In the ’60s, Lofton, Don & Susan were Corpus Christi, Texas’ answer to Peter, Paul & Mary. Now, they didn’t call themselves that: Lofton Kline, Don Williams and Susan Taylor were known as the Pozo-Seco Singers. But they were cut from the same cloth, shared the same manager (Albert Grossman, who also managed Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Gordon Lightfoot, among others) and had some minor hits.
In “Nobody Famous,” an excellent new documentary that will screen in the virtual New Jersey Film Festival on Feb. 6, director Elizabeth Ahlstrom tells their story. But that’s just part of the film: Ahlstrom also paints a memorable portrait of Taylor, who is still active as a septuagenarian folk artist (performing under the name Taylor Pie), a writer for other artists, and an indie record company executive.
Taylor and Williams were the lead singers in the Pozo-Seco Singers (“pozo seco” is Spanish for “dry well”). After the group disbanded, Williams went on to have major success as a country artist before dying in 2017. Also, Ron Shaw, who replaced Kline in 1967, later sang with the the Hillside Singers, who had a huge hit with “I’d Like to Teach the World Sing.”
Though I, frankly, had never heard of the Pozo-Seco Singers before seeing “Nobody Famous,” they were a pretty big deal in the ’60s and early ’70s, recording for Columbia Records, making the national Top 40 twice, and appearing on television shows such as “The Mike Douglas Show.” Their producer was Bob Johnston, whose credits included classic albums by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Simon & Garfunkel. And they opened shows for artists like The Smothers Brothers and Odetta.
So what happened? Well, basically, they were never able to score a truly big hit, and the smaller ones stopped coming as well. They passed on an opportunity to record “Angel of the Morning” because Taylor couldn’t relate to it, and it became a Top 10 hit for Merilee Rush. They recorded “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” but so did Peter, Paul & Mary, and Grossman wouldn’t let them release their version.
Grossman, in general, was distracted by his other high-profile clients, and though the Pozo-Seco Singers did manage to cross over from folk to pop with 1966’s “I Can Make It With You,” they were still perceived as a folk trio, and musical tastes were changing.
Taylor and Williams became a duo, but when they found themselves at a gig where they had to sing while standing on top of a bar, they knew it was time to quit. Both went solo. While Williams became a country star, Taylor stayed true to her folk roots and worked on a smaller scale in the New York and Berkshire folk scenes. She then moved to Nashville and concentrated on songwriting. And it worked. Her songs have been recorded by Tanya Tucker, the Oak Ridge Boys, Mickey Gilley and Bette Mider, among others.
“Being able to survive, and not having to depend on being famous, to me, was a gift,” she says.
She still hosts folk shows and works with younger artists. The greatest thing about this documentary is being able to watch a luminous young folksinger transform herself, over the decades, into a luminous folk elder statesman — still “childlike in her enthusiasm,” as one of her collaborators describes it.
It’s not often that a documentary shows you that. Particularly if it’s someone you’ve never heard of before.
Here is the film’s trailer:
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