All in the family

Country star Moriss Taylor puts on a professional family show, Chico style

COUNTRY CROONIN’ FOR YOU Local country legend Moriss Taylor played a benefit for the Senator Theater with his crack band of seasoned musicians last Saturday night.

COUNTRY CROONIN’ FOR YOU Local country legend Moriss Taylor played a benefit for the Senator Theater with his crack band of seasoned musicians last Saturday night.

photo by Tom Angel

The Moriss Taylor Show, The Senator Theater, Saturday, Nov. 24

If your family is anything like mine, once in a while someone plans a big summer reunion and invites kin from the far-flung corners of the country to descend on one host’s home for a weekend of food, fun and getting reacquainted.

Occasionally, somebody else gets the bright idea to schedule a family “talent” show. As with any such event, the range of actual talent tends to run the spectrum, from cute-but-toneless little second cousins chirping kiddie tunes and beloved uncles attempting sub-amateur stand-up comedy to chuckling teen-aged cousins showing off meticulously nicked guitar licks and aloof aunts performing flawless classical piano pieces.

Watching Chico country music legend Moriss Taylor and his stalwart band perform at the Senator last weekend, I was reminded of those family talent shows. Everyone gets his or her moment in the spotlight. However, Taylor and his “family” came off considerably more professionally than one’s relatives tend to.

Taylor and company offered 90 minutes of music, with Taylor managing (most of the time) to lay off the corny jokes that sort of became his between-numbers shtick way back on his regular Saturday-afternoon show on KHSL-TV. On the show, it seemed as if both the band and the studio crew were goaded into laughing at those hoary chestnuts, the forced-sounding guffaws underpinned by canned applause (which was actually funnier than the jokes!).

Despite posters stating otherwise, inside the Senator it was immediately evident that the stage was set for only one band. In addition to the usual equipment onstage, there were also baskets of flowers, a couple of potted cacti, and situated above and behind the drums, across the black curtain in the back, the silvery block letters spelling out “MORISS TAYLOR SHOW.”

Taylor appeared mere seconds after the 7:30 showtime, his band already onstage and cranking out the trademark instrumental theme from his old TV show. And almost everybody onstage was familiar looking: stoic Steve Valen on pedal steel guitar, beret-sporting Jan O’Farrell on bass, metronome-steady Mark Alstad on drums, and two singers who have been appearing with Taylor for a long, long time, Rosie Mellow and Therese Chudy. New faces (to me anyway) were keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Bill Tieg and singer Cyndi Hoffman.

The men sported matching red-and-white Western shirts, while the women wore black sequined dresses. Only Taylor was fitted with a cowboy hat—a white Stetson like Hank Williams Sr. wore.

Sonically, I was impressed with how relatively quiet the overall sound was. This definitely was not just another indie or pseudo-hippie jam band. The volume was genuinely all-ages friendly. My only complaint is that sometimes the lyrics were difficult to discern.

And, as mentioned above, just about everyone had his or her moment: Mellow belted out a strong rendition of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue"; Chudy delivered a stirring “Ghost Riders in the Sky"; “Until Then” was harmonized nicely by Hoffman and Tieg; Valen got off some solid pedal steel fills and solos; Alstad and O’Farrell shone on a rockin’ version of “Wipe Out"; and the man himself treated us to a few tunes as well. One notable new song Taylor submitted for our approval, “Blue Canyon Trail,” was from a recent CD release.

Of course, Taylor and company closed with his locally classic "High Sierra." The applause punctuating the final performance was loud and anything but canned. Corny as he sometimes gets, I guess Taylor’s just another member of the Chico family.