by Juli Thanki, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tut Taylor, "The Flatpickin' Dobro Man" who played on John Hartford's groundbreaking LP "Aereo-Plain" and helped open Nashville bluegrass hot spot The Old Time Pickin' Parlor in the early 1970s, died Thursday morning at the Wilkes Regional Medical Center in North Carolina. He was 91.
Robert Arthur Taylor, Sr. was born in Milledgeville, Ga., on Nov. 20, 1923. His parents reportedly paid the woman who delivered him in collard greens. He grew up in a musical family, and as a child he played the mandolin. He started learning how to play the Dobro in his early teens after hearing Bashful Brother Oswald play the instrument on the radio.
Unlike other Dobro players, who use fingerpicks, Mr. Taylor used a flatpick.
"He did everything different," said longtime friend and Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas. "He held the bar in an unorthodox way and he used a flatpick, but he was a guy who could keep up (with other musicians). He could play all the rolls that three-fingered players would do, but with a flatpick."
Mr. Taylor would play recreationally through the late 1950s; his first professional recording gig was playing the Dobro on Porter Wagoner's 1964 album "Bluegrass Story." In the '60s, Mr. Taylor would play with The Folkswingers, a band that included Glen Campbell and members of The Dillards, and The Dixie Gentlemen.
When Mr. Taylor relocated to Nashville in the late 1960s, he, Randy Wood and George Gruhn opened the instrument shop GTR, a predecessor to Gruhn Guitars.
Later, Mr. Taylor, Wood and Grant Boatwright would open The Old Time Pickin' Parlor, which became a hotspot for bluegrass musicians from 1971-77. Guests such as Sam Bush, Clarence White, John Hartford and Bob Dylan would drop by, jam and listen to music. (An attempt by Mr. Taylor and his family to revive the Pickin' Parlor in the early 2000s was unsuccessful; the venue closed in 2002.)
Along with Norman Blake, Vassar Clements and Randy Scruggs, Mr. Taylor backed Hartford on his iconic 1971 album "Aereo-Plain," which influenced countless progressive bluegrass musicians. As Douglas wrote in the liner notes of the 2010 Tut Taylor tribute album "Southern Filibuster," the "playful and irreverent" songs Hartford and the Aereo-Plain band delivered on that album "defined an era, taking the acoustic community by storm."
"When I think of Tut, I think of that John Hartford song 'Vamp in the Middle,'" explains Dobro player Rob Ickes. "There were some great Dobro fills that had this country-blues sound. I think that was the innate sound Tut had in his soul."
Mr. Taylor would go on to produce albums by Bashful Brother Oswald, Norman Blake and Mark O'Connor. In 1994, Mr. Taylor and Douglas co-produced "The Great Dobro Sessions," an album that included a top-notch lineup of Dobro players. It would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album.
Over the course of his career, Mr. Taylor would also release several albums under his own name, including his 1964 debut "12 String Dobro" and 1972's "Friar Tut," which landed him in the Dobro Players' Hall of Fame.
Ickes mentioned that he and a number of other Dobro players had recently contributed to a new album of hymns that Mr. Taylor was hoping to release this year. Son Mark Taylor says he plans to release that album — titled "Oconee," after the Oconee River his father grew up near — as a tribute to his father and best friend.
Mr. Taylor was a regular at the annual North Carolina roots music festival MerleFest. He was slated to perform at this year's festival, which begins in two weeks. Said Douglas, "Tut was an institution at MerleFest. Everybody loved him. He'll really be missed."
Mr. Taylor is survived by four sons, three daughters, 16 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
Reach Juli Thanki at 615-259-8091 and on Twitter @JuliThanki
Tut Taylor with Roland & Clarence White - The Kentucky Colonels
Tut Taylor and Friends: "Billy's Boogie Woogie" at Merlefest 2013