You might not have heard of Payton Taylor if you live outside of Nashville but mark our words, you will soon. A phenomenal singer and a natural performer, Taylor got her start in Music City while still a teenager wielding a cranked up Epiphone Wildkat
in the wild downtown honky tonks. But her life of music started even earlier, shadowing her musical father and uncles in the annual Mummers New Years Day parade, a tradition since the late 1800s featuring a pageant of competing string bands and brass bands.
“I’m from Turnersville, New Jersey outside of Philly,” Taylor told Epiphone.com during a visit to the Nashville showroom accompanied by her Mayfair banjo and Wildkat. “I came from a really musical family. My Dad and his side of the family were involved in a Philadelphia folk tradition called the Mummers Parade. If you could imagine bluegrass, folk, big band, and add some New Orleans brass band, that’s what these musicians would do. They would march down Broad Street and go house to house and celebrate the New Year.”
Photo Courtesy of 90 East Photography
“My uncle and his uncle and his
uncle played tenor banjos and my grandfather and his father before him played sax. And they were incredible. That’s where my wanting to pick up a banjo came from. And that’s where the bluegrass, folk, and the big band music kind of met. I encourage anyone who has never heard of the Mummers to at least look it up online because it really is just a special piece of where I’m from that's literally just in that little pocket of the world. All the cultures contributed to that. The Irish started a band called Irish American Stringband, the Polish, the Italian…each of them would bring their own little flair to their performance. They would spend the whole year creating a four-minute spectacle for New Year’s. One year, my family did a routine called “Gershwin” and my grandfather played a tenor sax solo on “Rhapsody in Blue.” I can still hear his very distinctive tone. It comes straight through and brings tears to my eyes every time.”
Payton’s music was also informed by her grandfather’s vast record collection. “My other grandfather was an auto mechanic but he had a great taste in music. He would play vinyl records all the time—a lot of 60s and 70s LPs. We would play the Woodstock
record in the basement and I would step on his toes and dance. He exposed me to a lot of music that he had loved. And being 3,4 years old, I just fell in love with it. And then at some point in middle school, I hung out with the band kids. On Friday nights when the other kids would go to the mall and hang out and have fun, we would sit around and listen to Rubber Soul
. It was then I had my first love—The Beatles. And here we are, surrounded by Beatle guitars at Epiphone. That’s how I first heard of Epiphone. I always wanted to play guitar. I sang forever—probably before I could actually form words—but I always wanted to play guitar.”
At 15, Payton moved to Nashville and began playing the downtown honky tonks. “I lived with my bandmates in Madison, TN and my family eventually followed me down. Today, I call my Mom ‘the songwriting soccer Mom’ because she helps me get out the door: ‘You forgot your pedal board!’
Playing the downtown clubs meant that to be heard, Payton had to plug in and soon the young honky tonker was looking for an electric guitar. “Every bit of money I had left over—pickle jar tip money-- I would put aside for an electric. I still remember that feeling when I first went to the music store. It was a big stack of $1s from playing the honky tonks. I walked into the Sam Ash music store in Rivergate Mall, I put the cash on the counter and said: ‘What can I get?’ That yellow Wildkat just jumped off the wall. I love the metal plate on the headstock. I just fell in love with it and got it the same day.”
Payton checks out the new Masterbilt Century De Luxe Acoustic/Electric Archtop. Photo Courtesy of 90 East Photography
Payton is currently taking a break from the honky tonks and putting all her energy into songwriting. “I’m working on an EP project with two awesome producers, Wade Kirby and Phil O’Donnell (writers of “Doin’ What She Likes” by Blake Shelton). When I do play live I have some awesome guys that come on stage with me and then I’ll play the Wildkat.
After stocking up a repertoire of covers, Payton now has turned her attention to discovering her own voice. “Over the past three years I really had to change gears. I had to go from playing the honky tonks to the studio. I had to think: Am I going to be a cover band or am I going to be an artist?
So I had to figure out what I wanted to say. Through the process of meeting a whole lot of different writers, I’ve been handed to Phil and Wade who are just incredible songwriters—rock stars in their own right. We’ve been getting down to ‘What does Payton want to say? Who is Payton?
’ Basically, transitioning from I’m gonna jump on top of the bar and sing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ down at Tootsies and pass the bucket around so I can live to who is Payton when she’s up in her room writing songs
“That’s what this recording process has been like. Months and months of self-discovery, figuring out who I am. When these tracks come out, I feel like that will be like putting my diary out of my journey---moving 800 miles to Nashville, being in some really uncomfortable situations, growing, and putting all that into 6 songs. I’ll always know the words to “Sweet Home Alabama” from now until the day I die. Playing those covers was the best education I could have gotten—hands down. When I listen to my grandfather’s record collection today, that’s a very, very humbling experience. I draw from that, the Mummers legacy, and great music I learned from my family. That’s where I found myself. I came to realize I love this and that this is what I wanted be. Oh, and I love my Wildkat
! I love having that thing up on stage!”