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In response to the assurance that his impending fortieth birthday doesn't mean he's at death's door, pedal-steel guitarist and African music enthusiast Glenn Taylor laughs: "But it is. I think turning forty is a milestone--like this stone around your neck." He's more serious when he adds, "Of course, it's an interesting place to be and be alive from. It's different from when I was twenty. But you know, going through this spiritual thing, that probably turned me around more than turning forty. Things happen at the right time for the right purposes, I think."
To many onlookers, Taylor's "spiritual thing" might sound like a classic midlife crisis. In December 1993 Taylor left Monkey Siren, the still-thriving act he founded four years ago, to move in with members of a quasi-religious organization he declines to name. "I don't want to malign them in any way," he insists. "They're a happening group. I was really into it, but I was there for a month, and I just decided that was enough for me at that time. Anyway, I came out of there around the first of this year. Essentially, my wife took me back and the band didn't."
Losing his place in Monkey Siren didn't stop him for long, however. Taylor, who also created the Eighties combo Orchestra King Mama, currently is playing pedal steel with one of Denver's most entertaining groups, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, and has formed a new band, Mom's Instant Hot. Yet even as he enthuses about these new projects, he claims that being a musician "isn't who I am. It's just something that I do. Some people say I do it well. And I enjoy it when I do it. Things that I don't enjoy I don't wind up doing for very long. I think that one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, we are here on this earth is to be joyful. So the music that I want to do is joyful."
Taylor began his musical adventures in the San Francisco area at 21, when his love for the Grateful Dead albums American Beauty and Workingman's Dead and country-rock pioneers such as the New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Flying Burrito Brothers convinced him to pick up the pedal-steel guitar. He learned quickly, and by 1980, after relocating to Colorado at the height of the Urban Cowboy craze, he discovered that a good living could be made by playing country music in honky-tonk bars.
Shortly thereafter, Taylor began studying creative improvisation with instructor/jazz saxophonist Fred Hess at Boulder's Naropa Institute. These classes led him to join the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble, an experimental band overseen by Hess. But becoming the Bela Fleck of the pedal steel was not in Taylor's future. "I took lessons from Fred on doing jazz and applying jazz harmonies to the pedal steel," he recalls. "It can be done. But it was a very short-lived interest. I'm not a big fan of jazz. I don't really like playing it--or trying to play it, I should say. Jazz is very cerebral. It's head music to me. It doesn't get me in the heart or in the groin. Not like African music does."
This growing fixation on African musical styles led to Orchestra King Mama, which got its start in 1985. Four years later Taylor took a pair of trips to Zimbabwe; upon his return, he disbanded the Orchestra and put together Monkey Siren. Even as the latter group was building a reputation as one of Denver's most popular dance bands, Taylor was participating in several side projects, including one phase of the Ron Miles Trio Plus. He also became a highly skilled artisan--he's handcrafted three of the four pedal steels he owns, including an acoustic model that uses the ampliphonic resonator from a dobro to enhance its sound.
Today Taylor's pedal steel is an important part of Slim Cessna's Auto Club--his demented country twangos provide the perfect coloration for Cessna's subversive urban folk and country stylings. In the meantime, Taylor is contributing music for Life With Paul, a play written and performed by Paul Krueger, Monkey Siren's original keyboard player. And then there's Mom's Instant Hot, which is in a very germinal stage. The band has yet to play live in this area, but Taylor believes that its music--a hip, astro-folk melange spiced with African rhythmic flair and hustler jive--has great commercial potential. More important, Taylor's heart is clearly in the music.
Who knows what's ahead? Certainly not Taylor. "As far as long-term goals, things I really want someday, I don't have any of those," he says. "Thinks like that are, in a way, a deception. I could sit here and talk about dreams and intentions, but the thing is, none of that exists. Maybe I'll live in Africa someday. That's what I've thought of doing before. Or being in a band that tours the world and plays the ideal music to me--and I don't even know what that is. But really all that matters is right now. That's all you ever really get.