Written by: Ed Felker
[Editor’s note: Writer Ed Felker first heard of musician Taylor McCall on the Meateater podcast, where Taylor discussed his love of fly fishing. Intrigued, Ed tracked the young man down to learn more about the intersection of music and angling.]
Taylor McCall was six or seven when he first picked up a guitar. Soon after that he was taking lessons, but his formal instruction didn’t last long. “It’s one of these things where you don’t start out learning what you want to learn,” McCall says. His teacher wanted to teach him “Hot Cross Buns.” McCall wanted to play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” So, after a handful of lessons, McCall and his guitar teacher parted ways over creative differences. And the shy nine-year-old from Easley, South Carolina, set out to do things his way.
With little outside musical guidance, he started messing with the strings on his own, detuning the guitar and just experimenting. A self-described bedroom picker, he says that for the longest time almost no one heard him play. He was 18 years old before his parents discovered he could sing. In their defense, he was also 18 years old before he discovered he could sing.
But music wasn’t then and isn’t now his whole world. A second powerful thread from his childhood would weave through his life: fly fishing. McCall grew up not far from South Carolina’s Chattooga River, famously featured in the movie Deliverance. His earliest memories of fishing were there, backpacking in, camping, and fishing with his father. He started out spin-fishing while his dad fly-fished, but the young McCall watched with fascination as his father worked the fly rod. He wanted to learn.
As with most kids learning to fly fish, there were many years of, “Daddy can you untangle me?” But when he got older, he learned of the Delayed Harvest section of the river, a fly-fishing-only section that held fewer anglers and the promise of potentially bigger fish. “That sparked something,” McCall says. He was on a mission to fish places few people fished. “It took me over.”
He fished every chance he could. In high school, he would fish after school in the evenings. He took camping trips up to North Carolina, fishing around the Davidson and Mills rivers, looking for those hard-to-reach spots.
When it came time to look at colleges, there was really only one place on his mind: Montana. He chose Montana State University in Bozeman to study fisheries and wildlife management, but once he got there he just wanted to fish.
In Montana his two loves of fishing and music were rejoined. He started writing in earnest, and bought a drift boat. A third love, who traveled with him to Big Sky country, didn’t love Montana as much as he did. While she’s no longer in the picture, she does make an appearance in his lyrics.
When it comes to the guitar, McCall is influenced by the rock music he grew up listening to. But when he started writing songs, it felt different. “Writing just comes from another place,” he says. But pouring his soul into words, sharing pain and intensely personal feelings with the world was a terrifying idea to a man so shy he used to turn beet red if he was called on to read in class. So once again he found his own way.
“Songwriting, and showing somebody something you wrote, is kind of like getting up on stage and pulling your pants down,” McCall says. “I love writing something in a hidden way where it means so much to me, but someone else will listen to it and not know.”
The song “Jericho Rose” is filled with imagery from his time out west. “This olden boat shivers across the cold river beneath the trees/ Floating like a pine just to waste my time in search for peace,” paints a tactile picture of fishing in Montana. “Madison county where your arms never found me why did I leave/ Blamed it on the cold even though I was told don’t chase anything,” refers to that aforementioned third love.
“I started writing that one, and it just fell off the page,” McCall says. With “Jericho Rose” he didn’t set out to make the song that would launch his professional music career. But in a recurring theme for McCall of the universe aligning in unexpected ways, it would end up spiraling into a move to Nashville. He sold the drift boat to finance his first record, Southern Heat.
“None of what I do is for the money,” McCall says. “But this is my only path to making a living.” He’s fully aware of what a risky business it is, but is unwavering. “It’s one of those things where if I put my time in I could possibly make enough money to be able to fish, rather than working a job I hate every day.”
It’s not easy, though, to separate the two into “Do this, so I can afford to do that.” Music and fishing seem to fuel each other for McCall, and they’re both good for the soul. He meditates often, and can see how meditative both disciplines are. Both are escapes from the baggage of a busy or worried mind. Whether fishing or writing songs, you can’t think about anything else while you’re doing it. “I get lost in the world of making music, and fishing is the same way,” he says. “That’s how eight hours can go by like thirty minutes.”
He played his first gig just two years ago, in January, 2018. “I was a nervous wreck before doing that,” he says. But since that gig, he has been getting noticed, and things seem to be moving quickly. He signed his first publishing deal with a major company that September. Then last fall he traveled to Montana to make an appearance on the popular MeatEater Podcast, hosted by renowned outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman, conservationist, and wild game cook Steven Rinella. That appearance, on which McCall performed the previously unreleased song, “Black Powder Soul,” has garnered a great deal of attention.
McCall is unquestionably driven, and he makes things happen. But he sometimes feels like unknown forces in the universe may be nudging things in his direction. “There have been some things that have been too weird to not make me believe that something else is driving this train,” he says. “Not just me.”
For his part, the combinations of tunings he uses, his distinct voice, and his thoughtful, evocative lyrics have carried him very well in Nashville. There’s a lesson there for others starting out in music, fly fishing, or anything, honestly. “A beginner should never feel like there’s only one right way to do anything,” McCall says. “As long as you’re doing something that works and that’s true to you.”
Some of the flies he tied out west were totally unorthodox, and he didn’t care if other anglers would say he was wasting his time. The reward was to catch big fish on them anyway. He sums it all up with a smile in his voice that turns to a laugh, “Whether unorthodox guitar or flies or methods, if it’s getting the butter at the end of the day, don’t sweat it.”
You can find out more about Taylor and his music at his website or on Facebook and Instagram. Today, courtesy of Taylor McCall, we offer a debut of his new song, “The Hounds.” You can listen via the YouTube video above or via Spotify, below:
Ed Felker is an artist, graphic designer, writer, and outdoorsman who lives in Virginia. He writes about the outdoors, dogs, and fly fishing.