Johnnie Taylor Remembered
Days before soul singer Johnnie Taylor died, he sat down with his record label to pick the next single from his 1999 Gotta Get the Groove Back album.
His choice? 'Soul Heaven,' a song in which Taylor envisions a party in the afterlife populated by soul musicians.
Taylor died Wednesday night of a heart attack at his home in Dallas. He was 62.
'I had the utmost of respect for him as an entertainer and as a recording artist, and as a decent human being,' said Taylor's Malaco Records labelmate Little Milton (born Milton Campbell), from his Memphis, Tenn., home. 'He made a great contribution to the world of music. He'll be sadly missed. There was only one Johnnie Taylor.'
'Things are pretty intense around here,' publicist Burton Doss said, describing the mood at Malaco's offices in Jackson, Miss. 'I knew Johnnie was loved, but I had no idea how much. I've gotten calls from as far away as Ireland and France.' He added that Taylor had appeared to be in fine health.
Doss said services were tentatively set for Wednesday in Dallas, but he added that Taylor would be buried in Kansas City, Mo., next to his mother.
Condolensces Pour In
The label has set up a message board on its Web site (www.malaco.com). As of Friday afternoon, more than 150 messages had been posted. Soul artist Prince apparently sent a note, saying, 'From Chanhassen to International Falls, all Minnesota music lovers will miss the great JT ... ' A spokesperson for Prince could not confirm that the post was actually from the artist, whose Paisley Park studio is in Chanhassen, Minn., but said she had no reason to doubt it.
Soul legend Rufus Thomas , who, like Taylor, recorded at the legendary Memphis label, Stax, remembered a September 1998 performance by Taylor at Memphis station WDIA's (1070-AM) 50th anniversary show.
'Johnnie was one hell of an entertainer,' Thomas said from his Jackson, Tenn., home. 'I've seen him being so incredible onstage so many times, but that night, the man was at his best.'
Thomas, whose daughter, Carla Thomas , recorded with Taylor, was pleased to recall the onstage tribute Taylor paid him that night. 'He said he learned a lot from me; he kept repeating that throughout the performance,' Thomas said. 'But there was no one greater than he was. If I knew he was performing somewhere, and I could get to the show, I went.'
Malaco will release a single and video of 'Soul Heaven' in the next few weeks, according to Doss. The song describes Taylor lying in bed and having a vision of a one-night-only party in soul heaven, with such R&B greats as the Bar-Kays , Otis Redding and Sam Cooke playing their hits.
Singer Afraid Of Jinxing Self
'He didn't want to sing the song at first,' songwriter Rich Cason said on Friday from his Los Angeles home. Cason said Taylor didn't want to get jinxed by singing a song that mentioned Redding's '(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay' and Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' both of which were the last songs those performers recorded before they died.
'But then I told him that we all have to make that passage someday, and that when he died, all of these legends would be shaking Johnnie's hand for paying homage to them,' said Cason, who praised Taylor's common sense and willingness to share his wealth of experience with others. He said Taylor cut 'Soul Heaven' in two takes in June 1999 in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
The Arkansas-born Taylor began singing in Chicago with the gospel groups the Five Echoes and Highway QC's , where his gliding vocal style reminded fans of Cooke.
Taylor replaced Cooke in the gospel quartet the Soul Stirrers in 1957. Taylor went on to record for Stax. His first big hit, 1968's 'Who's Makin' Love (To Your Old Lady While You Was Out Makin' Love)' ( RealAudio excerpt ), rose to #5 on the Billboard pop chart, and subsequent songs such as 'Cheaper to Keep Her' and 'We're Getting Careless With Our Love' established Taylor as one of the last of the great soul shouters.
Taylor's biggest chart success came with 1976's sexy 'Disco Lady' ( RealAudio excerpt ), a #1 hit and the first single to be certified platinum.
'If there's any real continuity from the gospel quartets of the 1940s and '50s through the soul of the '60s to the disco of the '70s, Taylor represented it best,' said Craig Werner, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of Afro-American Studies and author of 'A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America.'