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JOHNNIE TAYLOR has always been something of a mystery character to us at B&S. On numerous occasions, we have tried to track him down and hold him long enough to get some facts together. Once, we even managed to snare him in his dressing room at the Apollo Theatre but when it came to time to talk to the man, he wasn't in a very talkative mood and so we had to wait until now.

I confess that I was a little apprehensive immediately before the telephone conversation began but I was immediately — and pleasantly — put at ease by the charming way that the Super Taylor thanked me for taking time to call him.

The call has certainly come at the perfect time for Johnnie because his "Super Taylor'' album is enthroned in the top echelons of the American albums chart and his September single blockbuster — aptly titled "It's September" and culled from the aforementioned LP — will undoubtedly carry him to customary heights long before winter sets in.

However, let's go back to the beginnings and for this, we compiled a whole bunch of facts from various press sheets and album sleeves, the contents of which Johnnie confirms. Christened Johnnie Harrison Taylor, our man was born in Crawfordsville, Arkansas, on May 5, 1938. He studied at the West Memphis College in Arkansas before moving with his family to Kansas City, Missouri, where he finished college

Johnnie's musical roots date back to his teens when he sang with a gospel choir, called the Five Echoes. It was with this group that he made his recording debut on the Chance label. In 1957, he joined the Highway Q.C.'s and recorded for Vee Jay's gospel label. But it was in August 1 960 that he got his big break when he joined the Soul Stirrers. The outgoing member of that group was none other than Sam Cooke and it was Sam who selected Johnnie to replace him.

"I was actually singing with a little local group called the Melody Masters at the time," Johnnie recalls, "when Sam came into town — that was Kansas City, by the way — and we hit it off right away. You know how it is sometimes. Anyway, Sam seemed to admire my talent and he recommended that I be the one to take his place in the Soul Stirrers."

By 1963, Sam had grown into a giant in the business and had moved to Los Angeles, where he formed his own record company, Sar Records. It was during this year that Sam invited Johnnie to move to the West Coast and try his luck with a pop-soul record.

The first release was "Whole Lotta Woman", a song co-penned by Sam's manager and closest friend, J. W. Alexander. The second release, though, was the one to establish Johnnie in the charts. Entitled "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day", it gave Sar one of its earliest hits. Sam was the co-writer of the song, by the way.

A string of releases followed on both Sar and Derby labels but Johnnie didn't hit the charts again and on Sam Cooke's untimely death, Jonnie asked the company to then release him.

But Sar Records had been enough to whet Johnnie's appetite for the future and he realised that he had to stay in R&B. "I guess I knew then that I had to do what I could to reach my largest audience," is his simple explanation as to why he left his gospel roots behind him to concentrate on the more lucrative world of R&B.

However, vocally and in the man himself, those roots have never been forsaken because his voice would still sound in place in a church and singing praise to the Lord. "I really didn't want to restrict myself to one musical category." he continues, "but I could never turn my back on gospel — either on the music or what it all signifies."

On gaining his release, Johnnie admits that he could have signed with any one of a handful of companies in Los Angeles but, when visiting relations in Memphis, he suddenly found himself in the offices of the city's rising giant at the time, Stax Records. That day was the turning point in his career because it is a nine-year relationship that has never gone cold — both Taylor and the company readily admit that they have played a major part in each other's meteoric rise to fame and fortune.

The initial sessions were produced by none other than Isaac Hayes and David Porter, then merely upcoming writers and producers. However, success was immediate because the first release, "I Had A Dream" (a Hayes-Porter special) carried Johnnie into the R&B Top 20 for the first time. And there hasn't been a prolonged period ever since that Johnnie hasn't at least hit Top 20 in the States.

Frequently, he has climbed into the Top 5, carrying off Gold Awards for such million sellers as "Who's Making Love", "Jody Got Your Girl And Gone", "I Believe In You" and "Cheaper To Keep Her".

At the time "Who's Making Love" turned Gold during the winter of 68/69, Johnnie commented that he found he didn't get time to relax any more and that has been the way it's been ever since.

"I can still vividly recall the day that Homer Banks and Bettye Crutcher brought me that song and excitedly told me they were going to give me a Gold record!" he laughs. "But they were right. I felt it could be a hit, even a big hit, but I never expected one of my records to sell three million."

The record was co-produced by Don Davis and Al Jackson Jr. of the M.G.'s and they went on to produce a string of other hits for J.T. The record also was an important one for the company, Stax, because it gave the organisation its first Gold record since leaving Atlantic and going totally independent.

The hits continued through 1969 with "Take Care Of Your Homework", "I Wanna Testify", "I Could Never Be President", "Love Bones" and into 1970 with "Steal Away" and "I Am Somebody". An album entitled "The Johnnie Taylor Philosophy Continues" continued to keep the man's name on both album and singles charts.

The first week of January 1971 brought a happy event for Johnnie. It was the week that "Jody Got Your Girl And Gone" entered the American charts and the record climbed to No. 1, passing two million in sales and giving him his second giant single. The song was particularly interesting in itself because it followed a similar theme to "Who's Making Love" and was all about a certain Jody Grinder' who specialised in visiting young wives when their man was 'away'.

At the time, Johnnie commented: "It's a helluva song because most guys kinda think that way anyway. Every guy likes to think of himself as a potential Jody — you know, the super stud, the cat who finds all the chicks fair game. Or he likes to think it's that way!" The record was particularly big in Viet Nam where the message was simple — while the soldiers were away and fighting, Jody was home and playing.

This second Gold 45 established Taylor in the super-tax status and enabled him to move into a lush house in the select suburbs of Dallas, Texas. Johnnie has set up business in the Texan city because he feels that it's untapped ground as far as expanding new talent is concerned.

"Basically, it's a production company but we aim to help develop local youngsters," he quietly states. "At this time, I guess I'm the company's main asset but we have been developing a group of new songwriters — which should ensure that I'll never run out of songs, anyway!

"But Dallas isn't like Detroit or Memphis where there's a record company on just about every corner. I'd like to think that I could be instrumental in helping the city to get on to the musical map. The company is called Tag Enterprises. I feel that I should also expand from being just an entertainer. That way I can determine my own direction and future.

"Too long, black entertainers have gone in through the back door and we have to benefit from their mistakes and learn and make sure that the whole system changes."

1973 brought a bonus year for Johnnie with not one but two million sellers in "I Believe In You" and "Cheaper To Keep Her" and he moved into the superstar status — a position which he has easily retained via successful singles and the "Taylored In Silk" and "Super Taylor" albums.

Now with Stax moving over from Polydor to Pye, a lot of effort is being placed behind Johnnie Taylor to establish him to a similar status in Europe. So, be warned — this could still be the year of the Super Taylor in Britain.

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