Monday, April 21, 2008

Tut Taylor and the Tutbro

Tut Taylor, nearly 85, is still full of ideas and energy. This Grammy award winning Dobro player has developed a new resonphonic guitar he’s calling the Tutbro. Irene and I, in town for Merlefest, stopped by his home in N. Wilkesboro on Sunday afternoon to visit with Tut and his lovely wife Lee and to see the latest version of the Tutbro, which we had first seen last fall. A visit with Tut Taylor, while informal and very friendly, is not a casual event. You know that you’re going to hear stories, listen to music, and be in the presence of one of the great innovators in roots music. When Tut was a boy, his brother went off to fight in World War II, leaving a Dobro leaning against the wall with the warning that Tut was not to play it. Almost as soon as his brother left, Tut, not knowing anything about the instrument, picked it up and began to pick it using a flat pick. Since then he’s been known as the flat-picking dobro man. Along the way, Tut has picked with the very best in bluegrass. He played on the ground breaking John Hartford “Steam Powered Aereoplane” album and was on stage at the Ryman Auditorium with Roy Acuff the last time Acuff played “The Wabash Cannonball” there. He’s been instrumental in developing opportunities for young players and continues to be a creative force himself.

Lee Taylor

The Tutbro
Tut has designed a new approach to the resonphonic guitar along with his son David, who is hand building the instruments, and Mark, President of Crafters of Tennessee. The Tutbro is constructed of 5 ply Baltic birch on the top and bottom and has maple sides. The Tutbro’s body is hollow to the headstock, giving it unusual resonance, volume, and sustain. He calls this the “Ampliphonic Sound Chamber.” It has a clear, hand-rubbed lacquer finish and comes with a deluxe gig bag. The Tutbro is priced at $1250.

Crafters of Tennessee Raffle Guitar

When we arrived at their neat little home just outside N. Wilkesboro, Tut greeted us at the door. We chatted about his friends and activities during the last few months. He had recently hosted a concert for the benefit of his granddaughter Melissa who needs a kidney transplant. The concert was a great success with one of the highlights being the raffling of a lovely D-28 style Crafters of Tennessee guitar his son Mark had built. Remarkably, the guitar was won by Norman Blake, well known folk singer and bluegrasser, who donated it back. It will be auctioned on eBay soon. This guitar is both beautiful and has a remarkable tone. Keep your eye out for it, and I’ll post a notice on this blog when it’s listed.

Tut Taylor in his Office/Studio

After a while Tut took us back to his office/studio where he pulled out some video tapes to play for us showcasing the Tutbro’s sound. While not normally thought of as a resonphonic guitar picker, Jens Kruger played, bringing unusual and wonderful sounds from this instrument. Also shown us were tapes of Curtis Burch, formerly guitar player for the New Grass Revival, Jaret Carter of the Circuit Riders, and Norman Blake. Each played with a different style and brought markedly contrasting but equally pleasing sounds from this innovative new version of the resonator guitar. Tut’s preparing a DVD featuring these four players as well as him playing the Tutbro to be provided with any instrument purchased or for sale for $15.00, which will be refunded with the purchase of a Tutbro. Tut’s computer room shows clearly how actively involved he continues to be in staying current with and contributing to the music.

The Tutbro

Every visit with Tut Taylor and Lee is a pleasure. Tut’s warm humor and thoughtful view of the bluegrass world comes through the eyes, ears, and fingers of a man who’s seen it all. He’s known the major figures in the music since the beginning and can spin a tale with the best of them. His recent CD “Shacktown Road,” made with Norman and Nancy Blake, contains wonderful examples of his picking and his story-telling. We left after a couple of hours, knowing we had been privileged to spend a wonderful time with this couple.

For those interested in seeing or hearing the Tutbro or meeting Tut Taylor, he will be hosting the Wilkes Folk Society Pickin’ Place tents during the three days prior to the opening of Merlefest and throughout the event. He will also be at the Dobro Workshop on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM in the Mayes Pit along with several other noted resophonic guitar players. People wanting more information about the Tutbro can contact Tut at Tut Taylor Music, 808 Old 60, Wilkesboro, NC 28697.