“There Really is a Blues Musician Living in Boulder” – Otis Taylor
Otis Taylor, prominent American blues musician, and Boulderite, just released his 15th album, Fantasizing About Being Black. Throughout his musical career Taylor, a somewhat soft-spoken, warm personality with a welcoming sense of humor, has primarily focused on the harsher realities of life in his songwriting, particularly the harsh realities of Black America. While the lives of Black Americans have always been a recurring theme in Taylor’s work, his latest release discusses racism in a way that is perhaps more direct and condensed than in his previous work. As Taylor explained, Fantasizing About Being Black is about “the different levels of racism in the African American experience which are unfortunately still with us today. The history of African Americans is the history of America.”
Taylor was born in Chicago but moved to Denver as a kid after his uncle was shot and killed as a result of gun violence. Taylor’s dad was a devoted jazz enthusiast, and as Taylor grew up, he developed a similar passion for music. After their move to Colorado, Taylor spent a lot of time at the Denver Folklore Center where he eventually bought his first instrument – a banjo. He also developed an aptitude for both the guitar and the harmonica, though young Taylor may be best remembered for his banjo playing, in part because he would frequently ride his unicycle to school while simultaneously playing his banjo.
From 1977 to 1995, Taylor took a break from the music business. While not playing music professionally, Taylor still maintained a busy professional life, developing a successful antique business and even coaching a bicycle team. In 1995, Taylor somewhat unintentionally slipped back into the music industry after agreeing to play a show for John “Buck” Buchanan at Buchanan’s coffee shop on the Hill. Since that pivotal evening, Taylor’s music career has experienced a serious rebirth. Fifteen albums later, Taylor’s work has received a good deal of critical acclaim. He has made the New York Times top ten lists, won a fellowship from the Sundance Institute, contributed to a few different movie soundtracks, and has even been included in at least one New York Times crossword puzzle. Taylor describes his success by saying, “I was always a little bit off center. It’s given me more confidence.”
Although his motivations as a musician and as a person seem fairly consistent – a love of music and a desire for equality. When I talked to Taylor, we spent a lot of time discussing one of the themes most prominent in his music – race. “It’s like… a racial handicap,” Taylor reflects upon being black.
“When I walk down the street, I’m not invisible. I’m visible to the police. But it’s also all you know. I live a normal life for a normal black man.”
While Taylor has experienced a lot of success, he knows all too well the barriers and tragedies that race can bring into one’s life.
“This last album is really important,” Taylor says regarding Fantasizing about Being Black.
“It’s a reminder of the way things can be.”
Taylor, however, is not a self-described activist, but an “observer and a storyteller, that is all.”
When talking to Taylor, he expressed a deep concern for the way racial tension has been growing the last few years and admitted that the album is a lot more timely than he was hoping it would be. Though even though he wishes the racial climate was different than it is, Taylor is glad the album is out there as another voice in the conversation about what race means and will mean in America.