From his home in New York, singer-songwriter Chip Taylor sounds invigorated.
At 71, the guy could easily sit back and cash in on his past accomplishments. Or, he could just live off the family name.
After all, this is the guy who wrote "Wild Thing," one of the all-time classic rock songs. And his real name is James Wesley Voight -- as in brother of Jon Voight and uncle to one Angelina Jolie.
Taylor's odd career path has included stints as a golfer, as a professional gambler and, of course, as a songwriter.
And, as a songwriter, Taylor has remained motivated for nearly five decades. Rock and Roll Joe, Taylor's most recent effort, is a tribute to the unsung heroes of the genre.
In anticipation of his Saturday night stop at The Kessler Theater, Taylor was kind enough to talk about his fascinating life and its various twists and turns.
When you decided to reenter the music world in 1996 after a two-decade hiatus, you did a songwriter-in-the-round tour with Rosie Flores and Darden Smith. Was it necessary to hit the stage with other songwriters instead of by yourself?
That was a long time ago. It's nice to be reminded of those shows. That was an inspiration for me to get fully back into the music business. At that period in my life, I was heavily into my gambling thing. Gambling took up a lot of my time and being around those great songwriters really inspired me to stay with music.
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Why did you decide to give up music in the late '70s and concentrate on gambling?
When I was writing my hits, I also played around with the horses. I was pretty good at math. I studied a lot, and I got to be very good at betting on horses. I knew that I could profit from the horses, and I did this while I was writing songs. I was making three bets a day and I was winning. As I started doing albums in the '70s, country albums from a guy in New York, I began to think that there was no place for me in music. I didn't want to move to Nashville and do the cookie-cutter thing. I was tired of arguing with producers, so I began to gamble more and more. Finally in 1980, I gave up music entirely. I didn't really come back until 1997. I knew that if I was going to make music the way I wanted to, I would have to give up gambling.
How did you come up with the concept for your recent album, Rock and Roll Joe?
A couple of years ago, I was touring Sweden with this really great band. And, every time we got into the van, it was always the same thing. As soon as the van doors closed, someone would start talking about all these old-time guys that inspired them, these bass players and drummers that no one had ever heard of. The conversation was always about musicians from the past, oftentimes about musicians that people didn't know that much about. I thought that was a nice thing to get into, to herald those kinds of people. I started writing songs loosely based on the rock 'n' roll experience and the unsung heroes that are a part of that -- the unknown people who were vital to the spirit of rock 'n' roll, the people who did it for the passion and not for the money.
You're calling this album and tour an interactive, multi-media project. When you wrote "Wild Thing" in 1966, could anyone conceive of such a thing?
Can you imagine that? Who the heck would believe it? However, back in the day when I was writing those hits, I was always thinking about the future, the inspirations that were to come.
Do you remember where you were when you wrote "Wild Thing"?
Of course! I can remember exactly where I was! As a matter of fact, I am playing a show in New York and the venue is at exactly the same address where I lived when I wrote "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning." Talk about coming full circle! It was an amazing time back then.
Your songs have been covered by many artists. Do you have a favorite cover version of one of your songs?
The biggest concern is whether or not the people recording the song felt it the way you felt it. Usually, they were listening to a demo recording of it and you were always hoping that the people got it. I felt fortunate to have the Troggs and Jimi Hendrix cover "Wild Thing" and Merrilee Rush do "Angel of the Morning." I think many of my songs have been recorded with the proper feel. My favorite is probably Anne Murray doing a song I wrote for my son called "Son of a Rotten Gambler."
Many people, including the, Hollies and Emmylou Harris, have also covered that song. And "Angel of the Morning" was revived by rapper Shaggy in 2001 for his song "Angel." And the Old 97's mention the song in one of theirs as well...
They do? Which one?
I love the Old 97's. I wish they would send me an MP3 of that! I've always liked them.
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Is getting paid the second most important thing in having people cover your songs?
To tell you the truth, I've heard a lot of stories about people who've had it much worse than I ever did. Some of those stories are true and some are not. When I was signed as a staff writer, I always got paid. I didn't complain because I worked with good people who got my songs noticed. Everybody gave up half of the royalties. A lot of these stories are just sour grapes. A lot of people worked with less honorable companies.
Is it true that you were also a professional golfer?
Yes, I was! My dad was a pro golfer. That's where I got the nickname Chip -- because I was very good around the greens. I wanted to be in the music business, but I was very good at golf and won some junior championships. I decided to turn pro and I played in a couple of tournaments, but I soon realized that I wanted to make music. I told my dad that I was going to try and sell my songs. Soon after that, Willie Nelson recorded one of my songs. That was the start of it. All of sudden, I was in the business as a country songwriter from Yonkers, New York.
Do you have a lot of contact with your brother or niece?
Not too much contact with Angelina. I was in contact with her several years ago. I always felt very close to her even though she was on the West Coast and I was on the East. I felt that our spirits were kind of linked. She never marched to the same drummer of most people. Neither of us wanted to follow the crowd. I think Jon is very much like that as well. I am very close to my brother. We speak all of the time. I am close to my other brother, Barry. He is a famous volcanologist. Both Jon and Barry are crazy and brilliant in their own way.