Johnnie Taylor was one of the most versatile and influential singers in the history of American music. He performed in a wide range of genres, from gospel to blues, from soul to disco, and from pop to doo-wop. He had a distinctive voice that could express deep emotions and convey catchy melodies. He had a long and successful career that spanned five decades and produced dozens of hits, including the number one singles “Who’s Making Love” and “Disco Lady”. He was also known as “The Philosopher of Soul” for his insightful lyrics and social commentary.
But on May 31, 2000, Johnnie Taylor’s heart stopped beating. He died of a heart attack at the age of 66, leaving behind a legacy of music and a legion of fans. What caused his sudden demise? How did he live his life? And what impact did he have on the music industry and culture? In this article, we will explore these questions and more, as we pay tribute to the late Johnnie Taylor.
The Early Years: From Gospel to R&B
Johnnie Taylor was born on May 5, 1934, in Crawfordsville, Arkansas. He grew up in West Memphis, Arkansas, where he started singing in gospel groups as a child. He was influenced by his mother, Ida Mae Taylor, who was also a gospel singer. He joined the Highway Q.C.’s, a gospel quartet that included a young Sam Cooke. He later replaced Cooke as the lead singer of the Soul Stirrers, one of the most popular gospel groups of the time.
Taylor’s singing style was remarkably similar to Cooke’s, and he soon attracted the attention of secular music producers. He signed with SAR Records, Cooke’s independent label, in 1962, and recorded his first R&B single, “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”. However, SAR Records folded after Cooke’s death in 1964, and Taylor moved to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1966.
The Stax Era: The Rise of Soul
At Stax Records, Taylor found his niche as a soul singer. He recorded with the label’s house band, which included Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and collaborated with songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter. His first hit with Stax was “I Had a Dream”, which reached number 19 on the R&B chart in 1967. His breakthrough came in 1968 with “Who’s Making Love”, which topped the R&B chart and reached number five on the pop chart. The song sold over one million copies and earned him a gold disc.
Taylor continued to score hits with Stax throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone”, “Cheaper to Keep Her”, and “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)”. He also experimented with different genres, such as blues, funk, and disco. He became one of the most successful artists on Stax Records, along with Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Carla Thomas.
The Columbia Years: The Disco King
In 1975, Taylor left Stax Records after the label went bankrupt. He signed with Columbia Records, where he worked with producer Don Davis again. His first album with Columbia was Eargasm, which featured his biggest hit ever, “Disco Lady”. The song was the first ever to be certified platinum by the RIAA for selling over two million copies. It also reached number one on both the pop and R&B charts in 1976.
Taylor capitalized on his disco popularity with more hits like “Somebody’s Gettin’ It”, “Love Is Better In The A.M.”, and “Your Love Is Rated X”. He also recorded duets with Linda Clifford and Carla Thomas. He remained with Columbia until 1982, when he switched to Beverly Glen Music.
The Malaco Years: The Blues Master
In 1984, Taylor signed with Malaco Records, a small independent label based in Jackson, Mississippi. Malaco specialized in blues and southern soul music, which suited Taylor’s style and taste. He recorded several albums with Malaco that showcased his blues roots and his mature voice. Some of his notable songs from this period include “Last Two Dollars”, “Good Love”, “Slide On”, and “Soul Heaven”.
Taylor stayed with Malaco until his death in 2000. His last album was Gotta Get The Groove Back, which was released posthumously in 2001. It featured his final hit single, “Big Head Hundreds”, which reached number 42 on the R&B chart.
The Legacy: The Soul Survivor
Johnnie Taylor died of a heart attack at Charlton Methodist Hospital in Dallas, Texas, on May 31, 2000. He was buried beside his mother at Forrest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri. He left behind a rich and diverse catalog of music that spanned over 40 albums and over 70 singles. He also influenced many artists who followed him, such as Luther Vandross, R. Kelly, John Legend, and Bruno Mars.
Johnnie Taylor was a soul survivor who adapted to the changing trends and tastes of the music industry. He was a versatile and talented singer who could sing any genre with ease and flair. He was a philosopher of soul who expressed his views and feelings through his songs. He was a legend who made his mark on the history of American music.
According to Wikipedia, Johnnie Taylor was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2022, in recognition of his contribution to the blues genre. He was also honored with a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail in 2012, near the Malaco Records studio where he recorded his later albums.
Johnnie Taylor’s heart may have stopped beating, but his soul lives on in his music and his fans. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest singers of all time.