Is it possible to be born with grit in your DNA? In the case of bassist-singer Cassie Taylor, whose album Out Of My Mind drops today, the answer is decidedly yes. She’s the daughter of award-winning blues innovator Otis Taylor, and it seems she’s well on her way to carrying on the family tradition while making a mark of her own. The self-produced album captures Cassie’s earthy vocals and sharp songwriting; it’s a recording steeped in the blues tradition but delivered with a modern-day edge.
“The blues is the basis of all American music and of everything that I do,” says Cassie, who wrote every song on the new album. “It’s a tradition, passed down from generation to generation. Some people say I’m not blues enough, but I’m a 26-year-old woman with very light skin living in the 21st century. Had Muddy Waters grown up when I did perhaps his music would sound a lot like mine.”
To be clear, Cassie is not your stereotypical 26-year old trying to knock down doors and make it as a newcomer in the music biz. She’s already a road-tested veteran, having spent a decade playing bass on stage and in the studio with her famous father, a man who Guitar Player Magazine described as “arguably the most relevant blues artist of our time”. In 2011 Cassie released her debut album “Blue”, and soon after went to work on the just-released follow up. With support from her husband, who sold his car to help finance the recording, Cassie produced, arranged, played bass and keyboards, and finally completed the album. It wasn’t long before this multi-talented artist with model looks (not figuratively; she’s also worked as a model in magazine spreads and at fashion shows) landed a deal with Yellow Dog Records. The younger Taylor may title herself “Out Of My Mind”, but chances are she will be anything but out of the minds of her fans with the new album, and for years to come.
You were barely into your teens before jumping into a solid decade of work, both live and studio, with your dad. Looking back now, what kind of experience was that for you? What were the positives, what were the negatives?
To be honest, being in a band with your dad when you’re 16 is just about the lamest thing possible, but it was truly the most influential time in my life. When I was in the third grade, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and my parents always knew I wasn’t going to excel in academics. Touring with my dad gave me an opportunity to be successful at something outside of school. Playing music gave me confidence and also showed me the world.
What are the lessons you learned as a young musician on the road?
I learned how to interact with adults and listen and learn from their wisdom. I’ll never forget being backstage at the Blues Music Awards when I was 15 and siting at a table with Ruth Brown, Odetta and Maria Muldaur. I didn’t really know how important it was at the time that I was sitting at a table of legends; I just enjoyed interacting with them on a professional level and listening to their stories.
I also learned how to pack light and go without doing laundry for long periods of time.
What about the bass, as an instrument, captured your imagination?
I didn’t find the bass, the bass found me. It was more of a need to fill in for my father’s bass player, Kenny Passarelli, than anything else.
You’ve said that your first album, Blue, was how that particular producer saw you, but your new album, Out Of My Mind, is your own vision of how you see yourself now. Can you put into words how you see yourself now?
I am a much happier person now and I feel like my first album was filled with young adult angst. Now that I am married and in much more stable circumstances, I feel like it’s reflected in my writing. There is a common thought in the songwriter world that in order to write good songs, you have to be miserable. For me, I am not about to start drama for inspiration’s sake, so I am learning how to listen more and find inspiration outside of my own personal relationships. There are more stories to be told than there are people on this earth, and I am having a great time uncovering them.
Tell us a little about who’s playing on the album with you.
The core of the album is comprised of myself, Steve Mignano on guitar, and Larry Thompson on drums. The additional musicians are Steve Vidaic on organ, Owen Tharp on bowed bass, Jon Gray on trumpet and Todd Edmunds on tuba. The hardest part of self-producing was trying to suppress my impulses to over-produce. Creating space is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s easy to put a million tracks on every song, but I wanted to stay true to the power trio sound that I tour with.
Your husband plays a big role in your career, and helped finance this album. What does that support feel like, and does he have musical input as well?
He believes in me more than I do. I met him at a bar and he didn’t know I was a musician on tour — he just thought I was hot. I dated a lot of guys in the industry and I felt sometimes they were more interested in who my dad was than being in a relationship with me. He supports my music career because he loves me and wants to see me succeed in my passion — not because he wants to play music or have creative input. I think it’s rare to find that kind of support these days, let alone in the music industry. He’s a hottie and I am a lucky gal.
It showcases the influence that Blues has had on every American genre of music. Whether it’s pop, rock, r&b or industrial metal, it’s all there and it’s all based in the blues.
When writing, do you sometimes feel like you’re baring too much of yourself to the public, or is that the point?
When you become a public figure you lose a sense of privacy. There are great stories to be told in my life and I want to share them with others. My favorite thing about music is how it brings people together and how they can relate to the music. Life can be really lonely and when someone walks up to me after a show and tells me how much they understand the lyrics to a song I wrote, it’s an amazing connection.
Do you have a general routine for how you go about writing a song?
The only thing that’s routine is scrambling to find a pen and paper to write the ideas down. They come in spurts of creativity and I have to try and capture them before they are gone.
Which tunes on the new album are the most fun to play live?
“Again” and “New Orleans” are my favorites, because I like the songs with the biggest dynamics.
Who are the bassists that have shaped you as a player?
Kenny Passarelli was my father’s first bass player and I remember watching him play as a child before I had to fill his shoes in 2003. He was never fancy or overplayed — just kept a deep pocket and played to support the song.
I chose my gear based on its durability. For me it’s about road-worthy gear that isn’t going to break if you ship it. I have two Fender Mexican P-basses. My fave out of the two is the one that I put EMG pickups in. I’m a big bottom girl — I like to roll off the top end on the amp, but having an active pick up gives me the attack of the high end without the shrillness of higher frequencies.
Mono Case: I was first introduced to these guys at NAMM back in 2007 when they were just starting out. I love their bass gig bag and have had it since 2008. I am really hard on things and their bag travels well. Souldier Strap: I’m big into vintage clothing so their re-purposed vintage fabric straps fit perfectly with my personal style.
Name three things that really irritate you.
Bossy sound guys. Gyms. Flatulence.
Name three things that make life worth living.
Coffee. Bacon. Sex.
(Photo credits, top to bottom: John Dickey, Sam Frickleton, Ryan Nicholson, Darren Boucher, Sam Frickleton. Photos provided by Shore Fire Media.)