The Life of Pie
I was born in Jacksonville, Texas as Susan Taylor and spent most of my summers with grandparents in Longview listening to my mom and her sisters sing harmony on church hymns. Singing seemed natural to me, but I was so shy that I could only sing songs to the family while standing behind grandma’s kitchen door.
My family moved to Oklahoma when I was 4 and at 9, I started guitar lessons with Dick Gordon in Tulsa, OK. With Dick’s help, by the time I turned 10, I was performing at the recitals and concerts he produced. Elvis Presley was my favorite singer to emulate, and one night at the Tulsa IOOF hall as I was singing, “Love Me”, I stopped to grab the microphone (like I’d seen Elvis do), and a woman in the front row squealed loudly! I’m sure she thought it would thrill me, but it scared me so badly that Dick had to step in and help me recover so I could finish the song!
By the time I was 14, I was a regular on the “Sun Up” show which aired each morning on a local Tulsa television station. The hosts of the show offered to send me to NYC for music and acting studies, but mom declined. We moved to Corpus Christi, TX not long after that where I quickly found a group of local musicians, Paul Butts, Pete Rose, and Gene Bryant, and we banded together to become the Corpus Christi Folk Music Society. I immersed myself in old English/Irish ballads and American folk songs, and when folk turned pop, I was in heaven.
Along came Michael Merchant and the two of us started a folk trio, performing mostly at school and civic functions. In 1964, when I became a senior at W.B. Ray High School, Mike headed off of Penn State University, and I began performing solo at the Del Mar College hootenannies, where I met a couple of singer/pickers named Don Williams and Lofton Kline. We formed a trio called the Pozo-Seco Singers and when Mike came home to Corpus for Christmas break and played me a new song he’d written called, “Time”, I knew it would be perfect for the Pozos. I made him teach me all the chords and the lyrics in one afternoon, because I knew it was so special.
Paul Butts, acting as our manager at that time, took us to Gold Star Recording Studio in Houston to cut Mike’s tune for a local label called Edmark Records. Mike went along and played the upright bass, and it became a regional hit for us. Joe Mansfield, promotion man for Columbia Records, heard the song, signed us up, and in 1966, “Time” charted #1 on Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston radio stations, followed by four albums on Columbia. Paul eventually stepped aside allowing Albert Grossman to manage us, and we toured extensively over the next five years, changing our lineup several times with Ron Shaw replacing Lofton Kline, and for the last couple of years, Don and I worked as a Pozo-Seco duet with backup musicians like Teddy Irwin on guitar and Brad Campbell from the Paupers on bass.
In 1970, Don and I retired the Pozos, and I met Allen Reynolds who produced a solo album with me on JMI Records, Jack Clements label. While at JMI, Allen and I co-produced 3 Don Williams chart singles for the label and I got to play mandolin on Bob McDill’s classic release, “Stories”. McDill and Reynolds also made me a co-writer on “Sugar Cane” because of that mandolin.
Around that same time I opened a craft shop called “The Craft Cranny” and invited 50 craftsmen from all over the state to help us create a craft fair in Middle Tennessee. We had about 1,500 people show up at our little shop on Bandywood Drive! There simply weren’t any craft places in Nashville back in the early 70’s. The business was eventually sold and the new owners moved to West End Ave changing the name to the American Artisan. They continued the craft fair and it is now one of the largest in middle Tennessee! Here’s a link: TACA Craft Fair
Once folk music became less favored by the Nashville community, I grew restless as an artist and songwriter, and in 1972 moved to New York City honing my songwriting skills while playing clubs like Folk City, O’Lunney’s and The Bottom Line with my band, The City-Country Band. Bette Midler came to Folk City one night and heard me sing, “Back in the Bars Again” and ended up using it in her “Clams on the Half Shell” review. I was so excited!! It’s still one of my highlight moments in NYC. During that period, Tanya Tucker, cut one of my tunes called,“Round & Round the Bottle” on her “Here’s Some Love” album, along with a Richard Manegra/Pie song called, “Take Me To Heaven.”
In the early 80’s, I moved to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts playing local folk clubs like The Red Lion Inn, and making sojourns back to Nashville a couple of times a year writing with Allen Reynolds and Dickey Lee. We penned “Peace Within”, and The Forester Sisters, along with several other country acts recorded it. Dickey and I also wrote a gospel tune around that time called, “Just Like Angels”, which was released by The Lewis Family and nominated for the gospel Dove Award. “Full Grown Fool,” a tune Allen and I wrote, became a hit for Mickey Gilley when he was with Columbia Records.
In 1986, I returned to Tennessee and bought a “20 acre-more or less” hill side farm about 60 miles southeast of Nashville. Allen and I continued our friendship and when he started a publishing company called Forerunner, I was signed as a writer. That’s when I met Herb McCullough and Debbie Nims and we wrote “Oh, Mandolin,” a song that I’m convinced will someday be a bluegrass classic. Of course, part of my confidence is because Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike recorded it with such sweet perfection. They even got Tim O’Brien to play mandolin on it!
Most recently, independent artist, Terri Hendrix, recorded the title cut from my “Long Ride Home” CD on her “The Art of Hanging Wallpaper”, Wilory Records release and Herb’s and my, “Walkin’ On The Moon” on her “Celebrate the Difference” children CD.
In 2005, I reconnected with Kathy Harrison, a W.B. Ray ’65 graduate like myself and after many phone conversations, we began forming the framework for PuffBunny Records. Our first release was “So Little Has Changed” followed by a live album with Eben Wood accompanying me on guitar at Hondo’s on Main in Fredericksburg, TX.
My first solo album, “Finally Getting Home”, originally recorded at Jacks Tracks for JMI Records was re-released this past year along with the the last Columbia Records album for the Pozo Seco Singers, “Shades of Time.”
Now I’m preparing to head to Texas in the spring of 2014 to join up with musical buddies, Michael O’Connor and Jeff Plankenhorn to do some song swarming. If you aren’t familiar with the term…songswarmer [sawng-swawrmer] noun: a vocalist or musician who practices the art or act of improvisational accompaniment on the original songs of others.” And that’s exactly what we do when we share a stage! We’ll be recording our tour for a cd project at the Bugle Boy in early May. Stay tuned…check my schedule…
It’s been a grrreat year, and this is the best time of my life! The music feels better than ever and I’m creating it with incredibly talented friends who share the same kind of dreams and goals! I thank my lucky stars for all of you who continue to listen and your support will always be my inspiration.