Chicago-based guitarist Melvin Taylor is a star in Europe, but it may take some time for U.S. audiences to catch on to just how phenomenally talented a bluesman he is. Part of the problem for Taylor may be his own natural eclecticism. He's equally adept playing jazz or blues, but in the last few years, he's forged a name for himself as a blues guitarist with a slew of releases for Evidence Music. Taylor may well be the most talented new guitarist to come along since Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Taylor was born in Mississippi but raised in Chicago after the family moved there in 1962. He learned guitar from his mother's brother, Uncle Floyd Vaughan, who jammed to tunes by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin' Wolf with his buddies. By the time Taylor was 12, he was sitting in with his uncle and other grown-ups at those sessions. Almost entirely self-taught, the young Taylor learned slide playing, fingerpicking, and flat-picking styles from his favorite recordings by B.B. King, Albert King, and Jimi Hendrix.
In his teens, Taylor joined the Transistors, a group managed by his future father-in-law, and they made their mark playing popular music of the '70s at talent shows and night clubs. After the Transistors broke up in the early '80s, Taylor again devoted his full attention to playing blues in the Windy City's West Side clubs. Shortly after, pianist Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins came looking for a guitarist for a string of European dates. Taylor joined the Legendary Blues Band for a year and made such an impact in Europe that several club and festival bookers wanted him back with his own group. Since the late '80s, he's been making regular tours of Europe, often backed by former members of the Transistors, where they opened for the likes of B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Santana, George Benson, and Canned Heat.
Aside from taking his musical inspiration from guitar heroes like Albert King, B.B. King, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Taylor also became enamored with the jazz stylings of George Benson and Wes Montgomery, incorporating their styles into his playing.
Taylor's recordings include two he first recorded for a French label that have since been reissued on the Pennsylvania-based Evidence Music: Blues on the Run, originally recorded in 1982, and 1984's Melvin Taylor Plays the Blues for You. Back in the U.S., Taylor continued to build a buzz around the strength of his marathon live shows at Rosa's Lounge and other venues in Chicago. Several small labels tried to sign Taylor, but they weren't successful. In 1995, Taylor was signed to Evidence Music and entered the studio with blues impresario John Snyder to record his debut for the label, Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band, which showcased his original songwriting. He returned in late 1996 to record his second U.S. album, Dirty Pool. Taylor's debut remains the Evidence label's best-selling release ever. Both records showcase Taylor's awe-inspiring guitar playing and original renderings of classic Chicago blues tunes. Bang the Bell followed in 2000, featuring racy cover art and a somewhat funk-influenced sound, but it was his teaming with Lucky Peterson and Mato Nanji on 2002's Rendezvous with the Blues that cemented his reputation as a mainstay in the American blues and roots rock scene. ~ Richard Skelly