Hit-maker Chip Taylor sings the praises of being there.
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Chip Taylor — whose hits include “Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning” and dozens of songs recorded by such musical legends as Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and many others — grew up in Yonkers, New York. Chip’s parents, Barbara and Elmer Voight, encouraged him (James Voight) and his older brothers, Barry Voight (a renowned volcanologist) and Jon Voight (the Oscar-winning actor), to pursue their passions, ask questions and discuss their thoughts.
Chip and his wife, Joan, encouraged their two children, Kelly and Kristian, to do the same — and now they’re encouraging granddaughters, Riley (13), Kate (11) and Samantha (8), to follow their dreams and to open their hearts to Mema and Pepa, as the girls call them.
But Chip wonders how kids today can find their passion when they’re involved in so many things. “There’s so much to choose from; parents run all over the place taking their kids to this, that and the other thing. I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be good to leave them alone and let them figure out what they want to do.”
Chip also believes that kids don’t get enough credit for being able to think. “Kids have a lot of stuff inside them. You can learn so much from them,” he says. “They also have a lot of questions, if you ever let them ask and if you’re not too busy telling them everything.”
Riley, Kate and Sam spend lots of time asking questions and sharing thoughts with Mema and Pepa. “We love it! It’s nice to just sit and talk with them,” Chip says. “They’re always interested in what I’m doing and thinking. But that’s a two-way street. I’m also interested in hearing what they’re doing and thinking about.”
One day, after a visit with his granddaughters, Chip started writing a song while walking down a street in Manhattan. “I was standing at the corner of First and Fifty-Seventh, singing this little song to myself. And it felt so good!” He called Joan to ask whether she thought the kids might like it. She did, and they did. So he asked the girls if they’d like to record it, and they sure did!
From then on, every other week we’d do something, and before you know it, we were doing song after song, having so much fun,” Chip says.
Those recording sessions led to an album of 13 delightful children’s songs: Golden Kids Rules, by Chip Taylor & The Grandkids (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings). All the songs are “a reminder of the power of family,” writes Jon Voight in the album’s introduction, and they all “teach kids to feel better about themselves,” Joan writes in the liner notes.
One of Chip’s favorite songs on the CD is “Magical Horse,” based on a pocket poem written by Kate. “The poem went, ‘I am a magical horse. / I eat rainbows. / I live on a cloud. / I smell like rain.’ Wow! That’s inspired!” Pepa says proudly, adding with equal pride that Riley plays the flute “beautifully” on the track.
The title track lays out some “honest” rules for grandkids, and includes a chorus that seems like a good rule for grandparents (and parents): “5, 6, 7, 8 — Who do we appreciate? Kids! / Even when they’re breaking the rules.”
And what are Chip’s Golden Grandparents’ Rules? “Be there. Bring whatever is you to your grandkids. Don’t bring some propped-up person that you think you should be. Let them know what you truly love, and then you can get from them what they truly love. Bring your good spirit, even when you don’t feel it because you’re all wrapped up in chores and work and stuff. Let them see you when you’re at your happiest, and let them know why. They’ll react to you and give you some of that back.”
Video: Chip Taylor and his granddaughters sing and talk about their album at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (Smithsonian Folkways video)
Audio: Listen to the title track, “Golden Kids’ Rules.”
Colleen Sell is the former editor of the bestselling Cup of Comfort book series, author of Ten-Minute Zen and The Everything Kids’ Gross Cookbook and former editor-in-chief of two award-winning magazines. Her three children and six grandchildren are the joys of her life.
JON VOIGHT’S INTRODUCTION TO GOLDEN KIDS RULES
“I love this album.
“It’s not because my brother wrote it. It’s not because my wonderful grandnieces sing with him on it (although these things certainly make me proud). I love it because these songs were inspired by love and sung with love: Chip’s love of his grandkids, and his love for all kids; and because these songs are just magical.
“Chip is no ordinary songwriter. He’s an acknowledged master. He’s one of the best. He wrote the rock anthem ‘Wild Thing.’ He wrote the beautiful ‘Angel of the Morning’: songs, once heard, no one can forget. He’s written lots and lots of great songs for so many great artists. The melodies always leave you humming, and the words are full of surprises and meaning.
“But not all Chip’s songs were written for wide audiences. It’s a long standing habit of his to compose songs just for his family on special occasions. A few years ago, for his son Kristian’s wedding, he went into a studio with his three grandchildren, Riley, Kate, and Samantha, and they recorded several songs. ‘Happy Wedding,’ ‘Now That Kristian and Anna Have Wed’ and the playful ‘Possum Hunter’ were among them.
“I was at the wedding. When the songs were performed we were all deeply moved and delighted. Chip’s voice, full of soul, blended with the pure, untrained voices of the children. The result was magical, and every one of the wedding party cried out for Chip to do more songs like these. Well, I don’t think it was in his mind to respond to everyone’s wishes, but the songs just came as he spent precious time playing with his grandchildren, and the result is this album.
“Charm is an ingredient we seem to have lost in music over the years… and purity. To me, this album is a treasure that comes just at the right time to lift us to a reminder of the power of family and the majesty of children.
“I wish I could be with you as you listen to it for the first time. You’re going to love it!”