Keith & Margie
Story Jason Browne | Photographs Luisa Porter
IN THE BEGINNING
Twenty-one years ago in Lowndes County, Margie Taylor was on the hunt for a keyboard player who could handle the melody to Oleta Adams’ cover of Brenda Russell’s “Get Here” for a fashion show performance. Keith Brown was a Columbus multi-instrumentalist who had built a reputation for musical versatility. A friend of Margie’s who knew of Keith would connect the two.
“I told him ‘I can’t pay you anything for playing, but I can fix you dinner,’” Margie recalls. “So he said ‘Yeah, invite me to dinner.’ We started as good friends. From there things just escalated.”
Things escalated first to a relationship, then a marriage, then a musical partnership that has seen the couple, billed simply as “Keith and Margie,” become ubiquitous staples of the Golden Triangle’s live music scene and beyond.
THE GENESIS OF KEITH AND MARGIE
Margie grew up in Lowndes County. Her father sang in a gospel quartet and would enlist his young daughter to sing during practice sessions at her family’s home. She would lose him to a car crash when she was 8.
“I started out in the church, but I loved music in general. Anything that came on the radio, I soaked it up,” she says.
Keith, a Southside Columbus native, was touring with the Mississippi Mass Choir when he met his future wife. A hungry student of the game, as a youngster he badgered an adult friend into teaching him some basic chords on guitar and taught himself the rest. He would later teach himself to play bass guitar and keys, to program drum machines and to record on his own in a home studio.
Ironically, following the couple’s wedding in 1993, music took a back seat to day jobs for almost 10 years.
“We used to sit around the house a lot, and he would play, and I would start singing to some of it. It just so happened that I knew just about every song he was playing,” says Margie.
LET THERE BE MUSIC
Then serendipity struck. One day Keith got wind of a jazz-themed open mic night at the tiny dive bar attached to the Master Host Inn in Columbus.
“I heard about it on the radio and thought, ‘that’s right up my alley.’ I love jazz. I told the lady (hosting the event) Margie and I would be there. I just threw her in,” says Keith. “She was reluctant about doing it.”
Reluctant or not, the twosome was a duo once again. They returned to play jazz night several times and the chemistry was undeniable.
“It didn’t take long. Probably within two months people started offering us jobs. The buzz just built on its own without any advertising. It got to be really hectic getting to work and the gigs, and we had to decide if we really wanted to do both. So, we had to quit our day jobs,” says Margie.
As word of mouth spread, the act was pulled all over the South, logging shows in Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana and Georgia; however, the vast majority of their performances have taken place in the Golden Triangle.
For an average of three nights a week, three hours per set, Keith and Margie keep audiences satisfied with a blend of old school R&B hits, but Keith relishes the chance to break out some Hall & Oates or some Rod Stewart.
Once, an audience member bet him he couldn’t play any Electric Light Orchestra. Some ELO was served up from memory in a matter of seconds.
But the reason Keith says local bars and newlyweds keep paying Margie and him to play is because they can give the people what they want.
“You play what people like … what they’re familiar with. You can’t play the fourth song on the B-side of a Led Zeppelin album,” he says. “We play songs kids can listen to and grandparents can listen to.”
And that philosophy extends beyond familiarity. It means a family-friendly show. One in which Margie frequently invites children on stage to share the mic with her.
It means family-friendly rates, too.
Performing as often as they do may keep the bills paid, but it also has allowed Keith and Margie to witness minor miracles. From moving audience members to tears with love songs to stirring long-dormant impulses.
Margie recalled one free show the couple put on at a nursing home where a man in the audience approached them after the show with tears in his eyes.
“His mom had Alzheimer’s and she was up dancing. He said ‘My mom has not looked at me and known me in so many years. This is the first time in years I saw any light in her eyes.’ He was in tears and that made me cry,” she says.
Then there’s the other side of depending on public interest to make a living.
“We’re starving musicians,” Margie jokes. “We’re doing all right, but musicians don’t eat well sometimes.”
Keith said he’s made a few attempts to record his and Margie’s music, and they’ve even worked on some original tunes, but they’ve yet to make a true effort at selling albums on CD or singles online.
“The music doesn’t jibe, supposedly, with what’s going on today, and I absolutely refuse to bend,” says Keith.
For now, Keith and Margie are willing to play live as long as audiences keep bringing their folding chairs to the Riverwalk and filling bars to hear them perform.
“Music is our life. We love it,” says Margie. “We plan to keep on doing it until we just can’t.”