It's a tradition for the Taylor Grocery Band to eat at Moe's Southwestern Grill on Sunday afternoons when they are in town to play their "electric catfish" music. The group invited me to join them for their usual Sunday lunch before they journeyed back to their homes near Oxford.
I arrived early and reserved the largest booth in the restaurant, watching the four band members stroll in. Each one had the manners of a Southern boy accented by their individual flairs. They gravitated to their favorite entrees, and I realized that eating at Moe's on Sundays is not the only ritual the Taylor Grocery Band cherishes.
"We see ourselves as trying to carry on a tradition," says Bryan Ledford, guitar and banjo player. "Roots music comes from Mississippi. We play a lot of songs by people who are famous the world over but also people that are just famous regionally."
The group collectively describes their music as American roots music with elements of blues, gospel, country, bluegrass and Delta soul. "And the occasional showtune," bassist Justin Showah gibes.
The Taylor Grocery Band's self-titled CD contains many distinctly Southern tunes, such as Jerry Lieber and Artie Butler's "Down Home Girl," with lyrics such as "Girl you know the perfume you wear smells like turnip greens / every time I kiss your mouth, it tastes like pork and beans." Amidst such Southern songs are standards like "Jesus on the Mainline" and Lou Reed's "Sunday Morning."
"We like to make the songs we play our own songs; we like to arrange them in our own way," Showah says. While the Taylor Grocery Band plays a lot of traditional songs and covers, "most of them are covers that people don't recognize as covers. You say 'covers,' and most people think you play 'Brown Eyed Girl,'" Ledford says.
While the Taylor Grocery Band takes their role as musicians seriously, they do not take themselves too seriously, and they make a point to have fun with their music.
"It's mainly just about enjoying life and sharing your talent with other people," drummer Kinney Kimbrough says. "And helping people to forget their problems," guitarist and native Venezualan Max Williams chimes in.
With everyone squeezed into the booth and reaching across the table for queso dip, our table seems no different than the tables of the families dining at Moe's.
Between the sporadic laughter, mostly evoked by amateur comedian Showah, it is hard for an outsider like me to step into the conversation. It is not that the group is exclusive or lacks a down-to-earth quality, but rather that the four men remain so comfortable with each other that they exude a family dynamic that no other person can easily penetrate.
Ledford and Showah have been playing together informally for seven years at Taylor Grocery in Taylor, Miss., but it was not until the band released their first CD in 2003 that they officially became the Taylor Grocery Band. It is hard to believe that Kimbrough only joined the group several months ago. The other members of the band are already familiar with his many stories of his father, blues legend Junior Kimbrough, and prompt him to tell me of the adventures with his father.
"You want to be different (musically), but at the same time you want to be on (the audience's) level," Kimbrough says.
"So many different people of so many different ages and different walks of life tend to like (our music). I've had a lot of people come up to me and tell me that our record is their grandmother's favorite record," Ledford says. "But then they'll tell you that their little 5-year-old dances around in circles to it, too," Showah adds.