Jesse Taylor

Guitarist with the Joe Ely Band


Jesse Taylor, guitarist: born Lubbock, Texas 1950; (three daughters); died Austin, Texas 7 March 2006.

In the mid-1970s, Jesse Taylor made his mark with the country/ rock Joe Ely Band; and his energetic playing was so inventive that he was dubbed Jesse "Guitar" Taylor. Although he worked with Ely for many years, he also accompanied scores of musicians at the rougher and more creative end of country music.

When Taylor visited Liverpool in 1994, accompanying the Texas songwriter Don McCalister Jnr, he told me,

I played some of those places with the chicken wire, and if it gets real rowdy, you're sure glad it's there. It didn't matter if you were playing good or not, as drunken cowboys are pretty indiscriminate.

Jesse Taylor was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1950, the son of a labourer. The music of local star Buddy Holly, together with that of the Ventures, made him want to be a guitarist. When he was 15, he was part of Jimmie Dale Gilmore's first group, the T. Nickel House Band, and became the first white musician to have a residency at Lubbock's renowned venue Stubb's Bar-B-Q.

Joe Ely was the musician who had shown the most promise in Lubbock since Holly, and Taylor played a crucial role in his albums Joe Ely (1977) and Honky Tonk Masquerade (1978). The band then travelled to the UK as the opening act for Merle Haggard, when New Wave music was becoming fashionable. They befriended the Clash and, in an unlikely move for a country band, then toured with them in 1979 and 1980. The Ely band also worked with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

When I asked Taylor about his best work with Ely, he said,

I really loved that album that we did in London called Live Shots [1980]. It was recorded in four different venues and Joe Strummer and Mick Jones are on the record with us. We started out

as a country band and, once we started touring with the Clash, we became rock. We may have lost some fans along the way, but not many. Those gigs could be scary though: the kids could be out of control and spitting at you and throwing themselves on stage.

When Taylor left the band in 1982, he settled in Austin, but still worked with Ely on various projects. He also played with Billy Joe Shaver, Butch Hancock, Kinky Friedman and Townes Van Zandt. Unfortunately, his lifestyle got the better of him and he had to seek treatment. In rehab, he developed his artistic skills and became a gifted painter, holding an exhibition in Austin.

He released the solo albums Texas Tattoo (1998), with several guest vocalists, and South Side Guitar (2001), with a fellow guitarist, John X.Reed. South Side Guitar included "Don't Give Up", a song about cirrhosis, which would be a cause of Taylor's death. He remarked, "When somebody says to me, 'You're dying', I think, 'Well, you're dying too.' "

Spencer Leigh

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