(June 8, 2000)

Johnnie Taylor

Thousands turn out for Taylor's funeral
Singer remembered by fellow R&B stars
By Matt Weitz / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Thousands of friends, family and fans - including musical legends Aretha Franklin and Al Green - flocked to Dallas on Wednesday to celebrate the legacy of Johnnie Taylor. The hometown R&B star, known best for his 1968 hit "Who's Making Love" and his 1976 hit "Disco Lady," died last week of a heart attack.

A viewing Tuesday at Good Street Baptist Church attracted 7,000 mourners, said Barbara Kennedy, Mr. Taylor's niece. On Wednesday, nearly as many paid final respects at the funeral of the "Philosopher of Soul."
The funeral was a mixture of church ceremony and house party. At 1 p.m., when the service started, more than 1,000 mourners who couldn't fit in the church milled about outside, either standing by the velvet-roped front walk or under a large tent next door, where two TV monitors broadcast the service. Cars lined the streets for blocks.
At least 3,500 people crowded into the church, including a star-studded guest list that included Ms. Franklin, Mr. Green, Bobby Womack and Millie Jackson, Ms. Kennedy said. In the adjoining chapel, another 1,000 watched on television.
Timothy Garner, who had sung and played with Mr. Taylor in the early '90s, remembered his former boss. "He always had a smile and a kind word, especially for the young, upcoming artist," Mr. Garner recalled. "He was a God-fearing man. He never worried that friends like B.B. King or Aretha [Franklin] were more successful than him; as far as he was concerned, they had theirs and he had his, and that was enough."
Sometimes, a party vibe threatened the solemnity of the occasion. The tent televisions were occasionally obscured, and the cadences of the service were barely audible over conversation.
"I got here at nine o'clock," Millie Brown complained from a sidewalk across the street. "We couldn't even get in. They should've organized things better; this is such a mess."
"When we opened the doors, between 8:15 and 8:30 [a.m.], there was already a mile of people," Ms. Kennedy said. "...We did everything we could to get everybody seated."
Good Street had been Mr. Taylor's church since 1971, she added. "It was the place where he'd have wanted this to be."
After the service, people filed past the casket for hours. The funeral procession didn't leave until 4:20.
"He was a very honest, loving, down-to-earth person, to me," Ms. Kennedy said. "You always think of celebrities as special, but he drove himself around every day. He helped the hungry like a normal person. The city of Dallas lost someone who not only loved the city but the people in it."

Matt Weitz is a Dallas free-lance writer.

Remembering Johnnie
Taylor combined fervor and sophistication
By Bill Minutaglio / The Dallas Morning News

Almost every weekend, the soul man did what a soul man's got to do. Johnnie Taylor, maybe Dallas' best-known ambassador of a pure American art form, would head to the airport or back his big tour bus onto Marsalis Avenue and move out on another smooth musical odyssey that would take him from Oak Cliff to points around the world.
But as he left his modest office just off Interstate 35, the one decorated with his framed gold and platinum records, it wasn't just another road trip. When elegant and often private Johnnie Taylor would glide in the general direction of your neighborhood, he'd be preparing to preach about love and all its mysterious, smoky, inconsistent, incandescent and bittersweet vagaries.
Simply put, Johnnie Taylor, who died last week at 62 from a heart attack, was an impossibly cool and learned high priest of love:
Love lost, found, stolen, betrayed, sold, bartered, badgered and cheated on.
"The best way to put it," said his friend and peer Little Milton Campbell, taking time out from a gig in Las Vegas, "is that there was only one Johnnie Taylor. He was a soul man and there aren't many left."
In early May, as part of an annual celebration of his birthday, many of his musical friends and family members (including his children) came to listen to the legend in the fittingly legendary Longhorn Ballroom. It was, in a way, the appropriate final showcase for Johnnie Taylor - the Longhorn, for years, has served as the scene of the greatest blues, R&B and soul triumphs in the history of the city. It was also fitting that his children, including the ones in his extended musical family, were there. In a way, Mr. Taylor was a godfather in a special, sadly unheralded pantheon that still sets Dallas apart from most American cities. For decades, Dallas has quietly had one of the most important concentrations of artists who have resolutely been perfecting and keeping alive what has generically been labeled "soul" - that achingly poignant brand of American music seemingly filled with the entire depth and scope of human emotion.
Among a few of the soul-inspired artists who have lived in Dallas, or camped out here for a while, are: Z.Z. Hill. Vernon Garrett. Charlie Roberson. Barbara Morrison. Bobby Patterson. Ernie Johnson. Gregg Smith. Millie Jackson. R.L. Griffin. Al "TNT" Braggs. Etta James. Sam Myers. Little Nicki. Brenda George. Harold Walker. Little Joe Blue. Tutu Jones. Andrew "Junior Boy" Johnson. B'nois King. Lucky Peterson. James Braggs.
But beyond the sheer number of performers, the Dallas soul sound is important stylistically. It is usually distinguished by an inescapable nod to the sophisticated marriage between deep blues and uptown jazz that Dallas' own Aaron "T-Bone" Walker (whose very first record in the early part of the 20th century was called "Trinity River Blues" - and was cut under the name Oak Cliff T-Bone) helped to invent.
But, like all good soul music, the Dallas sound is also always embedded in the church - and, of course, that's where you can find Mr. Taylor's musical roots. He was born in Crawfordsville, Ark., on May 5, 1938, sang in churches and then first recorded with the Five Echoes doo-wop group. He moved to the Highway Q.C.'s gospel ensemble and then, in his first important career move, replaced Sam Cooke as the lead gospel singer in the Soul Stirrers.
"Johnny was emblematic of the sound that came out of the church," said author and musicologist Peter Guralnick. Mr. Taylor had, he said, a combination of "gospel fervor and vocal sophistication." (Of course, it's no small coincidence that a special service was scheduled for yesterday at Good Street Baptist Church, where many of the most important memorials to Dallas' leading citizens have taken place over the years.)
For a while, Mr. Taylor even served as a preacher, until Mr. Cooke asked him to sing for his new label. Finally, after Mr. Cooke's death, Mr. Taylor gravitated toward the Stax label - and, during that label's heyday, he began his ascent into the first ranks of American soul singers. He uncorked a spray of hits, toured the world, was recognized for having the tightest bands in the business - and also dedicated himself to maintaining a relatively low profile around the media. Mr. Taylor did most of his speaking up on stage - including barreling through the South on what Bobby Bland still affectionately calls "the chitlin' circuit" of nightclubs and dance halls like the Eastwood Country Club in San Antonio or J.B's Entertainment Center in Houston.
But Mr. Taylor, much like jazz immortal Red Garland did late in his life, also decided to make Dallas his base of operations. He moved here in the 1960s and never left - and his presence often served as an inspiration to dozens of other soul artists struggling to keep their sound on the capricious airwaves.
"He was very, very important. He kept the trend going for about three decades," says singer and bandleader R.L. Griffin, whose nightclub in South Dallas was a place Mr. Taylor would frequently drop by. "He was one of our leaders."
That fact has been underscored by the outpouring of tributes to Mr. Taylor coursing across the Internet since his death. At a special memorial site set up by the Mississippi-based Malaco record label (his home for the last 16 years - and the home for other stalwarts such as Mr. Campbell and Tyrone Davis), there were messages posted from around the world. Among the laudatory notes was one from Karl Tsigdinos, host of The River of Soul radio show in Dublin, who said: "I have played the full variety of his songs on my radio show here in Ireland, and always receive many requests for his music, so I know he leaves a lot of fans on this small island. Music cannot afford to lose such talents - they are not being replaced."
And, from Radio France, Jean Luc Vabres simply wrote: "It's a sad day here in France, J.T. will be in our hearts forever."
At Malaco, where Mr. Taylor and Mr. Hill were among the biggest sellers in the label's history, the founder and president didn't mince any words when it came to his own salute. "He was the last of the great soul men and nobody can replace him," said Tommy Couch.
In Texas, at least, it could be said that Mr. Taylor was rivaled in critical and commercial popularity by only one other soul man - Joe Tex, the native of Rogers and resident of Navasota. And the director of the Texas Music Office, a wing of Gov. George W. Bush's office, maintained that Mr. Taylor was an important Lone Star asset.
"Music lovers in this state were made better by his beautiful voice," said Casey Monahan. "I hope people keep him alive by listening to his music."
That shouldn't be a problem, according to Little Milton Campbell. He's someone who knows what life is like being one of the handful of internationally traveling soul men who have tried to stay the course - the artists who are unafraid to bring that sweet, aching music to either a juke joint in Elgin, Texas, or a sold-out stadium in Europe. Love, and all its glories and pitfalls, will never go out of fashion. And, really, Johnnie Taylor's lessons are eternal. He was a preacher in the church for a while. And he was preaching, just on a different stage, right until he died.
"When Johnny would choose his material, it would be lyrics that made people go: 'Yeah, I've been there, I've done that.' He sang about everyday life. He maintained the heritage of recording about realism," says Mr. Campbell. "The man was a hell of a singer."


Born in Crawfordsville, Ark., May 5, 1938. In the early 1950s, began singing with a doo-wop group called the Five Echoes. They made their first and only recording for the Chance label in Chicago.
Became a member, in the mid-1950s, of the Highway Q.C.'s gospel group and appeared on the song "Somewhere to Lay My Head."
In 1957, was picked to replace Sam Cooke as the lead singer in the Soul Stirrers, the influential gospel quintet. Listeners said that his voice, at times, had an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Cooke's.
After the Soul Stirrers, he served briefly as a preacher.
When Mr. Cooke formed his SAR record label, he asked Mr. Taylor to join him. In 1962, Mr. Taylor had a hit with "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day."
After Mr. Cooke's death, Mr. Taylor continued touring and singing and finally signed with Stax Records in Memphis in 1967. He began a seven-year string of hits for the label and often used different Muscle Shoals session musicians to round out his sound, either on the road or on record.
Among his hits: "I Had A Dream," "I've Got to Love Somebody's Baby," "Who's Making Love," "Cheaper to Keep Her," "Jody's Got Your Girl" and "Take Care Of Your Homework."
Signed to the Columbia label, he had his biggest hit with "Disco Lady" in 1975 - which sold 2 million copies and was reportedly the first single to be certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
In 1982, he charted with "What About My Love" for the Beverly Glen label. Looking for someone to replace artist Z.Z. Hill (who was also living in Dallas, and who had scored one of the best-selling soul-blues songs of all time with "Down Home Blues") after Mr. Hill died in 1984, Malaco Records signed Mr. Taylor.
For 16 years, Mr. Taylor recorded a number of critically and commercially successful albums for Malaco, many of them steeped in the classic soul music genre that he had helped to invent in the 1960s and 1970s.
Died May 31, 2000. At the time of his death, his last album, Gotta Get The Groove Back, was at No. 100 on the Billboard R&B and hip-hop chart.
A song from that last album, which Malaco was talking about releasing as a single earlier this year, is called "Soul Heaven." In it, Mr. Taylor sings about a man dreaming about dying and joining the roll call of the great, immortal soul singers in "Soul Heaven."


(Intro) Soul Heaven, Soul Heaven
        Had a dream last night
        Soul Heaven, Soul Heaven
 Last night I dreamed I was at a concert
 So many people, you had to stand in line
 One night only in Soul Heaven
 I didn't wanna wake up
 I was having such a good time
 All of The Bar-Kays were tuning up on stage
 Jimi had his guitar, gettin' ready to play
 Sam was singing "A Change Gonna Come"
 Otis was there, sittin' at the dock of the bay
 There was a party in Soul Heaven
 Superstars from the past
 Standing room only, so you better hurry
 Buy your ticket cause they're going fast
 Train & Miles (J. Coltrane, M.Davis) took mean solo
 Jr. Walker had 'em dancing in the isles
 They stood up when Jackie sang "Lonley Teardrops"
 When Sammy (Davis, Jr.) danced, the crowd went wild
 I think I saw Ella standing with Mahalia
 Backstage with Elvis with his blue suede shoes
 It started raining, everybody just stayed there
 To hear Z.Z. sing the "Down Home Blues"
 Well there's a party in Soul Heaven
 Superstars from the past
 Standing room only, so you better hurry
 Buy your ticket cause they're going fast
 There's a party in Soul Heaven
 Superstars from the past
 The great Al Jackson was a holding down the beat
 When Marvin sang "Let's Get It On", they jumped to their feet
 Everyone started screaming and gave a standing ovation   
 When the curtain came up with the mighty Temptations
 King Curtis blew the "Soul Serenade"
 Thought I saw Lady Day (B. Holiday) sittin' in the shade
 I got two lovers and I ain't ashamed
 Lord I love the way sweet Mary (Wells) sings
 It was getting kinda late, it was time to go
 Tupac and Biggie (Smalls), they closed the show
 I didn't wanna wake up, I was having such a good time
 I didn't wanna wake up, I was having such a good time
 Pearl Bailey, she was there
 Duke and Count, they were there
 Woah Hathaway (Donnie), I saw him there
 Dizzie and Satchmo, I saw 'em there
 It was a party in Soul Heaven
 You shoulda been there
 You shoulda been there
 Everyone was having such a good time
 Soul Heaven
 Soul Heaven


Today the world mourns the ever too soon tragic loss of a legend. Last night (May 31,2000), Malaco recording artist and R & B great, Johnnie Taylor passed away as a result of a massive heart attack at 11:00 p.m. central standard time.

Over the past 25 years, Johnnie Taylor has been one of the most versatile and durable recording artists of the era. With a career that embraced gospel, pop, blues, R & B, doo-wop, Memphis soul, and even disco; Taylor has proven that he can conquer any form of music.

Johnnie Harrison Taylor was born in Crawfordsville, Arkansas, May 5, 1938. Inspired equally by both gospel and blues, Taylor first recorded in the early '50s as part of the Five Echoes. They were a doo-wop group that had one release on the Chance label in Chicago. However, Taylor did not receive any real recognition until he moved into the field of gospel, when he joined the Highway Q. C.'s on their recording of "Somewhere To Lay My Head".

When Johnnie Taylor would sing to audiences, people would tell him that his voice bared a strikingly resemblance to that of Sam Cooke. So in 1957, it came as no surprise that he took Sam's place in the group called The Soul Stirrers. With the group, Taylor made a number of fine recordings, but eventually left to pursue a short career as a preacher.

Sam Cooke soon formed the Sar label as a sideline to his own successful career. He sought to get Taylor as one of his artists. Taylor agreed and with that recorded the hit "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day" in 1962. But soon after, Sar's operations were suspended due to the untimely death of Sam Cooke.

Taylor soon landed at Stax Records in Memphis in 1967. With Stax, he scored with the recordings "I Had A Dream" and "I've Got To Love Somebody's Baby". Two years later, Taylor's style of music easily adapted to the demands of modern soul with his recording of "Who's Making Love", which shot to the top of the R & B charts. That record sold more than two million singles, and established Taylor as one of the nation's premier soul attractions.

For the next seven years, Johnnie's name never left the best-seller list. His first million seller was followed by such classics as "Take Care Of Your Homework", "Jody's Got Your Girl", and "Cheaper To Keep Her" to name a few.

With the demise of Stax, Taylor moved to the Columbia label, waxing the mega-hit, "Disco Lady", which was at the top of everyone's chart in 1975. But soon Johnnie left due to Columbia casting him as being a disco artist only. He made a brief stop at Beverly Glen Records in 1982, recording an album and climbing back into the charts with the single, "What About My Love". Taylor did not stay there long because he was looking for a label that would work close to him as Stax once had.

In 1984, Taylor had found that company when he signed with Malaco Records. His initial album, "This Is Your Night", was not only a well crafted piece of music, but saleswise, it was Johnnie's biggest record in nearly a decade. He later released such albums as "Wall To Wall", "Crazy 'Bout You", the award winning "Good Love", and his current release "Gotta Get The Groove Back". How fitting it is that his upcoming single tells of Johnnie having a dream about a party in "Soul Heaven" with superstars from the past performing for one night only. As great as all the performers were, they were missing one thing, the closing act! Johnnie, thanks for the memories and enjoy the rest of the show! Johnnie Taylor was 62.

Johnnie, we'll truly miss you!

The Funeral Home for Johnnie is:

The Sandra Clark Funeral Home
6029 South RL Thorton Fwy
Dallas, TX 75232
Phone: 214-371-2600
Fax: 214-374-9901
Funeral Arrangements are still tentative at this point.

For more information, please contact Malaco Records at 601-982-4522.


Go back to Johnnie Taylor FOCUS page