The Abilene music scene has changed over the decades.
Bands, players and styles rise and fall.
But one constant was Kevin Taylor.
The 1980 Cooper High Grad keeps playing and navigating the music superhighway much like a car changing lanes, accelerating or decelerating, going far or just driving downtown for a gig.
KT and the Blues Scientists, a band he founded in 2010, are back on stage at the annual garage band Woodstock on Saturday. It’s Taylor’s newest band, which certainly doesn’t date back to the 1960s when the Chevelle 5, The Continentals, The Fabulous Furies and other bands were popular locally. But they will step in and rock the crowd at the Taylor County Coliseum.
More:Garageband Woodstock returns in 2021 after missing a summer
After moving the summer meeting to the city center, the event returns to the Expo Center.
Taylor has both managed bands and played with musicians who were, or still are, at the forefront of their genres. The latter shows his range as a drummer, which is his role when he’s one of the guys in the band. For several years he toured with the late bluesman Long John Hunter, a Texas musician who was rediscovered by local promoter Steve Jeter in the 1990s.
Then Taylor went in a completely different direction and landed a gig as the drummer for Red Steagall. He’ll be the first to admit he really isn’t much of a bunkhouse boy, but Steagall liked what he heard 25 years ago and Taylor joined the band.
As a showman, both as a drummer, guitarist and frontman, Taylor learned that lessons #1 and #2 in cowboy music are to keep time and keep the volume just right.
When the Blues Scientists or his former band Harry Perry and the Pickups are on stage, he’s good to go. He’s quick with a punchline and perfect imitation. No two introductions by the band are the same.
It’s his life away from the day job at Legal Shield. He gets up at 4 a.m. and plays the guitar after coffee. He listens to other artists on YouTube and tries to emulate their licks.
It’s a great way to start your day relaxed, although Taylor doesn’t take life too seriously.
“When someone starts taking it too seriously, I get upset,” he said, laughing.
“That’s the way people are.”
Entry into the business
Born in Tyler but moved to Abilene when he was 6, Taylor has at least made Abilene his home base. He went through the local school system and then Abilene Christian University.
He travels in all directions – east to Dallas and south to Fredericksburg, where he signed a three-year, 600-show deal at the Rockbox Theatre. They recently headed west to Odessa, where the band threw a regularly well-paying three-way gig at a club called Flair Taverna. The drummer changes for it, but bassist Randy Morris, with whom Taylor has played since 1988, makes the trip.
His first sit-down gig was at Abilene’s Gardski’s Loft, now Don Luis. That was a big deal for a high school kid whose father had told him he had to play sports to get the girls. He didn’t (exercise, too small for football, he said), but he rose to the top of Madison Junior High’s popular column as a seventh grader after organizing a drum fight for a school talent show.
“That got us into the popular column. Walking down the hall it was almost like being the quarterback,” he said of all the drummers who attended. “I still have a cassette of it somewhere.
“That’s the drug that’s still going strong today. It never, ever went away.”
Eventually he also got the girl who has now been married to Kelly for almost 40 years.
Like many musicians, he was in the brass band. He played drums.
Taylor is one of those natural musicians who can hear music and then play it. But, he was told early on, if he wanted to get gigs, he had to read music. The late Michael Henry Martin, a mentor to many local musicians, told him so.
“I resisted that idea,” he said. “I thought learning to read would affect my hearing, my ad lib skills.”
In high school, he played a role for himself and memorized it for auditions in the band.
“I put the music down in front of me and just pretended to read it,” he said, laughing.
But he learned to read, and that skill was necessary when he landed the Rockbox job in 2012. Tribute bands or solo artists would drop by and he would learn to play the drums the week before the show. He listened to it and then wrote it for the concert.
Was handy if there was a medley with tempo changes.
“You can’t mess anything up,” Taylor said. “That’s when I became the best drummer I’ve ever been.”
become a guitar man
At 11 he started playing around with the guitar, bought one and an amp.
But it wasn’t until Harry Perry’s time that he began to study in earnest. He bought a 1962 Telecaster from guitarist Richard Gonzales, which he still owns. Harry Perry played from 1988 to 1992, after which Taylor joined Hunter for six years.
After that, Taylor first booked as a guitarist and vocalist with KT and the Sometime Band.
He learned from both Gonzales and Martin when Taylor was in the band SLO Motion Monkey. Taylor had agreed that Martin would teach him a lick every week during a regular show at the Touch of Class lounge. If Taylor could do it, Martin would teach him another one next week.
“We’ve done that for a long time,” Taylor said.
As a reward, Martin and Taylor traded places for one song per show.
He and Gonzales jam during lunch breaks.
“He would show me the deal,” Taylor said. “I’m so excited right now, man.”
Then Hunter came along and Taylor said he suddenly had three guitar mentors.
“Long John would say, ‘Hey, you sound good. It’s getting better,'” Taylor recalled.
In the Rockbox, the show producers had him crawl out from behind the drums to play a song on guitar. It was staged, with Taylor asking to do a song on guitar.
“Song on a guitar?” the artist asked the drummer.
Taylor would of course wow the crowd with his ability to play BB King.
These days, he says his playing is “a little more refined” with the Blues Scientists, who are Morris on bass and Ashley Robinson on drums.
Taylor collects guitars and uses certain ones to produce an authentic cover of a blues classic by, say, Freddie King.
Harry Perry supported Hunter early on when he starred in Abilene. Hunter liked the band and they did some other shows in Texas.
But when Hunter really went on tour, only bassist Dave Keown and Taylor could go. And so these two continents hopped and played on Hunter albums that garnered enough acclaim to be nominated for the WC Handy Awards.
“Not getting rich, but getting a taste of real street life,” Taylor said.
They didn’t have a tour bus, with the biggest decision being who gets the captain’s chair in the van.
“I wouldn’t trade it,” Taylor said of those days.
The Steagall gig is very different.
The Bunkhouse Boys lineup rarely changes and is filled with award-winning musicians like violinist Jason Roberts.
“I’m the only one who doesn’t wear a cowboy hat and probably the only one who’s never ridden,” Taylor said. But it fits like a foot in a well-worn boot.
There was no audition, but he was hired for a show. If he passed the screening, he would stay.
At a Legal Shield convention in Dallas, Taylor met James Wood, Steagall’s steel player. Wood told him the boss needed a drummer. He would check. A few weeks later, Wood called Taylor.
“If you don’t let me down, I’ll get you a show,” Wood said.
In fact, Taylor got mailed music and went on a date with Steagall in Skiatook, Oklahoma.
“I come from blues to western swing… it was very intimidating,” he said. “But my chops were warm.”
Steagall liked what he heard, but asked Taylor to lower his tone. On the other hand, he said: “I like your jazz flair. You can push me.
“If you keep your volume down and give me a few pushes, I’ll book you in the band. And he has.”
It’s not about the money (but getting paid is ok too)
What drives KT?
Well, it’s nice to get paid. Don’t get known around town as “the charity man,” he said.
Musicians are legendary for being bad with money. Maybe that’s why they got the blues.
“I want to do something,” he said. “It’s hard to progress but the truth is if he gets a thrill and gets another repeat on his instrument it’s worth the money.”
His advice for young musicians?
Be versatile, learn more than one instrument, and be “easy to pick up on”.
And show up on time.
“You can always work,” Taylor said.
Greg Jaklewicz is the editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and a general columnist. If you value local news, you can support local journalists with a ReporterNews.com digital subscription.
when you go
What: 12th Annual Garage Band Woodstock
When: Doors open at 5:30pm on Saturday and music starts at 6:30pm
Where: Taylor County Expo Center
Tickets: $30 per person in advance (1517 Petroleum Drive) or $35 at the door. Tables $250 for 10 cards.