Certain musicians achieve such a level of proficiency, have such a wide range of talents and accomplishments, and become so widely known, they become as one with the instruments they play. This is true of Robert “Tut” Taylor who is known as “Tut Taylor the flat-picking Dobro man”.
Tut was born in Baldwin County, GA on November 20, 1923. He came from a musical family. Daddy played thumpin Banjo. Mama played the fiddle, older brother played guitar and the other brother played the mandolin. He was nicknamed “Tut” by one of the brothers who gave everyone a nickname. Why Tut? No one will ever know, as he didn’t even know there was a King Tut.
Tut began playing mandolin when he was twelve. He later acquired a six string National-Dobro lap steel and started playing it with a flat pick. He didn’t even know that they were supposed to be played with fingerpicks! Then he heard the sound of the Dobro being played by Brother Oswald. He found one and learned to play it with his flat pick. He loved the sound of it so much he became a collector and trader with his collection reaching a high of 67 instruments at one time. With all those instruments over the years, it was 1968 before Tut found the one he loved. It was a special model 27. This is the only one he played from then on until recent years.
Tut, with his wife Lee and family of eight remained in Milledgeville, GA until 1970. During that early period he held numerous jobs of different kinds but sign painting was to be his main continuing vocation. In 1970 he moved his family to Nashville. Along with George Gruhn and Randy Wood they opened GTR, a music store and repair shop. Tut soon bought a Nashville sign shop to continue with his sign painting, opened the Old Time Pickin Parlor, bought the former Billy Grammer guitar factory and started manufacturing the “Tennessee” line of stringed musical instruments. He picked in a group with Norman Blake and toured with The John Hartford Aereo-plain Band. All this is just a sample of his activities. It would take a book to cover it all in detail. In fact, there was a lengthy article about his life published in 1988 and later around 2000 a book about his life was published by Pat Ahrens.
To briefly summarize some of it, Tut is a songwriter, a vintage instrument collector and dealer, a craftsman, an instrument designer, an album producer, an artist, a sign painter, an author and a Grammy winner. Tut’s creativity knows no bounds. He has picked and recorded with a who’s who list of some of the most innovative and famous musicians of the era, including, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams Jr., Ricky Skaggs, John Hartford, Don Reno, Grandpa Jones, Roland and Clarence White, Peter Rowan, Glenn Campbell, Vasser Clements, Bennie Martin, Mark O’Conner, Charlie Collins, Don Humphrey, Butch Robbins, Rual Yarborough, Red Rector, Herschel Sizemore, Norman Blake, Brother Oswald, Josh Graves, Jerry Douglas, Mike Auldridge, Stacy Phillips, Sally Van Meter, Gene Wooten Rob Ickes, lifelong friends Bobby Wolfe and Curtis and Ricky Burch.
Tut has played for all kinds of audiences from family and friends to festival crowds, to those dressed in tuxedos and to those in bib overall. He has picked on a flatbed truck in the hot sun and he has performed in the comfort of a symphony concert hall and he has played on the stage of The Grand Ole Opry including “The Last Night” at the old Ryman Auditorium. He was a friend to the Dopyera Brothers who invented the Dobro in 1927 and he traveled in 1996 to their native home in Slovakia to attend an annual Festival held in their honor and to receive the coveted Dobro Player of the Year Award.
In addition to all of the above, Tut has received many awards including one from the Governor of Tennessee in 1976 for “Tennessee Ambassador of Goodwill”. There are eight awards listed in the book by Pat Ahrens. He has participated in seven albums with other artists, and has around thirteen CD’s and albums listed in his discography. Further, he has been a friend, mentor and personal booster to many young and upcoming musicians such as Mark O’Conner at age twelve. He did all the gold leaf work and signage at the old Roy Acuff Museum on Broadway Avenue in Nashville. He and son Mark did all the signage for the new Opryland amusement park that opened in the 70’s in Nashville. Tut is also well known for his art work on musical instrument cases.
One could go on and on for hours about the life of Tut Taylor, a man now in his late 80’s, a flat pickin dobro man who has been part of Merlefest for many years and a man we have called friend and neighbor for many years here in Wilkes County, NC. There are many stories untold.