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Posted: April 15, 2009

A daughter of a bluesman finds her place in the spotlight

Cassie Taylor opens for Bob Margolin at the Boulder Outlook Hotel on Friday and Saturday

Mike Cote

Boulder musician Cassie Taylor has been a powerful presence in the Otis Taylor Band for several years now, playing bass and sometimes taking the lead vocal spotlight.

Now the 22-year-old is starting to venture out on her own, performing short sets at the Boulder Outlook Hotel’s Blues & Greens restaurant. Catch her at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, when she kicks off a pair of shows that feature former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin and singer Diunna Greenleaf.

While her role in her father’s band has grown, Cassie has been working on her own music. She dubbed an 11-track CD of demos as Daughter of a Bluesman, which represents about half of the songs she’s written. Produced with GarageBand software, the collection of originals and a few covers would be classified as “singer-songwriter” material, Cassie said, but it acknowledges her roots.

“I’m really into old-school blues and also old-school R&B such as Al Green, James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone,” said Cassie, who starting singing at age 8 and playing the bass at 13.

Although rooted in the blues, her songs stretch beyond her father’s signature sound. “That’s the Story,” anchored by a low-register acoustic guitar riff, shows off a more playful, harder-edge persona than the songs she’s recorded with her father.

In the keyboard-based “That’s About Time I Get the Blues,” she chides a lover for not looking her in eye. Cassie’s clearly trying to push her voice in new directions, approaching a style that might appeal to fans of Alicia Keyes or India.Arie.

Otis Taylor didn’t hedge when he announced the arrival of his daughter as his new bass player, opting to use an artful image of her lying on her back, blazing red hair spreading across the pavement, on the cover of 2004’s “Double V.”

Up until then, Taylor’s then-teenage daughter had made only cameo appearances as a background vocalist on his albums. With “Double V,” Cassie Taylor began to make her mark both as an instrumentalist and a singer, taking the lead vocals on the album’s closing track, “Buy Myself Some Freedom,” a song the elder Taylor wrote from the perspective of an African-American girl growing up in the South in the ’60s.

The father and daughter team have toured the U.S. and overseas, spreading the family “trance blues” brand to growing audiences.

Cassie Taylor’s apprenticeship was never intended to last this long; she briefly moved to Chicago from the family’s Boulder home to go to college and study theater. She tried to continue those studies in Colorado but has had trouble balancing the demands of touring with spending enough time on campus.

“My dad showed me this amazing world of blues, but it was like, ‘But you have to go to college,’” Cassie said after the band opened for Al Green at the Denver Botanic Gardens last August. “So I’m trying to do this music thing, which I love, but they really wanted me to go to college. But I’m getting more education and having more opportunities in music. The thing I learned last semester is (college faculty) were not willing to accept the fact that I’d be gone for three weeks and that I was missing class.”

Cassie also sees more creative potential and diversity in music than theater, in which she is dependent upon being “right” for a role.

“Theater is much more rigid. It’s, ‘Who do we want to cast? Who do we need to cast? Who looks the part?’” she said. “In music, it’s free form. If you’re 6 feet tall with a big red ’fro, they’re like, ‘Yeah, we like you!’”

Meanwhile, Cassie continues to work for a demanding boss: “I’m always quitting or getting fired,” she said with a laugh. “That’s just my relationship with Otis. When we’re playing he’s my boss; he’s the bandleader. When we’re off and having dinner, he’s my dad.”

Cassie also has branched out beyond her role with her father’s band, taking on the role of being an ambassador of the blues for the youth audience. She’s now a member of the Blues Foundation Board and promotes its work during concerts.

During the Denver Botanic Gardens show, she noted the presence of young children dancing in front of the stage and thanked the parents for bringing them. She noted that memberships for children in the Blues Foundation are free.

“There are that many blues musicians left. There aren’t that many blues fans left,” Cassie said. “Let’s keep the blues going for the next 100 or 200 years. Just like we’re saving the planet, let’s save the blues.”

Editor’s note: Mike Cote interviewed Boulder musician Cassie Taylor for a feature that appeared in the February/March issue of Blues Revue magazine as part of a salute to the next generation of blues women. The following story was adapted from that article.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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