Otis Taylor: Tiny Desk Concert Banjo-playing bluesman Otis Taylor plays trance-inducing music that's often built around a single chord — an approach that allows his songs to go on for as long as 10 or even 15 minutes. Watch Taylor perform his songs.

Tiny Desk

Otis Taylor

Otis Taylor: Tiny Desk Concert

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135358034/135375742" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

I'd never think that a banjo player could find my musical sweet spot, which falls somewhere between Mali and The Velvet Underground, but Otis Taylor hits it, spot on. Taylor's music is trance-inducing, and he achieves that effect by playing songs that are modal: Sometimes, they sit on one chord for the entire song. Taylor says that by doing that, by eliminating chord changes, you also eliminate reference points, so songs can run as long as 10 or even 15 minutes in length. After a while, you have no idea how long they've been going on — that's when the trance just hits you.

Taylor grew up in Denver. His mom had a ukulele, and one day, while playing around with the instrument, he broke a string and went to the local music shop to get it fixed.

Taylor says he "walked into the store and psychologically never came out. All of a sudden, I heard Mississippi John Hurt [and] country music; I never heard country music, banjos and guitars. And I went there every day after school until I moved to Boulder. And they taught me for free, because I was a little poor black kid; because it was close to the ghetto. It was sort of the bohemian section of Denver where all the coffeehouses were."

The roots of the banjo go back to Africa, but Otis Taylor didn't know that when he started to play the instrument. In fact, he says, "I didn't know the banjo came from Africa until I heard it on NPR about 15 or 20 years ago." What Taylor does with that instrument — and with the songs he writes and sings — honors that long tradition. You'll hear that when you watch this Tiny Desk Concert. Performing along with Taylor were his bandmates: Todd Edmunds on bass, Larry Thompson on drums, Anne Harris on fiddle and Jon Paul Johnson on guitar.

Set List

  • "Ten Million Slaves"
  • "Ran So Hard"
  • "Talking About It Blues"
  • "Think I Won't"

Credits

Michael Katzif (cameras); edited by Bob Boilen; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Erin Schwartz

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Jeremy Dutcher performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 22, 2019 (Michael Zamora/NPR). Michael Zamora/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Michael Zamora/NPR

Jeremy Dutcher

There is no one making music like this 27-year-old, classically trained opera tenor and pianist. Watch and see why.

Ensemble Signal performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 25, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Ensemble Signal Plays Jonny Greenwood

Watch members of the New York-based group give the world premiere video performances of two recent pieces by Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood.

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider perform a Tiny Desk Concert on March 6, 2019. Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider

Watch what happens when the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico conspires with an adventuresome string quartet for songs steeped in Latin American traditions.

Ohmme performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on April 18, 2019 (Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR) Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR

Ohmme

These classically trained artists fill the NPR Music offices with shrieking, rhythmic noise that redefines what an electric guitar can do.

Thou performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 9, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Thou

This is probably the quietest you'll ever hear the first metal band to play the Tiny Desk.

Laraaji performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 8, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Laraaji

Laraaji is best known to some for his ambient work with Brian Eno in the late '70s. He brings his meditative calm to the Tiny Desk in this hypnotic performance.

Toro Y Moi performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 16, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Toro Y Moi

Toro y Moi loses the voice processing, synths and other heavy effects for a stripped-down acoustic set at the Tiny Desk.

Better Oblivion Community Center performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 3, 2019 (Amr Alfky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Better Oblivion Community Center

Tiny Desk alums Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers surprised us all with their stunning collaboration this year as Better Oblivion Community Center. Together they radiate joy at the desk.

The Calidore String Quartet performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 5, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

The Calidore String Quartet

The Calidore String Quartet confirms that the centuries-old formula — two violins, a viola and a cello — is still very much alive and evolving.

Theodore performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 27, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Theodore

The music of Theodore is dark and transformative, with the kind of spare elegance you can hear in Sigur Rós or Pink Floyd.

Back To Top