SCOTT SIMON, host:

Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez are drawing a great deal of notice in the corner of acoustic music called Americana, or alternative country. At least one critic who said they have set a new standard for country duets. It has also been said their music should never have happened. NPR's Felix Contreras explains why.

FELIX CONTRERAS reporting:

You'd be hard-pressed to find two people more different from each other than Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez. Taylor is a 65-year-old country music singer and songwriter with decades of experience in the music business. Rodriguez is a 27-year-old fiddler who wasn't even born when Taylor had his first chart success and was a backup musician for bluegrass bands when she started performing with him.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHIP TAYLOR and Ms. CARRIE RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) Oh, see the light, now free me, free me. Oh, see the light, don't let me fall. Oh, see the light, now see me, see me, climbing over your garden wall.

CONTRERAS: Chip Taylor says hearing their voices together give him what he calls `the chill,' something he refers to repeatedly when he describes an exceptional musical experience. The first chill was when he was five-year-old James Voight in Yonkers, New York. His parents couldn't find a baby-sitter and took him along to a Broadway musical.

Mr. TAYLOR: Soon as the music started, I got this chill, and it didn't leave me, and I remember driving home in the car, not wanting to talk to my folks, just wanting to sit in the back seat and feel what I was feeling, what the music made me feel like.

CONTRERAS: He held on to that feeling and eventually wound up in Manhattan in the early 1960s, where he changed his name and began knocking on the doors of music publishers in the famous Brill Building, looking for a job as a staff songwriter. To get the attention of one publisher, he used a trick he learned from his older brother, a fledgling actor named Jon Voight.

Mr. TAYLOR: With John, we were talking about the role in "Midnight Cowboy," when Jon just was turned down for that role and then just decided not to take no for an answer and flew back from California to confront the people in the last minute of decision-making, and met the director on the steps as he was--you know, just walking up and saying hello and got a chance to do it and got the role. And with me, it was like going to a publisher's office in New York and having the secretary say, `Well, I talked to you on the phone. He has no time this afternoon.' I said, `I know. You talked to be yesterday, and he had no time, so I'll wait.' And after a while, the guy came out laughing. He said, `You still here? Come on in. Let's see what you've got.'

CONTRERAS: Taylor got his staff writing job and penned a string of hits for the likes of Eddy Arnold, Bobby Bare and Waylon Jennings.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WAYLON JENNINGS: (Singing) She's the one that you left and she's the pride that you kept. She's the innocence that you left back in your years.

CONTRERAS: One day Chip Taylor got a call from a producer looking for a rock 'n' roll song.

Mr. TAYLOR: I remember I just went in and asked the engineer to turn the lights out and started playing it and let the thing run on for a while and stopped a few times and said something and there it was. I listened back. I said, `Wow, I like that.'

(Soundbite of "Wild Thing")

Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) Wild thing, you make my heart sing...

That was the demo of "Wild Thing," which I think sounds like The Troggs's record except it's done with a big old acoustic guitar banging away and me stomping on the floor and banging on some things.

(Soundbite of "Wild Thing")

Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) Wild thing, wild thing, I think I love you.

CONTRERAS: Taylor started recording hit songs himself in the early '70s, and Emmy Lou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Johnny Cash, among others, covered some of them. Carrie Rodriguez listened to those records at home in Texas.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: I was a big Janis Joplin fan. I think I had already started playing with him when I learned that he wrote "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)," you know. So his music was affecting me growing up even though it was from a different time.

(Soundbite of "Try")

Ms. JANIS JOPLIN: (Singing) Well, I want to try, yeah, just a little bit harder so I won't lose, lose, lose him and nobody else...

CONTRERAS: With such a track record, you'd imagine Chip Taylor walking around with a pen and paper, scribbling melodies and lyrics all the time. But on his morning commute from Yonkers to Manhattan, he was working on a different kind of paper--a horse-racing form. Taylor says he's been addicted to gambling since he was a kid when he discovered he had a knack for winning at poker by figuring out how to count cards. In 1980, he left music to become a professional gambler, and he says he was good at it, but...

Mr. TAYLOR: Some of the most depressed times that I had, that I experienced, was when I won the most money. So all of a sudden I'd be there and I'd be working hard toward this goal. And let's say it was a Pick-6 and you waited all afternoon to see if you won it, and there, you won it and you won $46,000 or something like that. And you say, `That's all there is,' you know, or that's the feeling I would get. I'd get tears in my eyes, not from happiness. The money was--you know, it was money. It was--that was all there was to this thing?

CONTRERAS: At about the same time, Carrie Rodriguez was growing up in that unique environment where Texas and Mexico become one culture. She heard all kinds of Texas music through her father, Austin singer and songwriter David Rodriguez. Her mother was an opera and classical music fan who took her to a performance by violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: I stood up and started clapping. I was five years old and I didn't even know it wasn't the end of the song. I don't know. I think I was so excited, that I just stood up and clapped, and then everyone looked at me, and my mother said that Itzhak looked down, and just smiled at me. So I think that was a big moment. And after that, I wanted to play the violin with a vengeance.

CONTRERAS: She went on to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Berklee College of Music in Boston where the violin became a fiddle.

(Soundbite of fiddle music)

CONTRERAS: Carrie Rodriguez was performing at South by Southwest in 2001 when Chip Taylor heard her. They've been performing together ever since, and just released their third album.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RODRIGUEZ and Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) And there's a rainbow to chase the clouds away. And their prayers were answered in good time. And their sins were meant to be forgiven. Once again you'll be in love.

CONTRERAS: On paper their collaboration shouldn't even work says Texas music journalist Joe Nick Patoski.

Mr. JOE NICK PATOSKI (Music Journalist): Their voices don't really necessarily sync. I mean, you know, Chip has got this wise and road-weary, soulful voice.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) Over here where I am standing there's a bent and broken man, and for the vision, which is wrong, he would cross the burning sand.

Mr. PATOSKI: Here comes Carrie out of nowhere with this drawl that you say to yourself on first listen, `This has gotta be affected.' But, in fact, she sings just like her mama talks.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) They have wandered like ...(unintelligible). They have wandered far from the shore. They've been captured by the (unintelligible). So their work turned dark and cold.

Mr. PATOSKI: It's all too honest to be in show business and it's this honesty that makes it all work. I mean, you hear them sing together and it's romance.

CONTRERAS: Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez are not romantically involved, but Rodriguez says their unlikely artistic partnership is based on a genuine affection for each other and the chill they get performing together.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: I really love those moments when you are just completely unaware of reality. You're just going to that space in time and the story of the song and then I'll come out of it at the end and not even know--you know, I'll be surprised that we just finished the song, not even know what's going on.

CONTRERAS: Chip Taylor says he's never been happier than when he's making music with Carrie Rodriguez and despite all his years in the business, he says there's still room to learn something new.

Mr. TAYLOR: You know, it's not--I'm not like the old master walking around showing everybody how to do it. She's been such a positive influence on me and as far as the relationship goes that's such a strong thing. We just--we really--we have a really nice thing together.

CONTRERAS: Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez both say they often scratch their heads over how well their collaboration has been received. The differences in age, background and experience create a mystery they say they are both content to leave unsolved.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And there's more of Chip and Carrie's music on our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TAYLOR: That was it.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: Were we recording that?

Mr. TAYLOR: Yeah.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, I didn't even know we were. We were just talking.

Mr. TAYLOR: You got that, Huck, right?

SIMON: And throughout the morning NPR will continue to cover the developments in the bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where at least 83 people have been killed in terrorist attacks there overnight.

This is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Scott Simon.

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