Blues Music Now! Obituaries

The Philosopher of Soul, Johnnie Taylor, dies at 62

By Jeff Stevens

DUNCANVILLE, Texas — It's one of life's great ironies that Johnnie Taylor was known mainly for his 1976 hit song, "Disco Lady."

Taylor, who died on May 31, 2000, at age 62, scored his only No. 1 pop single with "Disco Lady." As a result, Taylor was labeled as a disco artist, even though "Disco Lady" wasn't really a disco song, as it lacked the driving beat characteristic of that genre. Johnnie Taylor

A more fitting name for Taylor was the title given him by his former record label, Stax Records: "The Philosopher of Soul." During his years with Stax, Taylor established himself as one of soul music's biggest stars. From 1967 to 1975, he was a regular on the R&B charts for the Memphis label. His biggest pop hit during this era was "Who's Making Love," which reached No. 5 on the Billboard Top 40 in 1968. It also was his first No. 1 R&B hit.

Taylor was born in Crawfordsville, Ark., on May 5. 1938. He grew up in West Memphis, Ark., which is located just outside of Memphis, Tenn.

His early music featured both blues and gospel and in the early 1950s, he joined a doo-wop group called the Five Echoes. The group released one record on the Chance label in Chicago.

Taylor eventually turned to gospel music, first joining the group, the Highway QC's on their recording of "Somewhere to Lay My Head. In 1957, Taylor replaced soul legend Sam Cooke in another gospel group, the Soul Stirrers.

When Cooke formed his own label, Sar Records, he signed Taylor to his stable of artists. Taylor recorded the hit, "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day," for Sar, but the label folded after Cooke's untimely death in 1964.

In 1967, Taylor signed with Stax Records, starting a prolific run with the Memphis label. In addition to "Who's Making Love," Taylor scored hits with songs including "I Had a Dream," "I've Got to Love Somebody's Baby," "Take Care of Your Homework," "Jody's Got Your Girl" and "Cheaper to Keep Her."

When Stax Records folded in the mid-1970s, Taylor was signed by Columbia Records, where he recorded the album, "Eargasm," which contained his biggest hit, "Disco Lady." The song was the first record to be certified as a platinum single for two million in sales.

Although the song was a hit in the midst of the disco era, it wasn't a dance song. "A lot of people got 'Disco Lady' mixed up," Taylor once said. "They thought it was disco. It was not a disco tune. We were just talking about disco."

Ironically, the big hit may have been more detrimental to Taylor's career in the long run. He never was able to recreate the song's success at Columbia, eventually leaving the label for Beverly Glen Records in 1982.

Taylor's final stop was Malaco Records in 1984. Similar to Stax, Malaco was a good fit for Taylor, who recorded hit R&B albums for the label such as "This is Your Night," "Wall to Wall," "Crazy ŒBout You," "Good Love" and his most recent record, "Gotta Get the Groove Back."

During his career, Taylor scored 11 top 40 hits on the Billboard pop chart.

Taylor, who had been living in suburban Duncanville, Texas, died from an apparent heart attack in a Dallas-area hospital.

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