Willy Tea Taylor is coming to DIO Fest 2018 and we couldn’t be more stoked. The cool thing about Will is that you probably already know him through less than 3 degrees of separation. He’s had a broad and powerful presence in the Santa Cruz area for years now, having played The Parish Pubick House on the West Side, the Crepe Place in Midtown, and on up the hill at Lille Aeske in Boulder Creek. Each show hosts longtime fans and always garners a grip of new listeners. One of Willy’s great talents is bringing cool people together – he’s a friendship maker - and now he’ll have a chance to ply that talent at our festival.
Willy is one of those affecting musicians, a progenitor of a tone that is deeply felt and all his own. It is no stretch or hyperbole to say that tears fall to his songs and that arms raise, almost in worship, to one of his perfectly penned lines. Heads shake in rhythm and nod in agreement. You’ll laugh at his jokes and stand mouth agape when he’s on a preaching roll. In a single set he may speak Sioux or lead in a tune with Tom Joad’s novel-ending monologue from The Grapes of Wrath. That said, the key to his craft is its simplicity. There is nothing shiny about these tunes, they are burnished with a road-worn patina that speaks to their truth. And some of them are just pretty – maybe the sweetest little love songs you’ve heard in a while.
Willy is a product of his hometown of Oakdale, California, which is unfortunately blown off by many as one of the “drive throughs” on the road to Yosemite. This is a place where the rich soil of the San Joaquin Valley gives way to rolling, golden foothills that lead like a stair case into the granite-hardened high country. The Stanislaus River winds its way through those hills, and while his music reflects this space, it also looks wider, embracing all that we love about this golden state. From the dense loam of the Salinas Valley, to the gentle beat of hummingbird wings that echo in Manzanita thickets up in the chaparral, his sound embraces all.
“Most baseball players peak in their twenties, but knuckleball pitchers tend to blossom in their late thirties and early forties. I’m staring down my knuckleball prime...” - Willy Tea
Willy’s life is wrapped up in his songs and his shows are autobiographical. The beat up old cattleman is his Grandpa, the ball player seeking a rekindled career is a lifelong friend, and the breast upon which he wants to rest is his lady. To hear him is to know him, and to know him, most folks will say, is to love the guy.
While most of his career has found Willy a member of Oakdale’s inimitable Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, his 2015 solo release, Knuckleball Prime, was a landmark record and supreme sonic accomplishment. Knuckleball debuted Willy’s signature sound augmented by some of Nashville’s best session players including Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Sarah Watkins (Nickel Creek) and Mike Witcher (Pete Rowan), who also produced the album. All the players added their touch to a handful of his finest songs. They reinterpreted some old ones and birthed some new ones. This record is, to date, perhaps the best snapshot of where Willy and his craft is now and will be the well from which he no doubt draws most for his set. But he won’t stop there. His catalogue goes deep.
Without a setlist, he’ll sing about junkies and good cattle dogs, there might be a blood-soaked murder ballad or a song that describes the last moments in a Civil War soldier’s life. He might even sing about someone you knew! He’ll talk about his home and his place in a world in which he feels he might not exactly fit. But DIO will find him right at home deep in the redwoods and high in the pines mountain top. Come give him a high-five and a chance to change you through music. You’ll dig it.
In the meantime, check out Knuckleball Prime, Four Strings and ANY album by The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit (you can’t go wrong with any one of those). Acquaint yourself with this guy and get ready for a set of music that will sit you up and set you right. I’m jazzed to witness Willy is going to fit the DIO-vibe like a weathered hand in an old baseball glove, you just watch.
- Andrew Quist