POP: Back on the right track

Question. Who wrote "Wild Thing"? Was it? a) Jimi Hendrix? b) Graham Nash? c) The Troggs?

The answer is none of the above. That gloriously raucous tale of

testosterone - one of the best-known songs of all time - was written by a New Yorker called Chip Taylor. After some solo hits in the early Sixties, Taylor (born James Wesley Voight, the younger brother of actor Jon) penned a string of other chartbusters, including the gorgeous "Angel of the Morning", covered by both Merrilee Rush and Juice Newton, "Any Way That You Want Me" (the Troggs again), "I Can't Let Go" (the Hollies), plus many country standards, such as "Sweet Dream Woman" for Waylon Jennings.

If Taylor's a forgotten man then, by his own admission, it's his own fault, because for the past 40 years he's had "another job". "Since I was 17, I was really into the racetrack. I was shy in terms of going on tour and I stuck behind the scenes as a songwriter. My normal day was writing songs in the morning and then heading out to the track. I was very, very good at it. It was like a giant crossword puzzle that presented itself every day and that I knew I could master. I was also real good at blackjack and got banned from all the casinos in Atlantic City. Maybe it was an addiction but it was a fun thing and I did it well, but it certainly took me away from a lot of personal things and touring."

In the Seventies, Taylor recorded several albums, including the re-released country-rock gem Chip Taylor's Last Chance, but after a row with a major label he had had enough. From 1980 to 1995 his job was gambling: "I usually had a profitable season. I was pretty unstoppable."

"Then my mom got sick and I started to sing for her. I made a commitment to myself that this was what I was really cut out to do. I was just running away from it all these years." His recent album The Living Room Tapes, a beautiful acoustic song collection, arrived along with The Hit Man, that saw Taylor adding new interpretations to his most famous songs.

Now he's truly back. His blend of folk, country and southern rock has seen him make a dent in the American charts at the age of 57. Two more albums are already recorded, and he's set up his own Train Wreck label. "It's exciting to be into music again and playing with Lucinda Williams, Robbie Fulks and other great young writers," concludes the extremely jovial and approachable legend.

Taylor's latest UK tour offers an opportunity to see a real master back where he belongs. And, just in case you wondered, he might have been out of it but never down, as he's still got the publishing rights to all those hits.

Chip Taylor plays Waterman's Art Centre, Brentford (0181-568 1176) 4 Mar and The Borderline, W1 (0171-734 2095) 5 Mar

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