Gary James' Interview With Taylor Pie Of
The Pozo Seco Singers
In the early 1960s when Folk music really came into its own, there was this group. Named The Pozo-Seco Singers, they enjoyed success with a song called "Time", which went to number one on Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston radio stations. And then there was "Look What You've Done". Susan Taylor, now known as Taylor Pie, spoke with us about life as a Pozo Seco singer and what she's doing today.
Q - Well now, Susan Taylor is a nice name. Why did you decide to use Taylor Pie?
A - There's a lot to say about choosing a name that's the right one. It's worked for me really well. I was Susan Taylor for a long time. It should've dawned on me right in the beginning. I just didn't think about it. I graduated high school with two other Susan Taylors.
Q - Taylor Pie sounds like a hippie name.
A - Well, hey, I just got a part; I was in a video. A guy wrote me and said, "Hey Pie, will you come and be like a really cool, old hippie in this Christian film we're doing?" I said, "Sure, man! I'm into it!" They love my John Lennon glasses. Like, nice touch. Hey, I was there. (laughs) It works.
Q - Do you, in the course of your time on stage these days, tell people that you used to be part of The Pozo Seco Singers and your name was Susan Taylor then?
A - It does, but usually it's because someone comes to the show and says, "I know you from..." It happens a lot these days for some reason. When I first started out as Taylor Pie it didn't happen so much. But now, for some reason, let's say in the last decade or so, it seems like many more people are coming up and saying, "Hey, I knew you when you were Susan Taylor."
Q - Are you advertised as formerly Susan Taylor of The Pozo Seco Singers?
A - No. I never advertise. Once I changed my name I said, you know it's like I'm a person who believes that the good thing about life is that every day we can get up and re-invent ourselves if we so choose.
Q - Did you legally change your name to Taylor Pie?
A - Well, in the form of entertainment, once you've taken a name and it becomes your professional name, it takes the place of having to go get your name changed. It just means all of my Social Security and anything the government knows, but they also know my pseudonym because I haven't hidden it, but everything comes to me still as initial K, initial S Taylor. My driver's licence in Tennessee is K.S. Taylor Pie and all my credit cards are Taylor Pie. So, once you create an identity as a performer it just sort of happens that way. But it's been over thirty years now. I don't know who told me, but Liberace's name isn't Liberace. It's just common knowledge. Performers change their names all the time and that becomes what's listed as your professional name and then you don't have to change your legal name. That stays the same. You just put that as another thing you're known by, a.k.a. (also known as).
Q - You've been touring Texas. Do you work with a band?
A - I haven't had a band since New York City. I moved to New York in about '72, late '72 after I did an album on JMI Records and after I co-produced the first five cuts that Don (Williams) did. In fact, I was the reason he came up and got a shot with Jack Clement. He called me from Texas. He moved back there with the kids and was doing some work with his father-in-law and was having problems with his back. It was a furniture business. He called me and said, "I can't keep doing this." At that time I'd met Allen (Reynolds) (record producer). I was working with Jack and just fooling around in the studio and starting to write songs and get serious about that, which has really become my love as Taylor Pie. So, I moved to New York at the end of that time with them because I knew that I wasn't gonna be able to be in the Nashville market and stay there as who I am as a person and a performer because it was very evident that female artists in Nashville had to be more like Tammy (Wynette) or Loretta (Lynn). You know what I'm saying. It was another kind of thing. So, I moved to New York for awhile. That was really good. That's when I met Bette (Midler) and she did my song on Broadway. I wrote "Round And Round The Bottle" and Tanya Tucker cut it. It was gonna be her next single on her record she was doing out in California when she started hanging out with Glen Campbell and decided she didn't want to be Country anymore. So, even though it got opted for the next one, which was a little more Pop-ish. She was one of those artists like Crystal (Gayle) that went to California and no longer wanted to be a Country artist. It used to be kind of a dirty name to called "Country."
Q - I remember the time Tanya Tucker adopted or adapted a Rock look.
A - Well, you know it didn't work that well for her. It was a shame because she so killed that song. I thought, man, that's really gonna be such a big hit for her. It felt like it was about her life. When I heard her sing it I said, "Man, you made that your song." There's something really special when an artist takes your song and it becomes theirs. It's a beautiful thing. Dickey Lee is a friend of mine. He wrote that song, "She Thinks I Still Care". Dickey cut that and his big hit was "Patches". Dickey and I were sitting around one day and I said, "C'mon Dickey, tell me, that song you wrote that George (Jones) did, isn't that your biggest copyright?" He said, "Yeah, it kind of is, pal. One of my biggest ones I ever had. You're right. But what was really funny is when I wrote it, I wrote it like this." He started playing it for me and it was more like a folky Pop kind of thing, a teenage song. He said, "George just took it and bam! Cut it in just this kick-ass Country thing. He made it his song." That was magical.
Q - You started out in college playing Hootenannies. That's a word we seldom hear anymore. Do they advertise Hootenannies?
A - Actually, it was high school. I started playing guitar and singing and being on stage when I was ten years old in Tulsa, Oklahoma with Dick Gordon. I moved to Texas when I was fifteen. I had already been on the Sun Up Show in Tulsa and done a whole lot of other things. When I moved down to Corpus Christi, that's when Folk music was sort of at its peak. That was '62, '63. Something like that. I was learning all the songs off (Joan) Baez's album and Dylan. So, when we had Hootenannies in the area I would go and try out. I would end up being one of the guys who would close the show because they just didn't have that many people who knew all those songs. I'd been playing so long that I had learned all that stuff. So, it was in a high school kind of way that I got into Folk music and I was so smitten with it that I was one of the founding people of the Folk Music Society in Corpus. I was like fifteen, working with people twice my age, learning licks, learning old songs. When I met Donny and Lofton (Kline), I just thought these guys were so great and asked them if they would like to sing together sometime and practice. That's kind of how we started out. Then a friend I'd been in a Folk group with the year before had written a song, "Time". When he came home from college, I was a senior high school and he played this for me. I played it for the guys and they originally said, "You can't really dance to it." "I don't know guys, I think this song is really special. So, we put it on the B-side of our little record out of Ingleside, Texas called Edmark Records and that's the record that was taken by Columbia and released as our first single.
Q - Hootenannies and Folk music seem to go hand-in-hand. If we no longer have Hootenannies, do we still have Folk music?
A - Absolutely. I think the International Folk Alliance is probably stronger now than it's ever been. There's so many factions of Folk music festivals now. A lot of the artists you hear are part of the Folk Alliance Club or group or however you want to put it. For me, I just think Folk has always been the things that now are commercial music. When I started out in music there weren't all these categories. When you turned on the radio what you heard on the radio was everything from Perry Como to Elvis to Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash, R&B, Flat Top, Rock Top, what not. We hadn't so merchandised everything which has I think hurt music in a lot of ways because you've compartmentalized it to the extent that now there's not that wonderful ability to make it truly popular music. If everyone could hear it and choose it, it would truly be popular music, but it's no longer that way. It's an aimed audience kind of media. That's not really what music is all about. That's a true "Folkie". We're about the popular idea of it, that everyone would like your music if they had the chance (to listen to it). So, is Folk music dead? No. It's out there, alive and well. Mainly I think the guys that are keeping it up, living, are the guys who are sitting on stages and playing instruments and singing a cappella or like acoustically and not dependent on electronics to make their sound. That's songwriter performers. That's what I call myself these days because we just do it like that's "Folkie". That's popular. That means you can play an instrument. You can sing and you can perform in a chair in a living room and entertain someone.
Q - On September fifth of this year (2015) you were inducted into the National Traditional Country Music Association Hall Of Fame. I noticed that word traditional. Today's Country music seems awfully close to early Rock 'n' Roll. Do you agree?
A - It's almost like they took tracks from those old days and re-wrote lyrics and melodies to 'em. I would totally agree. It's kind of where it's at. I'm not putting it down. What they were looking for was to bring a younger market of people in and they've succeeded, but in the interim they've done something which is always unforgivable. I remember Dickey Lee told me this, because he started out kind of Folksy and so did Reynolds, his pal, Allen Reynolds, producer and songwriter who wrote "Five O'Clock World" and producer of Garth Brooks. He's just old friends forever. Just a wonderful person. It's just the heart and soul of it and the feel of it was to honor always our history. That is Folk music. So, in National Traditional Country Music what Bob Everheart, who runs that little festival and Hall Of Fame up there in Iowa has done over the last four years is to say, "Hey! The root is what we're talking about really." But Folk music is about Country music, traditional, that we remember was started. It's about Gospel in this country. It's about Bluegrass, the Appellation feel of instruments and Folk. All of those are national traditional Country as far as he's concerned in this country. I kind of like that. I think he's right. That's kind of how I feel. Of course I would include Blues, and he hasn't done that yet. I would say Blues is definitely one of our roots from American music.
Q - When I watch the CMA (Country Music Association) Awards, I've noticed that the women seem to be wearing less. So the fashion has changed.
A - Hey Gary, doesn't that seem to just be prevalent in all forms of marketing and media right now? Let's undress the girls. Well, the guys too. Hey, let's take his shirt off. Oil him up a little bit there. Be sure all that hair is off his chest. My God, you can't have hair on your body. It won't look cool. It's weird. I try not to be an old Folkie fart. (laughs) I don't want to be an old fogie. I'm always looking for new music. I hear it out there in my little circles with people who do concerts and still go around sort of perpetuating songs that have messages and stories and meanings that aren't all about tailgates and beer and hey baby, I want to get crazy with you. We had that. I remind myself. We had Doo Wop. We had "Earth Angel" and some stuff that was like that.
Q - One of your favorite singers was Elvis. Did you ever cross paths with Elvis?
A - Oh, how I would have loved to have met Elvis Presley. No, never had that opportunity. I only got as close as a fellow named Lamar Fink, that I met one time. People kept saying to me, "So, you don't know Lamar?" And I'd go, "Oh, no. I just met him. He's a very nice fella." They'd all laugh and snicker. Finally somebody tole me about three hours later he was like one of Elvis' inner circle, you know, the guys that hung around him. I went, "Oh man, he never mentioned it." Yeah, he never tells people. We just kind of laughed because he actually does care if people know, but he won't tell them. (laughs) That's the closest I ever got to Elvis.
Q - Pozo Seco Singers sounds like the name of a '60s band. Is it actually an oil field term for a dry well? Is that true?
A - It is. I was dating a guy who was going to Del-Mar College when I was still in high school and that's how I did the Hootenannies at Del-Mar where I met Donny and Lofton. He organized those. He was like a member of Circle K. He was also working to be a geologist I think. He made the suggestion to me one time when we were looking for a name. He said, "You oughta call yourselves the Pozo Secos." I went, "What's that?" But I kind of liked the way it sounded. He said, "When we're doing these geological maps of offshore maps off the coast of Corpus on the Gulf, it's just when you come up with a dry well, you put a little P.S. next to it, which means Pozo Seco." The next time we got together for rehearsal I said, "What do you guys think about calling ourselves the Pozo Seco Singers?" But it kind of stuck. I don't know. It stuck.
Q - It's a great name!
A - Well, thanks!
Q - It is different.
A - Well, that's unforgettable.
Q - If you hadn't dated that guy, who knows what the name of the band would have been?
A - You know, that's true Gary. Next time we talk, remind me to tell you the story of seeing this fellow thirty years later. (laughs) All the heartbreak I felt when it didn't work out, totally was like, "Thank you universe. You do know best."
Q - You had Albert Grossman as your manager. He was one of the heavyweights in the business. He had Peter, Paul And Mary, Bob Dylan, The Band, Janis Joplin.
A - For us, being in the Folk era, Albert had all of the Folk greats. He had Odetta. He had Ian And Sylvia. He had Gordon Lightfoot. He had all the Canadian contingencies that were the main Pop. Think of Gordon. My gosh. He had them all. Richie Havens. Then he had the American Flag band. He had The Paupers out of Canada. It went on and on. He managed The Band when they started up. He knew all those guys 'cause Dylan was involved with 'em. Then when Janis came along, he signed her up immediately and then he moved into that. That was when things started to change for groups like us 'cause we were more on the Folk edge of the Pop, versus being Rock. We were probably never going to be Rock.
Q - Did he have help in that office of his? He couldn't possibly manage all those artists himself.
A - It was a huge office. 75 East 55th Street. I'll never forget it. I still have it on one of my guitar cases. Pozo Seco Productions. 75 East 55 Street. That was his office.
Q - He had assistants didn't he?
A - He had a couple of them. I was trying to remember one fellow's name. I remember his first name was Sam and I loved Sam. Sam retired at some point. For a long time Albert was sort of like the President of everything.
Q - What kind of a guy was he? What was his personality like?
A - He was a good listener. Even if he did look a little like Ben Franklin.
Q - He wasn't like a Colonel Tom Parker then?
A - Oh, no. He didn't have an over-bearing personality. I could see him get agitated sometimes and start pacing. He'd kind of lean down and say something. But most of the time he would lean back and sort of tap his fingers on the top of his other hand in front of him. Like an absent kind of professor kind of approach. Interesting guy. He said something to me once which I never forgot. When everybody was doing the Pepsi commercials, we were looking for a way to get the group's name out there a little more. We'd done The Joey Bishop Show, The Pat Boone Show. We'd done some national television. We could see things were changing. We felt maybe if more people knew about us, we could get more press. We said "What about doing one of those things?" I remember Albert kind of sat back in his desk and leaned back at all of us and said, "Do you drink Pepsi?" I don't remember what the product was. Basically he said, "Do you use this product?" "Oh, no. Not really. I don't like it." He just said, "You're right." I never forgot that. I thought that was really interesting. I liked that about Albert, that part of his integrity. Be who you are as far as an artist. You just don't have to go sell yourself. That's an old thing. I don't know how he would've been in the world today.
Q - Did he keep you on the road non-stop for five years?
A - Oh, no, no, no, no. Don had a family. Interestingly enough, when we left Texas, Albert came down and signed us in Corpus. He listened to us sing and said, "Okay. Great." Bob Johnson from Columbia told Albert he needed to sign us. I'm not really sure what that whole trade-off thing was. I've learned since then that people make deals behind your back that you many never know about. If you can understand what I mean. I don't know what that was all about.
Q - Even after all these years.
A - Even after all these years, especially since Bob Johnson died this year (2015) and I don't think Bob would ever tell. So yeah, there's things I don't really know about, but one thing I've learned is that people can make deals, people who are big, who control your life and maybe that's why I never wanted to be with another big record company. I like being an independent and I like kind of just being able to follow my own path versus the one that other people have in mind for you.
Q - You and Don Williams left Columbia Records in the Fall of 1969 because they didn't promote your records. Was Albert Grossman managing you at that time? Couldn't he have done something for you?
A - You know, I think Albert was starting to drop the ball with us because he had moved into the San Francisco group of musicians and people in The Band. So everything was becoming more Pop or Folk / Rock or just out and out Bluesy Rock 'n' Roll like Big Brother. We had a contract so he didn't drop us. I mean, we finally asked Albert to be released because what happens when you're no longer having hit records is they just sort of brush you under or ignore you.
Q - When there's a change in staff at the record company, the new boss comes in with his own favorites. If you're not on the favorite list, you're gone.
A - There you have it.
Q - At least that's the way it used to be when there were actual record companies. Today, those companies probably survive on their catalog.
A - Well, not only that, but they are so wicked these days Gary. I've talked to guys in Nashville, some of the younger artists that I've written with and worked with, who told me they want to get a big deal. I go, "Why, man? As an independent you'll make a really good living. Do you care if you're a legend or do you just do it because you love it? Decide, do you want to be this legend, this famous person, or do you want to do what you love to do, your music, and have it heard and become a working musician." It's really possible nowadays on a much grander scale than it was when I started. Vinyl records, we could have afforded to make vinyl records. Most independents nowadays can make a real class act product doing what you do and put it out to the public and find your audience and gather your fans.
Q - Big record companies still have the distribution and promotion.
A - Well, they buy the time. I mean, that's where it's at. Payola has been back for some time. But the problem is the deals they make with young artists to do this, they no longer develop an artist. They don't put any time in. It used to be you'd make an album and if you had one single off it they'd make a second album with you. Nowadays they want a person to come in that either has money or backing already like Taylor Swift. She already had money behind her. Her family had money to support her.
Q - Really?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Someone told me she's related to the Swift Trucking Company. Is that true?
A - I wouldn't doubt it. Like Carly Simon also. Simon and Schuster Publishing, not that Carly isn't amazingly talented.
Q - And record companies want your publishing and merchandising today along with the rights to your masters.
A - It's forever. It's like you can never own your stuff again. That makes me have like a hard time breathing to even think of. People would consider that? I can't believe they're not standing up and saying "No!" I've been working on this song swarm thing that I'm really excited about. As a "folkie", it ain't about the money. I'm passing on this idea. When you asked me if I had a band, no. I've had bands. They're a pain in the ass. Such drama. They look at you because you've had some success, it doesn't matter how long ago, I have to do everything. I'm going "Whoa! I'm not doing this anymore." I've got really talented songwriter / performer friends, some of whom are great backup people besides being great performers and I said to a couple of 'em in Texas and a couple of years ago, "Hey, let's do something and call it a Song Swarm. We all write songs. You guys are great backup guys." I'm bold enough to sit up there and try to sing a little back up. I play some harmonica. I play the shaker. I'm a percussionist. Let's go do something called a Song Swarm where the three of us sit there and instead of swapping songs, we swarm each other's songs, which means you can play anything you want to. We don't have to know it. We have no rehearsal, but we're willing every time someone plays a song, we all play together on it no matter what. If you don't play something, you're not swarming. It's been incredible. I've made more money selling CDs to audiences in the Song Swarm with two other songwriter / performers such as myself who are just out doing what we do in the world and we're using all of our fan base together to bring people in and we all sell more albums.
Q - It's like improv then?
A - Yeah. It's like musical improve. A new way of looking at it. It's not so staged. It's always different. It's never the same show twice, even if you're playing with the same guys, even if you're doing three or four swarms in a row over a two week period and you've heard the song a couple of times, it's still gonna be different every night 'cause you don't know it that well yet. You're not trying to remember it. You're trying to be there just to be present in the moment and let me make your song sound as good as I can. Nobody can get mad at you if you blow their song. They have to love you for it and that's a beautiful thing. I'm telling you, audiences eat it up when they see it.
Q - You moved to Nashville at one point and you had songs you'd written recorded by Bette Midler and Tanya Tucker, Mickey Gilley and then you got fed up with Nashville. But you had success in Nashville. Why would you get fed up with Nashville?
A - Actually I wrote those songs after I left Nashville. I left Nashville 'cause as an artist if I wanted to be an artist I was still thinking of myself as a performing artist in a national way, wanting to get a big record deal. I wanted to sign with a big publishing company. It was a different world. They didn't make the same agreements. I felt like what I was writing and the music I wanted to produce, I felt stymied a little bit in Nashville. In order to write and become a songwriter 'cause we weren't really encouraged in those days to become writers. They liked for us to just become artists so the record company could have its brand of publishing company. So, they would own part of the publishing there 'cause they didn't own it from the artist. So it was a different kind of scene. So, I went to New York because I always loved New York when I was there with the Pozos and Albert. I wanted to go back and have a chance to live there. I'm really glad I did because I learned a whole bunch of new chords for music and a whole new way of expressing myself. I did get a band together called Susan Taylor And The City Country Band in the late '70s. We played Folk City, the Bottom Line. It was cool.
Q - Did you ever cross paths with other Pop / Rock stars of the day?
A - Let me tell you, it was so changing over at that point. William Morris booked us. Albert got us with William Morris. William Morris was this huge booking agency and they didn't always pay attention to what kind of act you were. In Philadelphia they put us on like a Rock show. The people we opened for; when it was our turn on stage we came on, three Folk singers, one little microphone with four little holes punched in the front of it trying to hold up our guitars around it and sing "Time". The next group to follow us was The Four Seasons. It was all we could do to get through one song with the crowd going, "Get off the stage." Same thing happened in Ravinia Park, Chicago. Who did we open for there? Nancy Wilson. Excuse me? Not in any way I'm a racist, because I'm not a racist, but I'm looking out in the audience in the '60s and thinking I don't see any white faces. Do these people even know our songs? Boo, Nancy, Nancy. We hardly got through.
Q - Since you were managed by Albert Grossman, who also managed Janis Joplin, did you meet Janis Joplin?
A - I met Janis. Janis I met because of someone who was working with her in photography. When she first signed with Albert, she came to New York to do some photo shots. A woman who was working with Daniel Kramer, who I guess is famous for his shots of Dylan, Daniel's wife was a friend of mine. She called me up and said, "You're in town looking for songs, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah. I've been going around to publishers, hanging out with friends and being whacky." She said, "Albert has just signed this woman named Janis Joplin. She's in from San Francisco. She's from Texas and she doesn't know anybody in town so I thought you guys oughta meet." I said, "Really?" She said, "Yeah." I'd been up all night with friends drinking beer and being silly. I said, "Okay." I tried to sleep most of the afternoon. When I got up I still felt like a should've slept. I put my sunglasses on and it was already dark. I was standing in front of the restaurant and the cab door opens and Janis get out and my friend gets out and introduces us. I said, "Hey, how you doing?" She looks at me and said, "Oh man, like what are you on?" I said, "I'm not on anything except no sleep and too much beer last night with some buddies." She said, "I can see your shades." I said, "You know how you are when you drink too much beer the night before and you don't get enough sleep, so my eyes feel like they might be bleeding." Then we went inside to have dinner and basically the whole evening's meal revolved around the discussion of drugs. At that point in my life, I was ten years younger than Don Williams, (Pozo Seco member) and about six or seven years younger than Lofton (Pozo Seco member) was. I didn't even know what a marijuana cigarette was. I'm glad that anything like that was introduced to me when I was over twenty-one. Thank you! But I felt it when I went back home and I went to sleep and I woke up the next morning and my phone was ringing and she said, "You know Pie, I don't know about you and Janis." I said, "Well, I do. I don't dis-like her. She's a fun person, but I'm scared of her." It's just not the way I want to go.
Q - It's too bad she didn't discuss music with you.
A - Exactly. The whole evening, no matter how I tried to turn, it was "Well, what do you think, my brother is smoking some bad shit down in Texas. You think I should send him some good stuff?" I said, "Man, I don't know." I'm thinking about my little brother. If I smoked dope, would I send it to my little brother? I don't think so. (laughs) It was really weird Gary. But I really liked Janis. I simply always felt that she was on a road, even when I first me her, that was gonna do her in. And I was so sad because I did meet her and I had that feeling inside. Part of me thought why didn't you reach your hand out? I thought because I could tell it wouldn't have done me any good. People are only ready to hear something when they're ready to hear it. They aren't ready when you want to tell them.