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by Mick Shelton of Derby, United Kingdom

What would a Texas troubadour have in common with a musical chicken?
Good question and the answer is a long story.

The tale begins in 1997, Joe Ely had released 'Letter to Laredo' two years earlier and was touring the United Kingdom.
A bunch of guys from Derby with forty years of musical history under their belts were approaching their half century of years on planet earth. To their amazement a local promoter of 'Americana' music has pulled off the coup of the century and booked the 'Letter to Laredo' tour for the Festival Inn at Trowell, a venue more famous for its 'grab a granny' night and the punch ups in the car park.
It's early March, the scene is set, its cold outside but packed and hot inside. The Joe Ely line up could only be described as a cross between the Texas Tornadoes and a Mariachi band, the result was awesome, a searing memory that won't go away and one that you don't want to go away. Joe Ely was brilliant, his timing, his direction, the delivery, true story-telling to music. What else could stir the senses?
Stand up Jesse Taylor. Now there are guitarists and there are guitarists, from every musical persuasion, many levels of genius in their own field but when it comes to Americana and Country Rock, Jesse Taylor is one of the best. Typically well built, as any Texan would be, with big strong hands and fingers that would challenge his dexterity, Jesse stood up that night and gave a display of acoustic and electric guitar work that we have rarely seen equaled. It was a night we would never forget or stop talking about and for more reasons than Jesse's performance.

This was the night that the 'Stereo Chickens' were born and as if by magic it took the name of a song written by the great Tom Russell and forming the center-piece of the 'Letter to Laredo' album. The song was 'Gallo Del Cielo' a story about a fighting cockerel. As the boys hugged the bar taking in copious amounts of the local brew, a guy from Rotherham known only as 'Reckless Eric' issued the immortal phrase "Wow, a song about a fighting cock, sounded more like a stereo chicken". The name struck a chord and Graham who had been secretly planning a celebratory musical tour to America in celebration of our fiftieth year, decided that this was the name for the 'Rock n Roll Seniles' tour, 'The Stereo Chickens' were up and running.

From this night on we would check the musician listing on almost every CD we would buy to search for confirmation that Jesse had played on the recording sessions, it was the final endorsement to the quality of the album.

What followed for the next five years was in itself a full length feature of musical extravaganza's across the 'States', Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Austin and one unforgettable night in San Antonio. The night in question was Wednesday May 2nd 2001 and after flights from London via Chicago the 'Chickens' checked in at the Marriott River Center hotel on the first stage of the 'Amazing Tour'. First impressions of San Antonio were not much to shout about and we hoped the 'Alamo' city would produce something special. Well, the normal procedure was to scour the local papers for the entertainments page which at first sight appeared to be uninspiring apart from the mud wrestling which has a strange appeal for me. Then tucked away amongst the debris was the name Billy Joe Shaver. Performing live at the 'County Line' and sponsored by Coors Light, it was the answer to a prayer.
We took a stroll along the river walk, pleasant enough but not a heart breaker and took some dinner at a place called the Old Coffee Pot, there must be many more like this but good value. Then it was a cab ride to find the 'County Line' and believe me it took some finding.
The place turned out to be a diner on the outskirts of town, bags of atmosphere and memorabilia, a large tabled patio with a makeshift bar at one end and a similarly made up stage at the other. Billy Joe was already in full flow but it was not this amazing man's voice and lyrics that took our attention from the lipstick pink sunset that lit up the Texan sky and turned the back drop of the neon strip to a mere work on part in a Broadway show. It was a sight that I will never forget, even greater than the leather clad 'Coors' girls handing out the free beers. It took a while to regain control and refocus on the task in hand, that being Billy Joe who was still weaving his magic spell. Suddenly an electric guitar chords up from the band to open the next number and Billy Joe announces, "on guitar, Mr. Jesse Taylor," the crowd went wild and so did we. Jesse was truly brilliant that night, as was Billy Joe and I cannot recall the number of encores but it was getting light as we made our way to our temporary home.
Jesse Taylor that night showed us the joy of Texacana country rock guitar work and after the show he talked with us and so many of his fans, making sure his wife and family were introduced to all, a true gentleman, a great Texan and a wonderful guitarist. He recalled the night with Joe Ely back in '97 and was amazed that people still remembered and took such an interest.
Jesse Taylor passed away in March 2006 after falling on hard times through illness during the last couple of years. His passing will be mourned by few but the few will understand what it takes to be a musical legend.

Rest in peace, Jesse, the 'Stereo Chickens' will never forget you.

(c) Mick Shelton, 2006

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