Sally Taylor goes her own way

Sally Taylor with her mom (Carly Simon)

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 1, 2002) -- Before she had even made her first album, record labels were sniffing around Sally Taylor, smelling an easy marketing opportunity in the daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon.

But rather than succumb to the lures of a big advance and major-label backing, Taylor was utterly turned off by their interest, which obviously had nothing to do with her as an artist and everything to do with her as a commodity to be sold on the basis of her genetic heritage.

“I didn’t want to take part in that,” said Taylor, who performs at Club Helsinki (528-3394) in Great Barrington this Sunday at 9.

While it might seem obvious that Taylor would wind up being a singer-songwriter since her parents are James Taylor and Carly Simon, Taylor says it happened accidentally. She taught herself to play guitar at age 21 while she was attending Brown University, where she majored in medical anthropology.

“I found myself writing music and I found myself in a studio and with a band and I don’t really know how this all happened,” she said. “I think the final commitment to being a musician came when I was offered a gig in California in 1998. The big decision was whether to rent a van or to buy a van, and that was it. I bought it, and now I have to continue because I’m still paying off the van.”

Taylor’s three albums, “Tomboy Bride,” “Apt. 6S” and “Shotgun” – all of which she has released independently on her own Blue Elbow label -- bear little direct resemblance to her parents’ music. “Driving Me Crazy” on “Shotgun” is more like Nirvana than anything her parents ever recorded, and “Justin Tyme” is more like Wilco’s alternative country-rock than her father’s “Country Road.”

Still, Taylor undoubtedly absorbed some of her parents music. “Dvoren” from “Shotgun” is a bit of dark, jazzy soul-pop that wouldn’t have been out of place on one of her mother’s albums from the 1970s, and “Missing Part” is a solo acoustic-guitar and vocal effort not unlike some of dad’s.

“My parents are a great influence on me musically,” she said. “They’ve inspired me to dig really deep into the songs, not just let them come out, but really work on the songs, because they’re such great writers.”

But the greatest lessons Taylor has learned from her parents are how to deal with the music business. “They’ve been influential in helping me to decide not to go with a major label,” she said. “The industry has changed dramatically, and they’ve watched it grow up.

“But being a kid and watching it grow up through them, what can happen once you sign a record deal is you give up the education in order to be a songwriter or performer or a musician. And I feel with the sacrifice of the knowledge of what goes into producing and distributing the end product, you become completely dependent on the people who are robbing you.

“I think that most labels are not set up to nurture or to develop new artists or to do anything except gamble on which band is going to make it. That’s not something I want to support or take part in.”

Les Sampou’s blues

Les Sampou does a wonderful thing on her latest CD, “Borrowed and Blue” (Monando), a collection of originals and vintage country-blues by the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell, Tommy Johnson, Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt, featuring just Sampou’s intimate vocals and her bluesy slide and six-string guitar-playing. In the liner notes, Sampou confesses that she’s no blues scholar, that she doesn’t know Delta from Memphis from Piedmont blues, and that she doesn’t claim to be playing the songs in their original styles.

It’s probably that unselfconscious lack of academic pretense that makes Sampou’s blues sound so natural, whether she’s singing Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” Blind Blake’s “Police Dog Blues,” or “Meet Me in the Morning” by latter-day bluesman Bob Dylan. It’s also probably why you’d be hard put to separate the vintage blues tunes from the half-dozen or so originals that Sampou includes on the album, the follow-up to her eponymous, 1999 singer-songwriter album on Rounder.

Sampou, who calls eastern Massachusetts home, also has recorded albums called “Fall From Grace” and “Sweet Perfume.” She performs on Saturday night at 8 at the Guthrie Center (528-1955) in Housatonic.

Litchfield Jazz

Those itching for a fix of big-name jazz before the two big Berkshire festivals that take place at the end of this month can head down to Goshen, Conn., this weekend, where legendary tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins headlines the seventh-annual Litchfield Jazz Festival on Friday night. The Mingus Big Band tops the bill on Saturday night, and Paquito D’Rivera brings down the curtain on the festival on Sunday night.

Also on the bill over the course of the weekend are vocalist Diane Schuur, jazz harmonica genius Toots Thielemans, Kenny Rankin, Kenny Werner, Danilo Perez and Tom Harrell. For more info call 860-567-4506 or visit

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 1, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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