It's not often that a hometown musician gets to play for five hours every Friday for an audience that begins as happy-hour retirees, moves on to family dinner-timers and ends with a younger crowd of open-mic devotees. The place is Millville's Hooked Up Ale House & Raw Bar. That musician is Taylor Knox.
Knox attended Indian River High School. He was the drum major in the marching band, playing trumpet and percussion. At home, though, he played guitar, and his guitar became his passion. He was inspired to practice for hours and hours by Indian River's legendary and now retired band director, Mark Marvel. All that practice, as well as natural talent, got Knox accepted into the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“My heart was set on Berklee for college,” said Knox. “Early on, John Petrucci was my favorite guitarist, and he started his band, Dream Theater, while at Berklee. It's a technical rock band, and I listened to their music very closely and followed them.”
While at Berklee, Knox studied guitar, music theory and music education. With his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Kelly, he stayed for an extra year in Boston, teaching music and playing with his band, the Relevant Elephants.
But Boston is expensive, and they decided that there was room in Sussex County for Knox to play and teach music, and for Kelly to practice her profession — nursing. According to Knox, Kelly knew he was already married to music and the crazy hours it entails, before they ever met.
Over the last five years, Knox has been steadily building a career and reputation as a music teacher, solo musician and leader of the band Human Connection.
“I have about 10 students at the moment,” said Knox. “Mostly I teach guitar and drums to kids, but recently the grandfather of a 6-year-old guitar student has come to me for piano lessons as well!”
Drew Preston retired to Millville By the Sea in October and is the one who takes his granddaughter to her guitar lessons at Knox's home.
“I was listening to Taylor teach her and was reminded about when I took piano lessons at her age. I always enjoyed it, but then sports took over my time and I never kept it up,” Preston said.
“Taylor is such a nice person and, as a former educator, I could tell he's a really good teacher. I've had two lessons now and am practicing a lot. He asked me what I want to accomplish, rather than teach me from a canned program. It's great.”
Lucas Bennett, 9, attends John M. Clayton Elementary School and is another of Knox's guitar students. When his mom showed him some of his teacher's YouTube videos and mentioned that he played at Hooked Up, Lucas was excited to come there for Friday dinner and watch him play in person.
“I like my lessons, but the best thing was when Taylor let me strum his electric guitar,” said Lucas. He added that he is a rock music fan and his favorite song is Michael Jackson's “Smooth Criminal.”
Sarah Faul, her boyfriend, Matt Willey, and a bunch of their friends are Friday-evening regulars at Hooked Up.
“Matt loves Taylor's open-mic,” said Faul. “Because of Taylor, he gets to play and sing in front of friends and also jam with other musicians. Also, we get to cheer on new people who may start off a bit shy.”
As much as Knox enjoys teaching and playing solo, he loves the camaraderie, creativity and excitement that is part of playing in a band. For several years now, his band, Human Connection, has delighted fans in the area. Knox plays guitar and is the primary vocalist; Bob Harvey plays bass; and Michael Wiedmann is on drums.
“We are a rock band that plays reggae — both originals and covers — and gets people out of their seats and dancing,” said Knox. “We play every month at Beach Barrels in North Ocean City, including this Saturday, March 9. It's always a really fun time.”
But there is a new venture that Knox is introducing to the area that has him particularly enthusiastic. It's called the Taylor Knox Project, and it debuts on March 16, the Saturday of St Patrick's Day weekend, at High Stakes on Route 54 in Fenwick Island.
“It's progressive rock with our own unique style and our own lyrics. It will be heavy on instrumentals, kind of a mix between Metallica and Pink Floyd. And I'm working with two really great musicians, Rick Webster on drums — he's really well known in the area — and Steve Booth is on bass. He's from Bel Air.”
The trio's music and lyrics are the result of numerous hours of working and rehearsing together. The songs relate to the times we are living in, touching on issues such as climate change, with lines including: “Heating up, we find ourselves trapped inside a microwave, and we're turning it on from in here…” And a song titled “Why Are You?” wonders about the truth that lies behind people who mess up their lives.
The Taylor Knox Project has already been signed to play at Coconuts in Ocean City, Md., during the summer, including their opening day on May 4.
Tom and Mary Anne Gelnett live in Bay Forrest and are new to the area.
“We come every Friday to hear Taylor,” they said. “The whole vibe is relaxing, upbeat and makes us feel at home. We love Taylor's music, and we love how he inspires young musicians.”
Asked if they know about the Taylor Knox Project, Mary Anne Gelnett said, “Oh, yes — we have become Taylor Knox groupies! We have High Stakes on March 16 highlighted on our calendar!”
The best way to contact Taylor Knox is through his personal Facebook page, or by email at Taylorknoxmusician@gmail.com.
By Christina Weaver
Special to the Coastal Point