shows certainly use the storytelling to allow the audience a few solid or moving pictures. Maybe increasing the images. Sometimes they're humorous, sometimes not. It allows them to breathe a bit between what may be seen as a serious look at this place or person.

Certainly, there may be a sadness to beauty, but it may also be a beautiful story among the characters of my songs. I tend to write what I see.

RO: Regarding the show at Mucky Duck, do you have a firm set list for shows or how large a group of songs do you choose from each night? You must have hundreds of songs.

ET: As to the Mucky Duck show, although it's a CD release, I'll use my same way of doing things. I'll try to do what I think works. I want people to get what they pay for. I will certainly do some songs off of the new Studio 10 record, but I won't allow the performance, the stage show, to be a commercial for the record.

RO: Do you think you examine common situations more closely than most people? I think that's what makes your songs so appealing to me. It reminds me of the richness of everyday life.

ET: I take many notes almost every day. I never throw anything away because I never know when I might need that line, or concept, or view of the picture. I don't think that I examine common situations more closely than other people, as you ask. I think, certainly, that I think of myself as a writer and I have a job to do. My job is writing about what I pay attention to, and try to keep it close.

For example, while driving down the L.A. freeway, probably 101, Guy Charles Clark would have never written "L.A. Freeway" if [Clark's wife] Susanna had not been in possession of a eyeliner pencil at that very moment. He wrote that line and idea down with her eyeliner pencil. See what I mean?

RO: Last time I saw you, you told the story about roasting a duck in Hermann Park. You told about how young people would camp in the park and it sounded like San Francisco in the late '60s. I can't imagine that being tolerated today (the camping). Do you have any other stories about how things were different then? Or any ways Houston is better now?

ET: Ah, the old roasting a duck in Hermann Park story, eh? You young people have such keen memories. Yeah, it happened. And for a short place in time when we thought we might be getting away with it. But, you know, just like San Francisco, the shit hit the fan. Man, there were people escaping San Francisco to get back to Houston.

It all went down so fast. Houston seemed to survive on music and new writers and work. Working on starting new clubs and bringing in the first-heard talent to go along with the ones who already lived there. When I first met Lowell George [of] Little Feat, you know the first thing he asked me? He asked, "Dude, does Lightnin' Hopkins really play here?"

Houston is still makin' its thing happen. It will. Houston is still a real music town. Sure, it's cleaned up a bit, but Houston ain't stupid enough to go callin' itself "The Live Music Capital of the World" now, is it? Hope to see you and all yours at the Duck. My first time back there in some time. I'm looking forward to it.

Eric Taylor's Studio 10 release party is 6 p.m. Sunday, August 4, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk.

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