Guitarist Kenny Taylor is not only one of the most respected and talented axmen in the area, he's also a chameleon, able to change his musical colors at will.
As a founding member of the Blue Moon Boys, Taylor has toured Europe and the States playing rockabilly for the masses. More recently, as part of Chris Shaffer's touring band, he's provided soaring guitar solos and helmed Shaff's jam-band excursions.
So what should listeners expect this Thursday night, when he starts a once-a-month solo gig at The Front Page?
"Beats the hell out of me," Taylor says. "It's hard to explain what it is that I do, because I don't even understand it myself."
Definitely on the set list will be oddball cover songs Taylor's learned in a lifetime of gigging with bands and teaching guitar. "I've been the lineman for the county a couple times," he says, referring to the 1960s Glen Campbell hit. "I can do Elvis Costello songs, but the problem with that is nobody wants to hear them."
He's working on a mixture of the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" and Radiohead's "Creep." "They're basically the same song, so you start playing one and it just turns into the other," he says.
"Teaching guitar over the years, I basically learned every song that I liked so I could show them," he says. "I kind of have a weird voice for doing impressions, which means I can do three out of the four Beatles. If the mood hits me, I might do my Karen Carpenter impression, but that doesn't hit me too often."
In his solo performances, he prefers the wildly diverse material of Johnny Cash, Al Green and Stevie Wonder. "And I know way too many Beatles songs for my own good," he says.
Not that he's not busy with Shaffer's band. In addition to performing frequently in the Indianapolis area (next date: Feb. 12 at Joe's Grille), the band has developed a following in the Chicago area, landing gigs at the House of Blues Hotel and other spots.
"Things seem to really be taking off for him [Chris Shaffer] in these other markets," Taylor says. "My role in that band is to make the frontman look good and give im what he needs. Chris has pushed me to be much more of a soloist in the jam-band sense."
His role was different in the Blue Moon Boys, a band with five albums still in print internationally. The group performs twice a year in Ireland, a place where authentic American rockabilly bands are hard to find.
Playing American bars is an entirely different ballgame than just a few years ago, though, he says. "A lot of bars that used to have music have gone out of business," he says. "There are a lot of touring bands that aren't touring anymore. There was a thinning of the herd some time ago. Every city had a punk rock bar and you could book minor shows in between major shows. The Melody Inn still does it; but Fort Wayne or Evansville never really did."
He says, "I think the kind of touring that the Blue Moon Boys did in the '90s would be impossible now. We were playing 250 shows a year. We'd just stay on the road. We'd have one day off a week. Maybe. And we'd usually find a show to play that day. But now, it's not the same; there aren't as many places to play."
As a songwriter, Taylor has had his songs performed by rockabilly legend Ronnie Dawson, among others; but the songwriting has taken a back seat as a member of Shaffer's band.
"Shaff doesn't need any help songwriting," he says, although Taylor wrote one song and co-wrote two others on Shaffer's last CD, which will shortly be remixed and reissued with different cover art.
Future plans include more recording and touring with Shaffer, although no timetable has been set for a new album.
Taylor has never brought his solo show to Indianapolis before, although he's been performing it for around 10 years. "Hopefully, people will enjoy it," he says. "I'm just a crazy guy with an ear for mimicry."