When I reach Pam Taylor by phone, she's en route from Amsterdam to Israel, preparing for the September 23 release party for her new solo album Steal Your Heart at a Tel Aviv joint called, of all things, Mike's Place.
"I've never been this far away from home for so long," Taylor, who grew up in Lancaster, South Carolina, says.
The distance the Charlotte-based singer, songwriter and guitarist has traversed since launching her career in 2011 at Forty Rod Roadhouse, in Mint Hill, is more than geographical. It's an odyssey of healing and personal growth that has shaped her both as an artist and person. Perhaps fitting for a country singer who plays electric blues guitar, her road has been beset with hardship and disappointments: a band breakup, lost job, collapsed roof, and more recently, a ruptured disc in her neck that nearly derailed her career.
Taylor had been playing in cover bands when she decided to write and play her own music. The Pam Taylor Band released their debut album Hot Mess in 2012 to favorable reviews, but on the eve of a tour, the band broke up. That same week, Taylor lost her day job, and then came home to find that the roof of her house had collapsed.
"I thought, 'what else can happen?'" Taylor remembers.
The answer was plenty. A ruptured disc in her neck left her in excruciating pain with a paralyzed left arm. Doctors told her she would never play guitar again, so Taylor turned to alternative modes of healing. With no band and few prospects, she relearned how to play, and took the opportunity to improve with lessons from noted blues guitarist Debbie Davies.
Steal Your Heart is the result of Taylor's personal and professional journey, a collection of inspiring confessional songs based on her catchy riffs that flit easily among crunchy rock, sassy R&B and soulful blues.
"Blues is the root," says Taylor, "and Steal Your Heart is the fruit."
What can you tell me about the ruptured disc in your neck?
It was the worst pain in my life. My entire left arm was paralyzed, and I couldn't turn my neck. The doctor told me I'd probably never play guitar again because the nerve damage was so extensive. My fingers were curled up, and I couldn't straighten them out. What [the doctor] wanted to do was inject steroids in my neck, which could be fatal. They said they would have to put me under, because if I moved, the needle could hit the wrong place and kill me. Obviously, I opted out of that.
What did you opt in for?
Most of the time when I meet people through my music, they become a part of my life in such a way that it means way more to me than just a fan. So I have "frans." It's a word I came up with that combines friends and fans. One of my frans [her word for "friend fans"] reached out to me and told me about her acupuncturist. That's how I learned about energy healing and how our bodies are just conduits for electrical impulses. Sometimes that energy gets stagnant, and we need to get the energy moving again. My stress level and my emotions caused my ruptured disc. My body couldn't handle the emotions I was going through. That's what I learned about healing and pain. Pain is an indicator of a spiritual or emotional symptom you're not dealing with.
Obviously the acupuncture and energy healing worked.
I remember going to dinner about an hour and a half after my third [acupuncture] session, when the mobility came back into my neck. Somebody said something to me and I just turned my neck like normal. I thought, 'Oh my god, it's working!' I went back for eight sessions before I had complete feeling in my fingers. Then I had to learn how to play guitar all over again.
You've been taking guitar lessons from noted blues guitarist Debbie Davis. How did that come about?
I had met Debbie on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in January. The following March I lost my job. Debbie posted on Facebook that she was giving Skype guitar lessons. I thought it was perfect timing. I had nothing to do, and now was the time to get better, to learn more about my craft. I took over 50 lessons — one a week for over a year. She really helped me put the pieces together. Debbie made it so easy. She taught me what I wanted to learn. I'm a songwriter. I want to make my songs better. I want to be able to play lead up and down the neck and connect the dots. So she pretty much just taught me what I needed to know. She said, "Most people want to learn every blues song, lick-for-lick, and play like Albert Collins, or play like Stevie Ray Vaughan."
I thought, I don't have time for that stuff. That's already been done. I'm here to create. She would teach me a lick, and that next week I would come back and I would have written a whole song. The groove in my single "Squeeze Me" is a lick she taught me. I created that song around it. She said, 'I never taught anybody like you before," and I said, "Well, I never learned from anybody like you before.'"
What message would you like people to bring away from Steal Your Heart?
I want them to realize that, no matter what they're going through, they can build from it and learn to love themselves. Self-love is what has made everything change for me. You can't have any kind of quality of life without loving yourself. It was hard for me to look into a mirror and think I loved myself, because I didn't. I hated myself for a long time.
The songs [on Steal Your Heart] aren't about heartbreak. They're about love. "Squeeze Me" and "Make You Mine" are both about new love. "Ordinary" is about my deal with my neck and my ruptured disc. "Mountain" is overcoming depression.
Every song on there is about something personal to my life that everybody struggles with, one way or another. It's a message of hope.