This week we lost the third member of the Aereoplane Band when “The Flatpickin’ Dobro Man” Tut Taylor passed away at age 91.
Taylor, along with the late Vassar Clements, Norman Blake, and Randy Scruggs made up the Aereoplane Band that helped the late John Hartford record his ground-breaking album Aereo-Plain – which I once highlighted as my favorite album of all time. (And yes, the name of the album is spelled differently from the title cut. Hey, it was the 70s.) I heard Tut play with Hartford’s band (Earl Scruggs opened for Hartford, if you can believe that) about 40 years ago, and I most recently heard him at MerleFest, where he was a mainstay.
Much has been written about Taylor’s unique style of playing the Dobro with a flatpick, as opposed to the finger picks used by every well-known Dobro player from Uncle Josh Graves to Jerry Douglas. Tut Taylor was unique, and his bluesy style fit well with the fiddling of Vassar Clements and the stellar guitar work of Norman Blake. This group has been rightly credited with starting the “newgrass” movement in Nashville, and has also been compared to a jazz quartet because of the interplay between the musicians. They were also the strangest looking group of musicians you were likely to see in the 1970s. Tut and Vassar looked like the country boys they were, while Hartford and Blake were wearing long hair before long hair was fashionable in Nashville.
As I wrote on my earlier post, for so many people who played acoustic music, Aereo-Plain gave them permission to try new things. Sam Bush has described it as a seminal recording for the newgrass movement. Hartford simply showed how to mix a hip, youthful sensitivity with a love for bluegrass music. Tut Taylor was an unlikely accomplice in that work.
Taylor did more than just play on two of country music’s most influential albums of the 20th century. He founded GTR Guitars, which is now known as Gruhn Guitars, and he also opened the Old Time Pickin’ Parlor on Second Avenue in Nashville, where I spent many a night in my college years.
But Tut will be most remembered for his help in changing the musical landscape. Take a listen to Vamp in the Middle from Aereo-Plain. At about the 30 second mark, Taylor starts adding in some delicious little fills that propel this tune forward. Great stuff.
Rest in Peace, Tut Taylor. You will be missed.
More to come…