tête-à-tête: taylor johnson

i’ve got some great convo’s coming this year. first up is Taylor Johnson. If you don’t know who taylor is, you are missing out. he plays with phil wickham and among others. he is an outstanding guitar player. he’s also a really nice guy. i met him a couple years ago in los angeles on the david crowder tour. i recently got in touch with him to ask him some advice on some things. not only did he take the time to talk to me, he had a lot of insight and really encouraged me.  so i asked him if he’d be up to chat on my blog. he said yes, obviously. taylor has some really good stuff to say and great advice to share. enjoy.
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Hey Taylor.
Howdy James.

Where are you?
I’m in LA working on some music and living in great weather.

What have you been up to lately?
I’ve been on the road and tracking/writing for the most part of the last year.
Did some touring this fall with Phil Wickham, Robert Schwartzman, and Kate Earl.
Now I’m concentrating on pulling this loose tooth in the form of an original project with some friends of mine that I’ve had for awhile.  Very excited about some stuff on the bubble. Writing a bit too.

What’s this original project you speak of?
It’s called Dallas. My friends Tyler and Josh and I have been writing a lot the last few years together.  We tracked a bunch of stuff last year with some good folks in LA, Manny Marroquin and a producer named Malay, but have decided to run with it ourselves now seeing that we are geographically challenged (our singer lives in Texas).  We are all excited.

What’s the best guitar?
Trini Lopez

On a scale of 1-10 how much do you love U2?
I love certain songs of theirs. You know I didn’t get into them until the All That You Can’t Leave Behind era?

A little late to the game, but that’s a good record to acquaint yourself with.
I like that record because it introduced me to Daniel Lanois when I was 16.  My favorites off that record were “Kite”. Sheesh, what a song! And “When I Look At The World” (currently teaching my fiance how to play the solo on that tune.  She likes the idea of playing one note and rocking the whammy!)
It was not cool to like U2 growing up.  As a young guitar player the Edge was average at best amongst my friends.  Guitar at that age was more of an athletic competition than musical.
Those songs still make the hair on the back of my neck stand up at the production and parts and tones and energy.  Not the biggest Bono fan but he can sing.

Yeah. Kite is my favorite song of that record as well.  The first time I heard that guitar solo I didn’t know what to do with myself. So good. The solo for When I Look at the World is also one of my favorites. I’ve definitely ripped off that delay sound a few times. And I love Daniel Lanois with all my heart.

Who are your favorite guitar players?
David Grissom and Andy Summers.
David Grissom is responsible for my interest in country guitar.  If it weren’t for him I would have never started hybrid picking which there’s no going back on now.  Listen to the Joe Ely record “Live at Liberty Lunch”.
Andy Summers, from the Police, shaped my playing and ear a ton.  He would be responsible for a lot of my tendencies from note choice, chord voicings, phrasing, use of effects.

Both of these legends are great examples of how to be a standout player behind a great singer with good songs.  Vocals, Guitar, Bass, and Drums…
go! They nail it.

Speaking of being a standout guitar player, What are some important aspects you feel get overlooked by a lot of guitar players right now?
My dad is a songwriter.  Before I ever got into how a guitar sounded I was asked to play parts. This was very early on as a player.  I’d play with my dad who’s a pianist and he’d go “Taylor, why don’t you start this song?”, putting me in the hot seat at a young age.  So, I had to come up with something hooky and melodic in a matter of seconds because he thought guitar would sound good at the beginning.  (At this point I had a strat and a marshall valvestate so it better be a good part ‘cause I had no clue how to use effects!) It stretched me a lot without even being too aware of how much he was asking of me as a musician.
He also used to train my ear before I played guitar.  We’d be in the car when I was 12 and he’d go “what chord is that?” and I’d have to pick out the 1, 4, 5, minor 6 chord by ear.  That helps and it was fun.

Fast forward to doing this as a job and I’ve found that it’s now ingrained in me.  Thanks, Dad.
Legendary songs have legendary parts, something signature.  It gets people going. Beatles songs have a lot of them (day tripper, paperback writer, please please me)

One of the first ones I wanted to learn was the figure at the beginning of the Billy Joel song, “big shot”.  So cool!
That’s not to say every song needs a guitar riff or hook, but something signature is great. It can be a tone, a drum beat (nirvana’s “scentless apprentice is a rad example), the bass, whatever!

The first professional band I was in was with Robbie Seay.  I was 19 and had no gear.  A strat and a VHT pitbull with a tubescreamer and a wah pedal. I had no clue what tap tempo delay was or what a Twin Reverb even sounded like.  Within my first 4 months of playing with him I had to play on a live record in front of thousands of people.  Live in the sense of no overdubs later, at all. I wanted to make sure I had a signature part for every song.  It gives the band another voice.  

How old were you when you started playing guitar. Do you play any other instruments?
I was almost 15 when I started.  Before that I was borrowing a drumset from a friend whose family was in between houses and fell in love with Weezer.  I learned the drum parts for every song on the Blue record.  When they found a house about 4 months later I had to give it back.  My dad plays piano but had an acoustic guitar so he put me in group guitar lessons.  I went all in and tried to learn the theme song from the movie “That Thing You Do” cause I thought those guitars and that song were amazing. Piano a bit as a kid and in music college. Anyone can play bass, right?

Right. What was your favorite record of 2012?
Synthetica by Metric.
Really like Jake Bugg’s EP too.  He’s got this Paul Weller thing happening.

Mine was Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
That was released in 1973. Come on, James.

My answer stands. What’s your favorite era of music?
Undoubtedly the time when the Beach Boys and Beatles were neck and neck as to who was writing the best songs in pop history.
The Who are incredible.  1969 might be the best year in music

I watched you play at Big Church Day Out with Phil Wickham. Why are you so good?
Jet Lag

How did you get started doing what you are doing now?
My family.  They encouraged me to go out and play when all I wanted to do was stay at home and listen to Pinkerton.

Ok, so what does your guitar rig look like right now?
I use my Gretsch a lot. It’s a small guy, country classic junior.  I have a handful of others laying around and actually pick up my strat more often than ever.
Pedals I look at a little differently.  I am not into geeky hour long conversations about this overdrive or that delay.  Fulltone overdrive, Boss verb/vibrato/delay, Strymon delay, and that Diamond tremolo are what’s on my board.
I run my amp hot.  For example, if you were using a deluxe reverb or fender type amp like that I tend to keep it on 8.  AC30 or 15 I run at about 2 o’clock, and so on…
I learned this from David Grissom.  The theory is you use all the amp you can and if you have a good enough guitar its going to clean up nicely with your volume knob/pedal.  The cleans sound better when the amp is being run hot.  It’s also an “oh crap” technique that I learned from playing festivals with little to no soundcheck.  When your board goes down you better have a fat sound coming from the amp! When you run your amp hot, a good tube amp, then this or that overdrive doesn’t really make too much of a difference. Feels way better.

I don’t run my amp all that hot. Mostly because If it starts breaking up all my stuff doesn’t sound right. And I’m too shy. But, I do love the way a cranked amp sounds on other people.
Yeah, there’s nothing like squashing an old AC30 to 10 with a rad guitar.  I just don’t get off on pedals like some people do.  I have a semi packed effects board but it’s cause I play with a variety of people.  I don’t want to have to remember overdrive settings and all that on pedals.
I have a few things I do when I’m plugging into an amp that’s new to me (rental amps, etc…) to get it where I want.  It doesn’t take long.  It’s gotta feel right and have some attitude.  You can always clean it up with your volume knob or pedal.  At that point your clean sound is still hitting those EL84s or 6V6s you spent an arm and a leg to use! When your amp is run low I feel like you aren’t getting all you can out of it.  

Do you love Frodo, or what?
You know it.  I think he’s one of the kindest, most hard working dudes I know.  He’s got a lot of drive for such little legs.  

What advice can you give to aspiring musicians who want to be doing what you do for a living.
Create and work hard.  Play often.  Love God and love people and you’re good to go!

Bye Taylor…

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11 comments

  1. “It was not cool to like U2 growing up.”

    Really? Are you referring to the 80’s when they sold over 70 million albums or the 90’s when they only sold over 50 million albums? If you’re going to say you liked U2 before it was cool, you had better be from Dublin.

      1. I have no problem with people not liking U2. I’m calling you out for saying “it was not cool to like U2 growing up.” I grew up in the 80’s and I seem to remember them being kinda big – hence the 22 music videos on MTV and 70 million albums sold. 😉

      2. you aren’t calling me out at all, because i didn’t say it. taylor said it. and he is talking about the circle he grew up in. not the world. obviously they are popular. i’m sure he is aware that they are millionaires and lots of people bought their albums.

  2. James,
    Not sure if this is the best place for this, but needed to get your advice. I’m going through a guitar “midlife crissis.” A good portion of my income is music related. Most of that is from playing at larger churches. I love to worship, but feel like I don’t have my own style or my own voice. I typically play what’s on the recordings with some variations, but when I think about who I am as a guitarist I don’t know. I come up with different parts to songs that sound good, but feel like I’m just ripping off other peoples licks or I’m playing the same things I’ve played before. You have a unique style and seem to know who you are as a guitarist. How did you find your own style and how do I get out of this funk?

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