I´m attending a show with an artist whose songs has been covered and sung by both Nina Simone and Waylon Jennings, by Emmylou Harris and Jimi Hendrix, by Dusty Springfield and Shaggy, by Hollies and Janis Joplin. And by Paal Flaata, the melancholy baby sharing the stage with Chip Taylor this warm night in Oslo. It´s Bob Dylan´s birthday, and a fitting day to salute another great singer/songwriter, born James Wesley Voight – known as Chip Taylor. A very good friend of Norway, and with many good friends in a growing following through the years since his first show in Oslo – a cold, wintry night in 2000. A night I never will forget. More about that later.
Tonight is an acoustic evening, just Chip, Paal and the great talent of Gøran Grini, playing keyboard. It´s a perfect setup, and the nakedness of both the songs and the souls of the singers shines bright all through the evening. There is nothing as sweet as naked emotions. Both Paal and Chip are showing us theirs. Just listen to the incredibly tender version of the incredibly beautiful “Angel of the Morning”.
“There’ll be no strings to bind your hands
Not if my love can’t bind your heart
And there’s no need to take a stand
For it was I who chose to start
I see no need to take me home
I’m old enough to face the dawn”
Chip has played and duetted with lots of people, including the great Guy Clark and queen Lucinda Williams. Nevertheless, tonight the match with Paal Flaata is perfect. If there is a heaven, it must have been made there. There is great mutual respect between the two of them – Chip obviously admires the performing artist, Flaata the great songwriter, and, as it seems, they´re friends. Paal Flaata also made a whole album of Chip´s songs a few years ago, “Wait By The Fire – The Songs of Chip Taylor”.
Flaata´s last album is “Love And Rain” from 2017, and we also got a couple of songs from this, notably a beautiful version of Jimmy Webb´s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, first recorded by Joe Cocker. In Norway everybody will be aware of the song through Radka Toneff´s definitive version. Tonight, it´s Paal Flaata´s version that moves us, using all his abilities to channel the qualities as we know them from Elvis Presley, Gene Clark and Roy Orbison. In my opinion the marinade of lived life gives Flaata´s voice of today a golden patina that moves me more than ever.
Chip Taylor started early, and made his first singles in 1958 and 1959. In the sixties he wrote a string of classic songs, as mentioned before, brought to market by some of the greatest voices of the sixties. Troggs and Jimi Hendrix made unforgettable versions of “Wild Thing“, Janis of “Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)“, Hollies of “I Can´t Let Go“. Evie Sands made a fine version of “Angel of the Morning”, but in my opinion it was Nina Simone that really made the song immortal. It always bring me to tears.
Chip´s own breakthrough as an album artist came in the early seventies with the great album “Chip Taylor´s Last Chance” (1973). A classic country album, whatever the chart positions tells you. Just listen to the fabulous “(I Want The) Real Thing” which makes the perfect prologue to the first face of Chip´s outlaw country career.
This night in Oslo, Chip and Paal hints back to this song, by playing the Charlie Feathers-song made classic by Elvis Presley, “I Forgot To Remember To Forget”, that´s referenced in “Real Thing”.
The simple twists of fate are many, and for Chip they brought him through many years as a professional gambler. The years gave him lots of experience from life´s other side and encounters with men with broken hearts, and the years certainly served as fuel and inspiration for the great career that was restarted in the early nineties, when Chip brought his guitar back home, and started singing by his mother´s bedside. One thing led to another, and Chip started releasing albums again, “Hit Man” in 1996, with Chip´s own version of his most classic songs, the fabulous “Living Room Tapes” in 1997, the first beautiful glimpse of new songs.
And then, in 1999, he released the masterpiece, “Seven Days in May”, revitalizing my own relation to Chip´s music. I played the album over and over again, soaked as it was in love and lost love, troubled love. The eternal themes. It still is one of my absolute favorite albums. Sadly this transcendent classic of an album is not available at Spotify. Too bad, but you can get it on iTunes/Apple Mucic – and you really should! Luckily you also can listen to one of the duet´s with Lucinda Williams here.
In fall 1999 I was overwhelmed by the advertising in a norwegian newspaper that told me Chip Taylor would come to town. I bought my ticket at once, months before the show. When the day came, I think it was in February 2000, I was very eager to get to the venue, called Mars. Not a venue I was used to for my kind of music, more of a “metal” venue, but what the heck, Chip Taylor was playing tonight! I got there early, and there wasn´t anyone else present but the people that was working there, at the entrance and in the bar. They told me to come back an hour later, Chip would start about nine thirty, they said. When I came back, there was still no people there. The clock ticked towards nine thirty, and I was still a lonesome audience of one. My hopes went high when I heard someone walk into the room. But it wasn´t ticket-paying people like me. Instead – Two guys with guitars: Chip Taylor and John Platania. Platania, the fabulous guitarist for Van Morrison, all the way back to The Caledonian Soul Orchestra from the early seventies. They looked bewildered. I was a star-strucked fan with a sinking heart, endlessly sorry about the way this night would end, with no show. In a feverish attempt to rise to the occation, I stumbled on my feet, took “Seven Days In May” in one hand and the ticket in the other, heading towards the musicians. At least I should get a autograph this night. “I´ve really been looking forward to this show for months, and I just loooove this album. I bought the tickets as soon as I saw the advertising, blah, blah, blah, blah…” Chip´s smile could melt the snow, when he reached for my hand: “I´m Chip Taylor, what´s your name. Let me buy you a drink!” And there I was, with two heroes, in the bar, talking about music, the mysteries of the absent audience and life itself. The strong presence and the generosity I was met with – I´ll never forget it. For a music fan like me, it was like a fairy tale. After awhile, it was soon midnight, Chip asked me: “What do you say, Johnny, when do you have to go home?” I was a bit more relaxed at this point, so I told him: “I don´t have to go home before the show is over.” Chip laughed. “Do you want us to play for you here in the bar, or should we go to the stage?” My answer was clear: “Of course you have to go to the stage.” Chip laughed even more, but the two unpacked their guitars, plugged in and gave me the experience of a lifetime, and the perfect story to tell both friends, children and grandchildren. I´ll never forget it. They played and played, and Chip stopped to ask me: “Whaddaya think, Johnny, what should we play now.” I told them all my favorite Chip Taylor songs, and soon I yelled out for “Just Keep Holding On”, one of my favorites from “Seven days in May”. Chip said that they never had played that before, but that he would play it for me. He started the song, but when he reached the recitation part he gave up. He couldn´t remember it. I solved the problem, reached for my copy of “Seven Days in May”, went up to the stage and held the lyrics for Chip, and he finished the song in style. (Whyyyyyy wasn´t it a photographer present??? No one would believe this story…) More songs, but then Chip prayed for mercy: “Now, Johnny, how do we end this thing?” My suggestion was of course “Goodnight, Irene” – another song they´ve never played, Chip said, but this time it worked well, no lyric sheet needed. Wow! I couldn´t believe it. The girls working in the bar were thrilled, so were the guys from Mars. Like they had fallen from the moon. But not so much as me.
After the fabulous one-of-a-kind exclusive show, Chip wanted to talk more, and we did until the small hours and beyond. When I drove home through the night I couldn´t believe what just happened. But I knew I´d never would forget it. The day after, the phone rang: “This is Chip. Do you remember me?” We continued talking, and we´ve met through the years when Chip was passing by Oslo. The next time he played on Smuget, a better venue, and packed with people – Chip hugging me like I was a long lost son or brother. Once I made him a compilation tape with songs of Lefty Frizzell and Luke The Drifter. He later told me that they played the tape again and again in the car, touring through Europe. I remember that when he sings his song this night in May, about Hank Williams and his alter ego, Luke The Drifter, telling us that he loved Hank Williams most when he was Luke The Drifter. And I can understand that, because Chip Taylor and the Luke The Drifter-side of Hank Williams, both share a great compassion and empathy for the humans. They are both looking deep into men with broken hearts and pictures from life´s other side, looking beyond the sunset – they both can smile and laugh through tears. They were both ramblin´men, and they both reminds us that we should be careful with stones that we throw. Love for people, love for music, love for the elegant twist in the use of language. They are related. I love them both. Very much so. They are men of the people and for the people.
As the night comes to an end, Paal Flaata sings the ultimate cry of loneliness and fear of dying alone. “Spiritual”. The song is written by Josh Haden, son of the great bass player, Charlie Haden, who introduced the song, sung by Josh, on his beautiful “Rambling Boy” album. But tonight this is Paal Flaata´s lonesome tune, reminding both believers and non-believers in the room that we are a great union of people with the same existential basis and conditions. After all. And – as Chip would put it – F**k All The Perfect People. Ry Cooder sings this year that he loves sinners better than fascists, in his great new song, “Jesus And Woody”. I guess Chip would agree.
The encore is a beautiful rendition of Kris Kristofferson´s “For The Good Times”, a song that weaves together the inspiration from Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson, from country music, from the outlaw movement, the Americana blessings, the inspiration from Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, from Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, Guy Clark and many others, the love of love, the love of lost love, the compassion of men and women, the ability to sing the soul, and to share the love of song in song. It was a night of magic and a night of many great memories. Thanks, Chip – and thanks, Paal.
p.s. For further listening of Chip Taylor, a nice starting point would be the great compilation of “James Wesley Days/Best of 99-10”, then move on to the albums with Carrie Rodriquez, f.i. “Let´s Leave This Town”. And the rest of them. There is some gold hidden in every one of them. Sometimes one song, sometimes two or three, and sometimes all of them. Enjoy.” d.s.
p.s.2. Chip & me. Pictures from life´s other side, a few years ago. d.s.2
p.s.3. Chip is also a great interpreter of other people´s songs – here he makes a quiet Taylored version of Bob Dylan´s “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”.