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It was just like a Thanksgiving miracle, to be honest," says Cassie Taylor, recalling the first time she played bass. Her father, famed Boulder-based bluesman Otis Taylor, and then-bandmate Kenny Passarelli were messing around with "Hey Joe" when a teenage Cassie walked in and said, "Well, that's kind of a cool bass line. I like that." Passarelli showed her the bass line, handed her the instrument, and, with a little effort, she played it note for note.
"So I think my dad was like, 'Okay, she'll be cheap child labor,'" she says — and when Passarelli couldn't make an upcoming tour, a sixteen-year-old Cassie learned how to play the bass and started touring with her father, making twenty bucks a gig. "Twenty dollars with no overhead when you're sixteen is a night out at Hapa Sushi and a movie," she points out. "That was the coolest thing when I was sixteen."
After nearly eight years of touring with her father, she moved to Memphis to take some time away from music. "I just needed a break because I had been doing it for so long," Taylor says. "I was a little bid jaded about the music industry and how everything is based on looks and how thin you are. So I had to get over that and come to terms with myself — not only as an artist, but I kind of had to get over my quarter-life crisis."
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While living in Memphis, she adds, she found her voice as a musician, noting that she used the piano as a therapeutic way to heal herself. Her debut album, 2011's Blue, was mostly a singer-songwriter project; Taylor says the record is all about self-discovery, the kinds of things you learn when you're in your early twenties.
On her new album, Out of My Mind, released last May on the Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records, the 26-year-old Taylor is coming from a completely different place. "It's like post-quarter-life-crisis," she says. "I feel like I really know who I am, not only as an artist, but as an individual — and I think it shows on the album. Not only that, but it's less driven by more personal stories and more driven by finding stories in life that pertain to my personal life."
Even so, there are some personal songs on Out of My Mind, tunes like "No Ring Blues" and "That's My Man," which were written about Taylor's husband, Charles Haren, and "Lay Your Head on My Pillow," which was written for her parents' 23rd wedding anniversary. "Spare Some Love," meanwhile, is about homelessness, and "Ol' Mama Dean" was inspired by a documentary she saw on women's correctional facilities in which a woman who had killed her husband was being interviewed.
"She had lived for years and years in a very abusive domestic relationship, and she had absolutely no remorse for the fact that she had killed her husband or for the fact that she was incarcerated," Taylor marvels. "It was just really inspiring to me. Whether it's good inspiration or negative inspiration, it was very inspiring for the fact that she would have rather lived the rest of her life in prison than spend a second longer in the prison that she was in, which was under the reign of her husband and the abuse he was causing her.
"It was just a really interesting thing," she goes on. "It was kind of an interesting way of justice, you know? She felt that he deserved to die, and she was going to bring that situation to justice, and it was just an interesting concept that it was better to be in prison than where she was, already in prison."
Such struggles have been reflected in the blues for as long as folks have been playing them. Not surprisingly, particularly given her pedigree, Taylor knows her way around the genre, as clearly demonstrated on poignant cuts like "Spare Some Love" and "Gone and Dead." And while she's equally at home singing on more soul-drenched tunes, such as "Lay My Head on Your Pillow," "Again" and the title track, Taylor says that overall, Out of My Mind showcases how blues influenced a number of other genres. Everything comes back to the blues.
"I think the blues is really like the father of all American music," she asserts. "And if you listen to music with the purpose of hearing the blues, you'll be able to hear it. For me, I think that's what differentiates myself from other blues artists: I'm much younger in age, and I've had this plethora of musical genres to pick from.
"For example," she adds, "my dad was born in '48, and when he was growing up, he had rock and he had folk. When I was growing up, I had rock and folk, and funk and R&B, and soul and hip-hop, and pop and industrial metal, and electronica...and so I have a much wider sonic scope to paint from."
Indeed. There's the theremin on "Ol' Mama Dean," which Taylor says is meant to conjure the sound of a prison siren, and the Hammond S6 organ that she uses to create a sort of electronic vibe, and the fuzzed-out bass tone on "No Ring Blues," which she says nods to the Black Keys. "So I was able to pick and select all of these wonderful sounds from the last 100 years since the blues was born rather than picking sounds that were only fifty years of notes and music," she says. "It's kind of the culmination of blues as it's affected everything else."