Otis Taylor’s life and career has been anything but predictable. The electrifying combination of dark, cold content and warm, bright presentation is a contrast that has left his listeners intrigued. What he has labeled himself as “Trance Blues” has earned him a long list of awards and nominations. It’s no surprise to find out that Santa Cruz Guitar Company decided to arm Taylor with this one-of-a-kind weapon. Let’s take a look at the journey of all star musical legend Otis Taylor and his peculiar path from his banjo to blues as well as this unmistakable six string.
“I was a little kid,” Otis says. “I lived by the Denver Folklore Center... It was a music store. My Mother had a ukulele and it broke a string, but I don’t play ukulele. So I took it over there, “I’m in trouble now,” I had broke a string. So, I took it over there and fixed it and I kinda walked in the store, and I psychologically never came out. Because they had records and my Father was a big jazz fan and so he didn’t like anything that had to do with country, so all of a sudden I heard Mississippi John, heard country music – I’d never heard country music and banjos and guitars – and I just sort of went there every day after school until I moved to Boulder.”
At a young age, Otis bought his very first instrument; A banjo. Although his parents were deep into contrary genres, Taylor’s fascination with John Hurt and country blues pushed Otis to form his own group in his teens called “The Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band,” quickly followed by the “Otis Taylor Blues Band.” His career seemed to take flight as he traveled to Europe to perform, returning in the late 1960s to join Deep Purple’s singer and guitarist Tommy Bolin, naming themselves “T&O Short Line.” Nearly a decade later, Taylor’s music career hit a wall and Otis decided to depart from the music scene indefinitely. Between 1977 and 1995, Otis Taylor was in back and forth from dealing antiques to coaching a successful bicycle team who ended up ranking 4th in the country. It was Kenny Passarelli, who has played with names as big as Joe Walsh, Elton John, Dan Fogelburg, Hall and Oats and more, that pushed Otis to return to the music scene.
Taylor’s collaboration with Passarelli and guitarist, Eddie Turner, sent shock waves across the blues world over the next few years with the release of albums like Blue Eyed Monster and When Negros Walked the Earth. The reviews came pouring in from all directions. Taylor’s boldness in both his style and controversial content brought on a plethora of attention and nominations into the early 2000s. Feedback from Rolling Stone Magazine, The New Yorker, Blender, CNN, Downbeat Critics Poll and the awarding of “Best Blues Entertainer of 2004” from the Living Blues Reader’s Poll solidified Otis’ transition from musician to icon as he kept his foot firmly on the gas pedal. This excerpt from his website’s online biography even more-so supports his welcoming to the ranks of legends: “And if the brilliant songwriting and the haunting voice weren't enough to turn the heads of audiences and critics alike, Taylor has also proven his instrumental chops with two consecutive Blues Music Awards nominations (2005 and 2006) for Best Instrumentalist in the banjo category.”
The instrument that’s helped Otis along the way is this beautiful Santa Cruz Guitar Company Otis Taylor Special. SCGC has this to say about Mr. Taylor and their custom instrument: “Otis Taylor is a fellow of the Sundance Film Composers Laboratory and a multi-instrumentalist who has shared the stage with artists as varied as Gary Moore, Buddy Guy and Keb Mo. He is the most important modern voice of Trance Blues. Otis Taylor required very specific tonal and aesthetic qualities for his signature instrument. As a fine arts professional, Otis Taylor’s vision is a combination of vintage retro and ultra sharp European styling; this guitar looks like an expensive Italian suit from the 1930s. This collaboration has produced a musical instrument that truly reflects the artistry of both Otis Taylor and the Santa Cruz Guitar Company. The OT’s compound radius fretboard allows lightning action while the Sitka Spruce with hot hide glue ensures the substantial power and clarity as described by Guitar Player Magazine: Dimensional and complex immediately come to mind when playing the Otis Taylor. A very rich sounding guitar with impressive articulation and note detail, the Otis Taylor Signature makes you want to keep on playing because it is so inspiring. And that’s reason enough to give it an Editors Pick Award.”
In its original form, the Otis Taylor model from Santa Cruz features Sitka Spruce over the great Indian Rosewood. The body style is based off of SCGC’s H Model guitar. There is a 13 fret neck joint and a very distinctive fretless body. When asked about his decision to have no frets over the sound board, Otis is said to have responded with “I don’t ever play up there.” The guitar features a long 25.325” scale, a solid headstock and Gotoh open back tuners. Both the fingerboard and bridge are made of ebony, with the bridge having a unique pyramid design. The neck is listed as “round” but has a very slight V feel to it, feeling a bit more like a half round neck shape. This model also features Ivoroid binding, which are a great compliment to the dark, solid colors of the back and sides. Atop the neck you’ll see the minitature SCGC logo inlaid and the seemingly framed OT logo at the opposite end, which is a nod to Otis Taylor Senior who, as an artist, would include the signature on all of his work. Inside the guitar feature Adirondack braces with hot hide glue for added power and clarity.
As with many Santa Cruz guitars, this model can be ordered with an incredible number of customizations. There are currently 12 body woods to choose from (including African Blackwood, Sycamore and Brazilian Rosewood), 13 top woods (including figured Mahogany, Koa and Old Growth Adirondack), 3 neck woods, 3 bracing options, 13 binding options, 3 bridges, 6 overlays, 8 different finishing choices, and an incredible variety of inlay options. With 7 different tuner choices, the ability to add electronics and some more significant body options (inluding 1929 spec package, left handed configuration or adding a cutaway), Santa Cruz makes it very possible to make this guitar entirely your own.
It’s important to note that even while a guitar like this has thousands of possible configurations, none are done so outside the three key values Richard Hoover, owner and founder of SCGC, maintains with all of his wood: Reclamation, sustainable yield and responsible harvesting. “Downed trees, sunken logs, old tenements, building beams, master carpenter inventories… We find the most resonant, best-sounding wood possible by responsible means. Tonal qualities improve with age due to the resins that crystallize once the wood is removed from a living tree. We use this secret to enable our new guitars to possess a legitimate vintage sound from the start.” Santa Cruz Guitar Company is a true custom guitar shop and any of their customers will testify their craftsmanship. While many components of the guitars are handmade, Hoover himself explains that while he does appreciate the human element required for some of the customization of many of his guitars, there is also a good list of things that a precise instrument will benefit from using a machine with no room for error.
To read more about this Otis Taylor model, please take a look HERE at the listing with Heartbreaker Guitars. Heartbreaker is a proud Santa Cruz Guitar Company dealer in the heart of Las Vegas, Nevada. Their staff would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about this or any other SCGC guitar, so don’t hesitate to use their online chat feature or give them a call!
Heartbreaker Guitars Contributor