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Vince Taylor

+ {Vince Taylor & The Playboys}

A rockabilly rebel and cult hero in the eyes of many punters (The DOWNLINERS SECT, GOLDEN EARRING, The CLASH, The BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA, ADAM ANT, et al), VINCE TAYLOR never had a hit in his short time as a budding Brit beatmaster, but he sure as hell should’ve in ’59 with one-that-go-away `Brand New Cadillac’ (the B-side to Pledgin’ My Love’). The Playboys’ second single for Parlophone Records (the first was `Right Behind You Baby’ / `I Like Love’, the previous November), the seminal song was the missing link between GENE VINCENT and JOHNNY KIDD.
Born Brian Maurice Holden, 14th July 1939, Isleworth, Middlesex, his American influences stemmed from the fact he was raised in New Jersey since the age of 7 when his family uprooted from England; around 1955 when rock’n’roll was the domain of ELVIS PRESLEY, his sister Sheila married into the Hanna-Barbera dynasty, thus the flitting of the family lock stock and barrel to Hollywood. As luck would have it, his brother-in-law Joe Barbera liked the cut of his jib and flew with him, as his manager, to London. Duly taking the stage name of VINCE TAYLOR (in reference to a Latin phrase on a ciggy packet and his favourite actor Robert Taylor), the teenage singer had raked the capital’s venues in order to find a backing band; while watching TOMMY STEELE at “The Coffee 2 I’s”, he was introduced to drummer Tony Meehan and bassist Anthony “Tex” Makins. Within weeks, his revolving-door Play-boys had swapped allegiances (Meehan to The SHADOWS), as Makins was also moved over for guitarist Tony Harvey (or sometimes Bob Steel), bassist Johnny Vance (born David Cobb), drummer Bobbie Clarke (born Robert Woodman) and pianist Alain Le Claire (born Alan Cocks). This was the line-up that recorded their first single, while Scotsman Joe Moretti (soon-to-be “Shakin’ All Over” with JOHNNY KIDD & THE PIRATES) performed on the classic `Brand New Cadillac’.
Unimpressed by the poor sales of both singles, Parlophone-EMI decided to try their luck with another new-kid-on-the-block, ADAM FAITH; his heavenly HOLLY-esque chart-toppers `What Do You Want’ and `Poor Me’, putting paid to TAYLOR’s time as a major artist. Thankfully, the man clad in black leather signed to the obscure Palette imprint, although a couple of 45s (`I’ll Be Your Hero’ and `What-Cha Gonna Do’) found no favour in a fickle post-rock’n’roll market.
Vince’s undisciplined and fickle aura caused consternation within the ranks of The Playboys, and fearing any repercussions from a lucrative booking supporting the ginger WEE WILLIE HARRIS at the Olympia in Paris in July 1961, his band sacked him, preferring to take the gig on as The Bobbie Clarke Noise. Taking the hint with a pinch of salt, Taylor apparently turned up at sound-check and sang out of his proverbial skin, leaving the organisers to promote him to top billing; watching in the wings was Frenchman Eddie Barclay who immediately signed him after the second show. The tables turned (or indeed up-turned), VINCE TAYLOR & The Playboys were the toast of Paris wherever they played; singles, EPs and a string of LPs flowed over the English channel from France, but as always, Vince’s hi-jinks, heavy drinking and drug abuse led to the inter-changing of his Playboys; in 1964 (for the `Memphis Tennessee’ platter), he and Clarke were augmented by JOHNNY HALLYDAY’s orchestra crew, Joey Greco and Djaoui (guitars) and Ralph Di Pietro (bass). When the French pop-rock idol was drafted into the army, Vince was free to have his pick from Ralph Danks (lead guitar), Johnny Taylor (rhythm guitar), Alain Bugby (bass) and “Stash” (aka Prince Stanislas Klossowski de Rola (percussion); this was the line-up who toured Spain and played on the same L’Olympia bill as The ROLLING STONES.
Although his rollercoaster lifestyle led him to be friends with the rock-star elite, TAYLOR chose to join a religious movement (declaring he was the prophet Matthew), although he duly found solace in married life, living from past royalties, sporadic concerts (arranged by Eddie Barclay) and as an aeroplane mechanic in tax-haven Switzerland. Vince died of cancer on 28th August 1991 in the swiss village of Lutry. Whether one believes it or not, BOWIE’s Ziggy Stardust alter-ego was inspired by the legend that was VINCE TAYLOR – a fitting tribute. With French LPs a-plenty but rare overseas, one has to recommend a compilation, JET BLACK LEATHER MACHINE (2009) {*8}.
© MC Strong/MCS May2015

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