Otis Taylor is not only not afraid of the dark, he almost covets it. Craves it. So much that it ends in what he calls "trance blues," which sounds a lot like an out-of-body experience that didn't go so well.
His mother dealt drugs, so he wrote "Mama's Selling Heroin."
"My uncle, my mother's brother, was killed during a card game in Chicago before I was born," he tells me.
So I'm guessing that's why most of his albums contain a few songs about murder.
"And my great-grandfather was lynched-normal for a black family."
Or that might be why.
"You do what you do best," says the man who won the W.C. Handy Award, the blues' version of the Grammy. He won the award for his album White African, which was largely about his hung grandpa. I ask him if there were ghosts in the room when he recorded it.
"When my mother told me about my great-grandfather, I knew I had to write a song about it," he says. "As for ghosts, they're everywhere. There's probably ghosts where you are sitting right now."
Taylor grew up in Chicago, where saying you played the blues was like saying you made cars in Detroit. Only, he wasn't really hooked by the blues. His father was a jazz cat, into be-bop. But Otis himself was fascinated by the music at a folk-music historical library where he lived.
I, stupidly, ask him (actual transcription): "What got you interested in folk music-that's boring shit for white people with long hair, ain't it?"
His reply: "For the record, blues is folk music-music of the working class. I used to go to the Denver Folklore Center; that's where I first heard Mississippi John Hurt. I don't think he had long hair."
At this point, Otis Taylor officially thinks I'm an idiot. And I don't disagree. I love his music. I didn't want it to end up this way. But it has.
I figure I'll engage him in the age-old argument that Europeans appreciate the blues more than Americans.
"I think that's a misconception," he says.
But then he clarifies: "Americans love the blues, but there's just less of them who do. In Europe, there's a more natural tendency to be curious and embrace other cultures because there's more history there. Think about it, when the U.S. was fighting the American Indians-the Danish, the Russians and the Germans were collecting American Indian art."
He's right, I think, as I look at the Native American "dream-catcher" on my friend's wall. It's worth approximately a dollar and a half, by the way. Too little, too late.
Otis Taylor plays with Etta James at Humphrey's on Sept. 30. $15. 619-220-8497.