- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

If you're like most people, when you gamble, it costs you the money you made at work. When Chip Taylor went back to work as a musician, it cost him the money he made gambling. That's one way in which Mr. Taylor, considered by many to be a pioneer for alt-country music, is not like most people. There are others
Mr. Taylor's songs are very well known. Mr. Taylor's brother is very well known. Yet Mr. Taylor himself has managed to remain pretty obscure.
Now partnered with singing fiddler Carrie Rodriguez, he finally may be getting a bit of the recognition his work and unusual biography would seem to demand. The duo's CD, "Let's Leave This Town," released in September, reached No. 3 on the Americana Radio Chart. One song from the recording, "Sweet Tequila Blues," hit No. 1 on Europe's Top 30 Indie Chart, and the title track is hovering in Europe's Top 5.
The two, who are playing almost exclusively in Texas venues this month and next, are journeying to the Barns of Wolf Trap tomorrow to open for Alejandro Escovedo.
The top of the music charts is not unknown territory for Chip Taylor. While writing for CBS Blackwood Publishing, a young Mr. Taylor wrote "Wild Thing," the No. 1 hit for the Troggs in 1966. Part of the lexicon of garage bands spanning two generations, the song prompted parodies in the '60s and was the theme for Charlie Sheen in "Major League" in 1988.
Mr. Taylor, who was born James Wesley Voight and grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., published songs under his pen name several years before his brother, Jon Voight, soared to acting fame in "Midnight Cowboy." A third brother, Barry Voight, is a renowned professor of geology who specializes in volcanic eruptions. Mr. Taylor says all three brothers are "close."
Mr. Taylor was writing and playing mostly country songs when he wrote and recorded a demo of "Wild Thing," but that particular afternoon, he just decided to delve into a little rock 'n' roll.
"You never know with songs," Mr. Taylor says. "All of a sudden, I was a rock 'n' roll writer."
His duet partner wasn't even born when "Wild Thing" was playing on AM radios everywhere. Mr. Taylor heard Miss Rodriguez play fiddle at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin Texas, in 2001 and immediately asked her to join him for some Texas-area appearances.
The two toured Europe a couple of months later, and somewhere in Holland, he coaxed her into singing with him. Audiences went wild over their voices together, and Mr. Taylor was inspired. He wrote more songs to capitalize on the new sound, and soon, what had started out as a diversion in their shows became their mainstay.
"We're from different generations," says Miss Rodriguez, who studied violin at Oberlin Conservatory and the Berklee School of Music, "but musically, there's a lot I can learn from Chip, his having been in the business so long."
Mr. Taylor wrote "Angel of the Morning," which charted for Merilee Rush and Juice Newton. In 2001, Shaggy's version of the song hit No. 1, which earned Mr. Taylor the distinction of having the longest span between No. 1 hits in the history of recorded music. He also wrote "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)," which became a signature song for Janis Joplin, and a Hollies hit, "I Can't Let Go," which was revived by Linda Ronstadt in the 1970s.
He made records in the '70s with Warner Bros., Buddah, Columbia and Capitol but "ended up fighting with the record companies because I wanted to do things my own way."
After six albums, the man whose 1973 "Last Chance" album was hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the year's best gave up playing music for more than a decade.
"Ever since I got into the music business, I had kind of an alternative career, a hobby back then, as a gambler," he says. He was, as he terms it, "a card counter" successful enough that he was banned from all the major casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., and some in Las Vegas and Europe.
Mr. Taylor got a partner and wound up betting on horses. "We worked very, very hard, and we were very good at it," he says. He made a profit gambling every year during the 1980s, which augmented his income from royalties.
When his mother became ill in 1995, Mr. Taylor decided one day to bring his guitar to play for her to cheer her up. It rekindled his passion for music.
"That night, I wrote one [song]," he says. "The next night, I wrote one. Before you knew it, I was singing for my ex-wife and kids."
He gave up gambling "coming back to music was costly for me" and started recording again. Starting his own label and producing five CDs since 1996, Mr. Taylor was building a reputation as a singer-songwriter. Artists including John Prine, Guy Clark and Lucinda Williams performed guest spots on his recordings.
Along came Miss Rodriguez, who took up violin at age 5. After graduating magna cum laude from Berklee, Miss Rodriguez recorded a track on Patty Griffin's "1,000 Kisses." She was playing with the alt-country group Hayseed when Mr. Taylor stopped in for a listen.
Now the two are working on material for a second duet recording. Mr. Taylor has written some new tunes, and the two have co-written their first song together for the planned CD.
"The inspiration is so strong," Mr. Taylor says. "You go in these wonderful spurts, and that's where we're at now. It's more inspiring than gambling."


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