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Jackson Taylor: Honky Tonk Rebel Just Warming Up

Jackson Taylor says fans of his outlaw sound might expect him to walk into a room “with a bottle of whiskey and punch somebody.”

Singer Jackson Taylor in concert
Denver-based singer Jackson Taylor

“Ten years ago that might have happened,” Taylor quickly adds. That was then, a time when Taylor was living the life of a hard-drinking musician.

“Motley Crue wouldn’t have lasted a week with us,” Taylor says of his days with his backup group The Sinners. “Somehow I was able to maintain my professional career for 15 years completely off the f***ing rails.”

These days, Taylor is on the road less and in his private art studio more. His “cocoon” is where he’s at peace, a home office where he works on a graphic novel. Being an outlaw means defying expectations … and following your muse wherever it takes you.

Taylor’s muse boasts a pretty impressive track record to date.

Jackson Taylor & the Sinners cranks out the kind of honky tonk that brings to mind Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash at his craggiest. Taylor’s rich baritone can wallow in the muck one minute then uncork a killer hook the next.

The group’s music hits plenty of honky tonk tropes, but there’s a personal edge that sets them apart. His latest release, “Whiskey Sessions 10th Anniversary Edition,” kicks off with “No Apologies.”

“I’m still the one son all you bitches love to hate ‘Cos you know you can’t control what I do or what I say.”

The album, with cover art courtesy of Taylor, lives up to the warning.

Make Up and Faded Jeans

Other discs, like “Crazy Again,” find Taylor and co. flashing an impressive musical range. It’s foot-stomping fun, and the occasional mid-tempo number, you won’t regret the next morning.

Taylor’s career arc would make a great biopic one day. Only it’s stuffed with with too many stranger than fiction detours that would make critics howl.

His parents endured repeat marriages each, leaving Taylor with an expansive family tree he’s still unearthing. Money was scarce, chores were back-breaking, and he dropped out of high school in the 11th grade down on his own brain power. When he entered the U.S. Army it felt like a relief.

“I had never had that easy of a day in my life,” he says. “To me, boot camp was this amazing vacation. I felt like I won the lottery.”

FAST FACT: Jackson Taylor owns a white scarf from the King of Rock himself, Elvis Presley, circa 1973.

He studied medicine in the Army, later realizing his scholastic struggles were due to dyslexia. He continued with medicine after leaving the Army, but he eventually realized it wasn’t his calling.

His early days found him looking for his purpose. He spent time in New York writing poetry. He briefly worked the Nashville circuit as a songwriter even though he despised the cookie-cutter country of the ‘90s. When industry insiders let him sing they wanted him to conform to their preferred styles.

That was a mistake.

“They wanted me to copy the guy singing it … what the f***? I sing like Elvis [Presley] not like that. I walked away from that,” he says.

All the while he hit the recording studio on his own terms. His earliest session came when he was just 16 years of age.

DIY Music Career

Over the years Taylor did whatever was necessary to keep making music. If that meant learning to play the bass guitar when the group needed a bass player … stat.

“We had all these dates. We were stuck,” he explains. “I’d been playing in bands with bass players for 20 years but never paid attention to what they did.” He got up to speed in the nick of time. It’s hardly surprising for the self-taught musician.

“I had three albums out before I learned my first chord,” he says. “I was composing songs at 15 … I didn’t correlate humming the parts as writing music.”

jackson-taylor-illustration (1)
A Jackson Taylor inked illustration showcases his affinity with graphic novel work.

Taylor takes a similar approach to his newer passion – illustration. His home office teems with collections from his artistic idols, from Frank Frazetta to Bill Watterson of “Calvin & Hobbes” fame. Stacks of meticulously wrapped comic books sit within arm’s reach.

More inspiration.

He’s currently at work on a graphic novel featuring characters ripped from his own life story.

“One’s unbreakable, extremely tough. The other is his fat buddy who’s a badass, too,” he says. “This is my midlife crisis. This is what I used to be, and this is what I’m becoming.”

He might spend 12 hours a day at the drawing board, obsessing over every minor detail. Meanwhile, a modest tribute to his 17 records (so far) hand on a nearby wall.

“There’s not one where you can fully see my face,” he says, referencing his array of album covers. “I have zero interest in being put on display. That’s why I love art so much.”

Make America Great Again?

Perhaps the biggest surprise regarding the unapologetic singer is his political ideology.

“I’ve always considered myself socially liberal, fiscally conservative and morally ambiguous,” he says. “I don’t give a f*** what you do. I don’t wanna pay for it. I’m all about personal freedom, but I don’t think we should drive ourselves off a cliff [financially].”

He gleaned that philosophy from his father.

“My Dad didn’t wanna take anything from anybody,” he says of his father, who he calls the “best read person I know.” “My dad’s point was, when it’s time to work you work really hard. Then you enjoy life.”

Taylor frequently lets loose on Twitter, and he suspects it might hurt his career at times. For example, he says he can sell out a 300-seat venue outside of Seattle but can’t get a gig at The Tractor, a smaller local theater.

“I just assume it’s because of my political views,” he says with a shrug.

What’s next for Taylor? He hopes to publish his first graphic novel and possibly a 10-year anniversary edition of “Live, Locked & Loaded” CD.

“So many people are catching on to us from 10 years ago,” he says, adding he’ll put off a new album until 2018.

For now, Taylor flies just below the pop culture radar. He wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I don’t care about being famous. I wanted to make records,” he says. “Being famous would be the worst f***ing thing possible to a human being.”

Might his signature sound change change with his newer, cleaner lifestyle. Don’t count on it, he says.

“Most guys, when they quit, they turn to sh**,” Taylor says, adding he isn’t exactly squeaky clean now. “I stay just dirty enough … it’s still a party in the studio.”

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