The first song Ben Taylor asked his father to teach him on the guitar was “Where Do The Children Play” by Cat Stevens.
His father taught him the song, but in retrospect, Taylor is not so sure his dad was happy about it.
“He thought it was a good song for me to learn on because there are so few changes, but when I think back I think he was kind of jealous because I didn’t ask to learn one of his,” said Taylor, the son of musicians James Taylor and Carly Simon.
Learning to play someone else’s song proved to be prophetic for Taylor. He doesn’t try to copy his father or mother musically, or to capitalize on his famous name. Taylor, 36, has spent the past 15 years traveling the country in vans and buses, playing small venues and building his own musical career his own way.
Thursday he’ll play Empire, a music room upstairs from a restaurant, on Congress Street in Portland. Amy Allen and Caroline Rose will open.
Taylor doesn’t hide from his parents’ enormous success in his chosen field, but acknowledges it is sometimes a little overwhelming.
“I don’t think of music as hard. The hard part of being Ben Taylor is being compared to my super successful parents, while trying to imagine my own music and my own performance,” said Taylor.
Taylor grew up mostly in New York and went to a variety of schools all over the country, saying that he “dabbled quite extensively in schools.” Taylor’s parents split up when he was about 6 years old. He said his mother was a “typical supportive mother” who told him constantly that he was great at everything, to the point where he had to convince himself he was not.
“She told me I was amazing at everything,” said Taylor.
Taylor said his parents never pushed him to learn music. In fact, he never took any music lessons and to this day plays guitar and piano by ear.
“I think as celebrity singer-songwriters they were super empathetic about not forcing their kids to study music, knowing there will be undue pressure and an unrealistic expectation of success,” said Taylor.
Though he liked playing guitar and singing, Taylor said he never thought much about a career in music, or any career, while in high school. In fact he left high school before graduating to travel the world.
“I never thought about needing to choose a career. I didn’t know then that there needed to be something worth pouring all of my soul and spirit into for the rest of my life,” said Taylor. “And the only thing I’ve found worthy of all that time is music.”
Since 2003, Taylor has put out a half- dozen albums or EPs, without getting wide radio airplay. His latest album, “Listening,” came out in 2012. Most of the songs have a soft, folk sound, but some have a bouncy, almost New Orleans feel. Taylor admits to having a deep admiration for Dr. John (whom he met as a kid), among other New Orleans musicians.
On several songs, including the title track, Taylor’s vocals are a little reminiscent of his father’s, but in a lower register and a little breathier. But like both his parents, Taylor definitely puts thought into his lyrics.
“Another number for another year/ Another blessing disguised by fear/ How come everything good seems so hard to hear when I’m/listening.”
Though he spends much of his time on the road, Taylor lives on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off Massachusetts. He said he actually enjoys touring most of the year, especially in a van where he can really see a lot of country. He says besides interacting with an audience in a small venue, his favorite part of touring is “long drives in the van.”
His least favorite part?
“Eating jelly candy from a gas station,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the only thing to eat, but it just doesn’t feel right.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: