The Unlikely Duo of Chip “Wild Thing” Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez
by Brett Leigh Dicks
Chip Taylor certainly knows a thing or two about chance. Early on in his songwriting career, two of his songs, “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning,” fell into the respective hands of The Troggs and Merrilee Rush and dominated the contemporary airways. After an enviable string of hits, Taylor’s other great passion took hold — he became a professional gambler. But a few years ago, fate intervened, and Taylor encountered Carrie Rodriguez in Austin, Texas. Their random meeting quickly led to one of the most intriguing musical collaborations of recent times.
The songwriting gambler got his first taste of success when Chet Atkins handed Bobby Bare “Just A Little Bit Later On Down the Line,” a Taylor-penned song. Everyone from Frank Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin started singing Taylor’s tunes. But as his music dominated the charts, the native New Yorker became increasingly addicted to gambling. By the early ’80s, his songwriting fell by the wayside. “I was an addicted gambler all my life, even when I was writing my hit songs,” admitted Taylor. “I even disappeared for a while doing it. Then my mom took ill in the mid ’90s and that inspired me to spend some time with her. I started playing some songs for her — something I hadn’t done since high school — and that changed my life. … For the first time, I could have a musical life that was unencumbered by the gambling thing. I was free to do want I wanted.”
What he ultimately wanted was to write and play music again. So Taylor headed to Europe and released a handful of successful recordings. It was enough to lead him to the infamous SxSW Music Festival in Austin, where he saw an emerging fiddle player named Carrie Rodriguez play a record store with the country band Hayseed. One thing quickly led to another, and before Rodriguez knew it, she was on tour with Taylor.
“It all moved so fast that I didn’t really have time to think about it,” explained Rodriguez. “Because if I had, I might have really freaked out! I was just so thrilled that I was playing fiddle with him. But then he asked me to sing. That terrified me because I didn’t think I had a voice for singing, so I just had to push through it. I was pretty scared during those first few months of gigs. But experience soon gets you over your reservations, and I managed to start really enjoying myself. Now I couldn’t imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t met Chip.”
Before crossing paths, Rodriguez was still finding her musical feet. The young Texan had only just completed her musical studies in Boston and ventured home to Austin. Her goal at that point was nothing more than finding a regular fiddling position. But with Taylor, the young fiddle player got more than she bargained for. While Rodriguez never harbored any thoughts of a vocal career, Taylor persuaded her to accompany him with backing vocals. Her musical evolution continued to the point where she started dueting with Taylor.
“We were in Holland and I pulled out an old song from the early days,” recalled Taylor. “It was the first interracial hit by Billy Vera and Judy Clay and I started to sing ‘Storybook Children.’ The first line goes, ‘You got your world and I got mine and it’s a shame.’ And then Carrie wandered over to the microphone and sang, ‘two grown-up worlds that could never be the same,’ and the people just went nuts. We had to start the song again. From then on, I was writing one song after another for us to do, and the following year we recorded our first duet album together.”
Five years and three albums later, their unique union still holds a valued place in each of their respective hearts. But one senses new frontiers are about to open up for this unlikely duo. Taylor just released Unglorious Hallelujah, his first album in five years, while Rodriguez has her debut solo album, Seven Angels on a Bicycle, ready to release soon. So what’s next?
“I wouldn’t ever look at things happening as the result of luck,” said Taylor. “The reason I profited at gambling was because I worked very hard at it. Music is a little different because what we are trying to find is something that was not there before. But we still work hard. … The optimum thing to happen is for Carrie’s record to break wide so she gets the chance to do whatever she wants. And, if that happens, it won’t be because of luck.”