Life Ventured: Singer-Songwriter Taylor Steele

05 Taylor Steele and Love Preachers stage photo

Last year, Taylor Steele and her band, The Love Preachers, had what they would consider a busy and productive year, performing live at four festivals, gigging regularly, then touring and working on an upcoming album.

These opportunities did not fall into the twenty-one year old singer-songwriter’s hands without initiative and hard work on her part, combined with support from the people with whom she chose to surround herself, and some luck. Steele decided not to wait around for life to happen. Early on she recognized her love for music, made the most of what she learned singing, playing guitar and writing, and then she intentionally ventured out on her own to strengthen both her sense of self and her songwriting as soon as she could.

Beginnings

Steele and her band are based in Effingham, Illinois. The singer-songwriter spent her younger years in Collinsville, Illinois with her mother before making the decision to live with her father to attend high school in Greenville, Illinois, and music was a major part of her life in both settings.

She talks about fond memories of Collinsville, where as a little girl she was included in the recurring jam circles at the local general store, being exposed to classic country tunes and learning to sing and play acoustic guitar from one of the most important persons in her life:

When I was little, my mom’s boyfriend Bill (Bill Jr.) was a lead guitarist in bar bands all over the metro east area of St Louis. His parents would babysit me. They did more than babysit me though. They played a huge part in raising me. So they are ‘grandma and grandpa’ to me. Since the moment I could talk I called them ‘Big Bull and Judy.’

 

 

Big Bull was the biggest influence on me in my early years. He took me to jam sessions and a general store when I was little. It ended up being the same town, Greenville, where I would move to when I was in high school.

Big Bull (Bill Borders, Bill Jr.’s father) was born on a homestead in Arkansas in the 1930’s, and his father played fiddle tunes. Big Bull would sit in the living room and either be watching old westerns or playing old country songs on his acoustic guitar.

I hold memories of being a part of Big Bull’s jam circles when I had first learned to play guitar. I would sing songs while he played them. He has always been a very good picker too. I would sing “Your Cheating Heart” by Hank Williams, “Cowboy’s Sweetheart” by Patsy Montana, “Mule Skinner Blues” by Jimmie Rodgers, and a few others. Everybody ate it up and I loved singing those songs with him.

Every moment of Big Bull teaching me to play a song is special to me. He is still around and still helps me with music.

Steele’s high school years in Greenville was a time for her to make connections with people who would become important in the development of her songwriting and performing.

When I moved to Greenville and was in high school, I gravitated to a local open mic at Adam Brothers Coffee shop where I would meet many important people in my life. I played there every week playing songs I’d written and would learn a new song to play about every week. I also began hosting that open mic for a while before I moved to Effingham.

Branching Out

Regarding her writing, Steele learned on her own as a young girl, driven by a strong interest to match lyrics with the chords she learned to strum on her guitar. However, after high school, she realized that some branching out would benefit her songwriting and also her live performances, so she decided to move out on her own to Effingham, Illinois and see how things would go for her.

When I finally moved to Effingham it was because I had started going regularly to Bill Poss’ Songwriters Open Mic downtown, and I was welcomed into the music family. I moved into a Summer Kitchen (a shack) behind Bill’s house and rented from him for a little over a year.

04 Taylor Steele and Bill Chambers
Taylor Steele with Australian songwriter Bill Chambers at a Bill Poss House Concert

I already had found some really good friends who supported me from the open mic; and with all of us being a part of the local festival, I felt safer moving to a new town without having a job or proper source of income! At the time, Bill Poss and my friend Garrett (who is now my bass player) started booking me gigs for awhile, and eventually I was playing more gigs. It was risky, but moving to Effingham ended up being the best thing I ever did.

One of the most important tasks that Steele accomplished was creating a support network for herself, which included family and friends who were there for her, including the skilled musicians in her band, and people involved in the local music scene.

I have gained a lot of experience since I moved to Effingham. Having people that encourage you and believe in you is amazing! Having that push and being willing to play as often as possible has hugely benefited me. I’ve had a drive to play and I think it shows in the improvement of my vocal abilities and interpretation.

06 Taylor Steele and Ray Wylie Hubbard
Steele with Ray Wylie Hubbard at the Moccassin Creek Festival

Bill Poss had booked me for Moccasin Creek Festival as a solo act on the Shady Stage in 2016. This was the beginning for me! I am happy that he has had me back each year. Last year, 2018, was the first time I played that festival with my band. We’d only been around for about seven months at that point. We are booked again for 2019… and this time we’ll have an album to promote.

My band mates are my good friends from open mic and various bands in town, but they are also some of the most talented musicians you can hear in the area. I am so proud of them.

Garrett Burris, my best friend and bassist, is a solo artist and blues guitarist by nature, playing gigs of his own, both solo and with his band, and also plays a major role in making Summer Sundown Music Festival happen in Effingham. We have played duo shows together before. He has given me a lot of advice about starting out playing gigs, and has been a very motivating friend to me.

James Stewart is my lead guitarist. His approach has a strong Allman Brothers / Eric Clapton influence. He is very smooth and precise in his sound.

Kyle Heynen is my drummer and he is the best drummer I have met. I first met him at the Office Pub in Effingham, where he is the house drummer for their open mic every Wednesday. He’s the first drummer that has played behind me. He was the drummer of a great original band in Effingham that had since broken up before our band formed.

My band (The Love Preachers) does such a great job of accenting my sound. We knocked out four festivals last summer. Since the beginning of June, I have played about fifty shows solo or with the Love Preachers.

(Full footage of Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers (Full Set) – FRamily Fest

08-03-2018)

In addition to moving out on her own and creating a nurturing environment for herself and for her songwriting, Steele ventured out on her first out of state tour in the summer of 2018.

In June, my friends Garrett, Austin, Kendell, Andrew, and I took a “Soul Journey” tour through the Catskills of New York and up to Vermont under the alias ‘Gypsy Tailwind’ (named from The Band’s song “Acadian Driftwood”).

It started as just Garrett and I wanting to take a trip because we were offered to play as a duo for the after party of Roots On the River in Bellows Falls, Vermont. We realized we would have more fun playing shows on the way there and back, and started inviting our best music buddies to join us. As a group we played three 3-hour gigs out in the east, and had only gotten together to practice maybe three or four times.

07 Taylor Steele Gypsy Tailwind

Talk about living on the edge. We ended up breaking even. That was my first time traveling and playing outside of Illinois. My position was front woman/vocals/rhythm guitar. Garrett and I also took turns leading some of our original songs during the shows. That trip was huge for me. I would say that I gained some great experience from it and after returning I felt like I could accomplish anything if I set my mind to it. It was also the most fun I’ve ever had!

Between almost running out of gas twice, camping in the Catskills with four of us stacked in a tent, getting tighter with each show we played, visiting Levon Helm’s grave, playing the Station Inn in Woodstock and meeting locals, driving to Big Pink where Bob Dylan and the Band lived, among many other treasured moments, I got back to Illinois with the feeling that my dream of wanting to bring music to people can come true! I was a better musician when I got back.

Building A Strong Foundation

Back in Effingham, Steele now finds herself having evolved into a stronger and more confident songwriter and performer, coming full circle from her experiences learning music when very young, branching out on her own soon after graduating high school, and enjoying the musical opportunities that come her way as a result.

I believe my need or want to write songs came from being exposed to so much music.

I remember how I would get lost in playing guitar and making up songs. I got such a great feeling from coming up with melodies that reflected how I felt.

To this day, my writing process feels ‘fluid,’ as if I am letting my feelings and emotions flow out of me into a song, with a feeling of release after I write that song. What has changed over time is my self awareness and the experiences I’ve had in my early adulthood that have given me the emotion to put into my stories. But what has remained steady is the style of songs that I write, which is a culmination of the music I was exposed to, namely country, western and folk music from my time with Big Bull, and blues and classic rock when his son Bill was in my life.

09 Taylor Steele

Without realizing it at the time, it was the start of how music would become such a healing and powerful element of discovering who I am.

 

08 Taylor Steele

Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers are set to record at a studio in Nashville, Tennessee in late March.

The album, to be titled Searching, will consist solely of Steele’s original music. The track list will be in order of when they were written throughout her young life showing her journey of heartbreak and soul searching into adulthood.

Steele is planning a CD release party for Searching at Tuscan Hills Winery in Effingham on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

The album will be available on Steele’s official website and also on Spotify, iTunes, and Bandcamp.

LINKS:

Taylor Steele Official Website:

https://www.taylorsteelemusician.com/

Taylor Steele & The Love Preachers Facebook page (@lovepreachers):

https://www.facebook.com/lovepreachers/

Instagram (@taylorsteelethefirst):

https://www.instagram.com/taylorsteelethefirst/

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