Vintage Trouble’s Ty Taylor had never been to a birthday party quite like this one. There he was on stage in London with Jeff Beck and the members of Queen. The occasion was a celebration of what would have been the late Freddy Mercury’s 65th birthday in 2011. And playing the role of Mercury was none other than Taylor, the singer in a Los Angeles bar band with some very colorful spandex tights to fill.
“Freddy Mercury was a big deal in my life, as he should be in every male singer’s life,” says Taylor, who passed on the spandex to wear a gray suit and tie for the occasion. “One of the best singers in the world. Not only his voice, but his entire story. You had your Bowie, Lady Gaga, Freddy -- so bold in artistry, bringing in stuff to make the world look at them. He was like a king, his movement, delivery, existence, something very royal about it. The idea of singing Freddy Mercury songs in front of all those people, it didn’t scare me. Freddy almost sings to me right now.”
Taylor may not have the stature and flamboyance of Mercury just yet, but he’s a dervish of a front man in his own right. The Mercury gig landed in his lap after Vintage Trouble opened for Queen guitarist Brian May, one of several high-profile tours the Los Angeles quartet has landed since its first gig three years ago. Since then, the band has played about 200 shows annually on the back of a raw, self-released debut album, “The Bomb Shelter Sessions.” Taylor and his bandmates – guitarist Nalle Colt, drummer Richard Danielson and bassist Rick Barrio Dill – infuse soul and R&B with a hard-rock edge. A video filmed entirely on iPhones for the track “Nancy Lee” topped off the do-it-yourself project.
As solid as it is, the album doesn’t really do justice to the band’s raucous live performances, which turn on Taylor’s charisma and whirling dance moves, while Colt, Danielson and Dill drop the hammer.
“Where did I learn to dance? On my bed, jumping around,” Taylor says with a laugh. “I was a dangerous kid. I did TV commercials all my life as a kid: Pringles, Wonder Bread, you name it. I lived to dance -- crazy as possible. My dancing came out of being a daredevil. I did some karate, and learned to spin without falling. We like to play tightly grouped on stage, and I know one day I’m going to fall into that drum set. I know that embarrassment is only going to be good for my ego – at least I tell myself that -- so I prepare for it happening one day. I accept that. But I don’t believe in being cautious up there.”
Taylor, who grew up in New Jersey, sang from an early age in his parents’ Baptist church, and began writing songs on guitar while studying drama at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, graduating with honors in 1991. “I sang all my life, but once I started writing lyrics and singing my own experience, I got really deep into it,” he says. “It was like therapy, and I didn’t want to do anything else once I discovered that. So many people keep things inside, it builds up and they end up with this mountain of anger and anxiety. We get to exorcise that every night.”
But it took him a while to find the right combination of musicians. He moved to New York, then Los Angeles before meeting Colt, Dill and Danielson. Their first night playing out, they played two shows, sound checking for the first about 5 p.m. and finishing the last at 5 a.m. “After that, we kind of knew that this was going to work,” he says.That led to three years of nearly nonstop touring, playing everything from ratty clubs and house parties to football stadiums opening for Bon Jovi.
“People talk about the industry going down, but music is better than ever,” Taylor says. “For three weeks of promotion on the Internet, how much would that cost from your record label in the old days? At the same time, we see a real hunger out there for music that is visceral. The overall picture of what music is, is getting so cold and quantized. But our brains respond to something that is imperfect, raw, dangerous. It keeps your body alive because you don’t know where the music is going to land.”
Vintage Trouble: 9 p.m. Friday at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, $15; beatkitchen.com.