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Locals Only: : Hillbilly Rock

Taylor Farley and Blue Rock make Rock music Bluegrass and vice-versa

By Elizabeth Wu · November 29th, 2006 · Locals Only
  Taylor Farley and Blue Rock
Taylor Farley and Blue Rock

Taylor Farley and Blue Rock

"A lot of people, the first thing they think when they see a banjo is Bluegrass," says Taylor Farley, veteran banjo picker and frontman/vocalist for the band Blue Rock.

Farley, who has been playing the banjo since age 10, likes to confound expectations. "We play everything from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (two of his greatest influences) to Jimi Hendrix. We play Marshall Tucker, Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd -- just a whole different range. Country people over here in Newport call me the antichrist. I just play my banjo and run it through an amp -- you'd think I killed their kids or something."

Jerry Clutter, who plays electric upright bass in the group, tries to describe their style. "What we're doing is Rock covers with a Bluegrass twist. Just imagine a bunch of guys in the hills finally hearing Rock & Roll, then getting out their Bluegrass instruments -- it's Hillbilly Rock."

Taylor "Spud" Farley III, who does acoustic lead and rhythm guitar, adds, "We like to take creative spins on everything. If it's a Bluegrass classic, we like to turn it around and make it Rock, and if it's Rock, we like to turn it around and make it Bluegrass."

Eddie Napier, who plays the drums, says, "I usually think of it as Classic Rock with a banjo.

We also do a significant amount of Bluegrass, in which case it's Bluegrass with electric guitar."

This is how the band, which Farley started in 1987, got its name, deriving "Blue" from Bluegrass and "Rock" from Rock & Roll. The present incarnation of the five-piece group has lasted about five years and is still going strong. Not all listeners are open to the mixing of musical styles, however.

You would never think Bluegrass to be so controversial until hearing Farley talk about it. He tells a story about how the band got kicked out of the 2002 Appalachian Festival. "I'd played the Appalachian Festival for going on 30 years and then by the end of the set they had the cops pulling us off the stage for playing 'Little Wing' by Jimi Hendrix. If I hadn't opened my mouth they would never have known. We took out the drum set and electric guitar and they just about had a baby calf."

Clutter says, "They didn't think it was too funny introducing the tune (as being) 'by a little Appalachian boy called Jimi Hendrix.' "

Clutter, however, finds the music to be "a blast. Honestly, I've played Bluegrass most of my life; I've pretty much run the gamut and played all the Bluegrass that can be played. It's pretty unique, especially in this area -- you might find a few Bluegrass bands throw in a Rock tune. At live shows we often hear, 'We've never heard Pink Floyd on a banjo.' "

You might say the same for Beatles on a banjo. Or a Bluegrass rendition of "Wipeout," which led to the title of the band's new CD, Beat This. On the Surf classic, Farley recreates the famous drum solo by tapping on his banjo.

The group's diversity isn't limited to their repertoire, however. It also includes their personnel; their lead electric guitarist is a high schooler.

Mike Reese, who has been with the band for a year, brings an edgier sound to the group. A senior at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Reese says he grew up with Bluegrass because his family plays it (in fact they have their own band, called New Clover). He welcomes the opportunity to play with older musicians. "It's good experience," he says.

Farley has nothing but praise for Reese. "That kid's 17 years old and he burns that guitar better than 40- or 50-year-old guys I've heard. He's phenomenal. For 17 years old, I couldn't believe what he plays. Between him and my son (who's 21), they keep us old guys young."

TAYLOR FARLEY AND BLUE ROCK (taylorfarley.com) plays Friday at Ivey's Pub and Saturday at the 20 Mile House.


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