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5 Questions with Gary Talley of The Box Tops

POSTED: February 1, 2012 1:30 a.m.
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Known for their best-selling hits "The Letter," and "Cry Like a Baby," The Box Tops took the country by storm in the 1960s. After disbanding in 1970, their lead guitarist Gary Talley went on to make a name for himself in the recording industry.

Talley has recorded with numerous country music legends like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Pat Boone and Billy Joe Royal and has toured with the likes of Tim McGraw and Tammy Wynette.

He's also become one of the most sought-after guitar teachers in Nashville.

Talley still tours for reunions with The Box Tops, contributing original songs and background vocals.

This weekend, he'll be sharing the stage with accomplished vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Phillip Rogers.

The Times caught up with Talley for a Q&A:

Question: Who first got you interested in playing the guitar?

Answer: My father played guitar and my mother played piano. They also sang, so I thought everybody did it.

My mother was the pianist at a Baptist church. She and my father both played by ear, and that's how I learned. I learned to read music after I'd been a professional musician for almost 10 years.

After being a founding member of The Box Tops and playing with them till they broke up in 1970, I moved to Atlanta to do studio work in 1971.

Q: What brought you and Phillip Rogers together for a show in Dahlonega?

A: I met Phillip in about 2002 when he'd come up to Nashville to record and sing on writers' nights. He's a good writer and singer, and we did a duo gig a few years back.

He told me about The Crimson Moon, and I said I'd love to play there. When lived in Atlanta in the '70s, I used to go up to Dahlonega and the surrounding area. I loved it.

Q: How has the Nashville music scene changed since your arrival?

A: I came to Nashville in 1981 at the request of legendary producer Chips Moman, who produced some of our Box Tops records and owned the studio where we recorded in Memphis.

The first things I did in Nashville were with Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette and Waylon Jennings.

I wasn't teaching guitar as much as I do now. There were more record labels and publishing companies, with more artists on each label and more writers signed to the publishing companies. So there was a lot more work for more people.

The Nashville network had just started, and music videos were a new thing. Now almost everybody has a studio in his house, because the technology has progressed enormously. Now there's less work, and the quality of the artists has gone down because you actually don't have to be able to sing in tune to be a big star anymore.

Q: Is there someone/group you have always wished to play with (dead or alive)?

A: Well, I was fortunate enough to play with The Box Tops and Billy Preston, Willie Nelson and Sam Moore, so I can't complain. But I always wanted to play with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. And although I met him, I didn't get to play with Johnny Cash. I would've liked that.

Q: What advice would give aspiring musicians in today's industry climate?

A: Learn to play an instrument well, learn to sing well and write your own songs. Do what comes from your heart. Don't follow trends. Be real.

All these things take lots of work and years of practice. Learn the business end of it, too. If you don't know the business, you've got to have someone doing it for you. Someone you can trust completely. That's not easy to find.

 



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