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Tommy Taylor

 

Born Wednesday, May 8 1957 in Denton, Texas.  

 

A stormy time in Denton County, the day he was brought home from the hospital the Taylor home was struck by lightning and rare ball lightning was seen in the back yard…..auspicious arrival.

 

The Taylor family relocated to Austin in 1959.  Music was a alive in the Taylor home.  

 

"My sister is 11 years older than I am.  She was in Junior High School at the end of the 50's and had all the cool 45's back then.  You know like, Every Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Elvis, the Elegants, Chuck Berry.  I was very saturated with it all.  I played records pretty much every waking hour.  I fancied myself as the Dj of the house most of the time.  When I was about 5 we even got this mini broadcast system, where I could broadcast my own radio show over the am sets in the house.  At the age of 3, long before I could read, I could pick any requested 45 from a stack of over 100.  I could tell which particular record it was, by the wear patterns on the label and the vinyl.  I have a near photographic memory in that way.  So even if say, Elvis and Neil Sedaka were on RCA, I knew which record and which side was "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" vs. say "Stuck On You",  by the way the actual record itself looked.  They used to test me when people came over, like families do. It was one of those "Hey watch what our kid can do" kind of thing you know?

 

Mom was a piano player and a singer.  She had done some pick up work in Kansas City in the 40's because she could read music.  So if someone fell out on a road show or local bit, they would call her.  She had a wonderfully rich, soulful, white southern, female voice.  I remember her singing when I was little.  She would sing along to the records.  I have a lot of her vocal influence really.  But anyway she was really into music.  So I had her records and my sister's records before I started getting my own thing together.  Mom had like, Ink Spots and Hoagy Carmichael and Peggy Lee and Pearl Bailey.  "Tired" by Pearl Bailey was her favorite record I think.  We had "Take 5" by Brubeck and "In the Mood" too I remember.  But she dug Andrews Sisters and Louis Armstrong a lot.  It was mostly vocal stuff, and popular.  Mom was very hip.  She bought the single of "All Along the Watchtower" by Hendrix before I did.  She was in her late 40's when that came out you know…which was really old then, ha ha ha. She loved Bob Dylan.  She freaked over "Like A Rolling Stone".   Being the pianist at heart, she had this set of red vinyl 45's on RCA of Chopin.  I really dug those a lot and they would easily segue right in from "Johnny B. Goode".

 

I really felt like my arrival time was all off somehow.  I was into my sister's generation and her friends.  I guess I was kind of a mascot of sorts.  I was very hip.  I dressed in black loafers and white bedford cord levi's jeans and madras shirts like her boyfriends did.  I was into all of their music.  They would have these great parties.  Mom was an incredible creator of atmosphere like that.  She did a lot for my sister and her friends in that way.  Things were far more subtle and clean back then you know.  But whatever they were into I was into.  So these kids were just barely teenagers.  One cat, Bob Bogan was really far out.  He was like a beatnik…sunglasses… bongos…Maynard G. Krebbs kind of thing….so…the bongos…did it for me.  I had to have that!  So bongos were provided!  Then there was the limbo craze.  And after the record that came with the set wore out…you had to have more to limbo to..so there was this record they got…called Exciting Voodoo by Jean De Vres.  It had all these West African beats…and so that was the basis for my drum education…that and the rock and roll of the 50's.  

 

When my sister got a little older and they all started driving, they started going to the east side, to places like Charlie's Play House where the R and B groups would play.  Kids could get driver's license at 14 back then with parental consent.  She used to drive to 9th grade!  She would hear Bobby Blue Bland and Freddy King and she was getting into Ray Charles and stuff.  She'd get those albums and bring them home.  It was a whole new thing.  This would be like 61-62.  So I just absorbed all of that too.  

 

It was still the south and this was blatantly black music and I'm not sure how well that went over in some respects.  I mean it was cool that they went over there and certainly the patrons and the groups and the clubs didn't mind…but I think our folks were a bit uptight about it.  This was pre civil rights…things only got worse with that I think.  Before that it was at least cool for white kids to go east…maybe not visa versa…after that…things went really bad and everybody was super uptight.  To me it was just music.  I didn't know anything about anyone's color man.  

 

Things seemed to stall and then began to move rather quickly…the time just before the Beatles…seems like it lasted forever…we were into Roy Orbison and Girl Groups like The Ronettes and the Crystals and all that Spector stuff, and the beginnings of surf with Jan and Dean and the instrumentals like Chantays and Surfaris and Ventures.  The British Invasion was barely underfoot and had not really taken a stronghold yet…once they got going….it was as Chuck Berry would say, a Jet Off Take! " 

 

As the 60's came into full viewTommy began playing the guitar at age 8 and subsequently the drums at age 9.  

 

"Yeah you know my sister came home I think one Friday from school and said that there was gonna be this group on Ed Sullivan  Sunday, that was gonna be totally wild named "the Beatles".  So we couldn't wait you know?  Sullivan was it for us.  We were all about waiting through the cat with the plates on the poles and stuff to hear who Ed was gonna have on for "the youngsters".    So anyway here it was Sunday night and here came the game changer.  I think that night I saw my future really.  I mean…I loved music…but I saw myself doing that somehow.  I remember my sister bought me Meet The Beatles for Valentine's Day only a few days later…I was in first grade.  I used to take it to school and we would listen to it during nap time!  Everything was Beatles for a time..you know…I had a Beatle Club.  I was George Harrison.  

 

After that things came in a flurry really. My sister was in High School and not spending quite as much time at home.  The radio became my best friend.  At night we could get WLS in Chicago…which was a little more edgy than our one local am station KNOW.  They used to play lots of Supremes and stuff.  I liked it because they would talk about snow and 14 degrees…which seemed like Pluto to me man.    I used to get KTSA in San Antonio which was also a little different.  So many groups and so much so fast really.  

 

My friend  who lived around the corner was about 3 years older than I was. His dad ran a local music shop downtown.  So he got this electric guitar and amp.  It was one of those Airline guitars from Ward's and an old tweed Fender Champ…and he started showing me some chords.  He could already play some stuff as he had taken a few lessons I remember.  So man, once I could play a 3 chord song…I was completely hooked.  I begged and pleaded for a guitar from my folks.  My dad bought this horrible spanish style acoustic for Christmas…the action was 3/4 of an inch off the fretboard…should have had nylon strings but it had steel…man…but it was a guitar!  That would have been Christmas of 65.  I was 8.  So I  continued trying to learn.   That summer a kid came up to me and asked if I wanted a job…seems he had gotten a paper route and was quitting as the shoe shine boy at the barber shop and he, for some reason, wanted to give it to me.  So I took that and shined shoes all summer to buy my first electric guitar.  It was another crummy $20.00 Japanese  guitar but it was electric!  It was cool because the big songs were like Louie Louie and Gloria hahhaha…I could play those.  We got a Kay amp with S & H Green Stamps that mom had saved from the grocery…humble beginnings.  

 

But you know it was bicycles and swimming and slot cars too man, ha ha ha.  It wasn't music 24 hours a day.  My friend had always had a Ludwig snare drum on a stand in his room.  I thought of it as something from school you know…I never put two and two together.  So one day I went up there to see what he was doing and to get him to go out riding bikes or something.  I could hear the banging from the street.  I knocked loudly on the door and he opened it.  I said "hey man let's go riding"…he said he was "practicing".  I said what?  His dad had brought home a set of hi hats and a stand, to go with his snare.  He was leaning up agains the console stereo playing along to the record player….man…I was mesmerized.  I was like almost giddy.  I was exclaiming about how cool that was and everything….he said "here you try it".    I said something like oh man I can't do that!  He put the sticks in my hands and said "you CAN do that."  Man….it was like something changed that second.  So he puts on "Tramp" by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas.  I started playing along…and in like 2 measures I had it!  Looking back at the timeline the record must have just been out.  I can still see my self going down the hill from his house to announce to my parents that we had to buy a drumset and that I was going to be a drummer….this was met with some resistance.  They said they might get a toy snare drum to see if it stuck, you know, like parents always do?   I told them that was fine if they wanted to waste their money, but they would end up getting the drumset anyway.  So it came to pass.  It must have been my birthday in May. We got the toy snare.  It was a Mastro I believe, if research serves. It was aqua colored.  So anyway, I set it up with pots and pans and stuff and practiced day and night to records.  I think my dad figured out that I was gonna be able to pull it off because he called one day from his work out of town and asked what I knew about Gretsch drums.  I said "I think they're pretty good!"  So there was this old bomber kit from the 40's in Kerrville where he worked for sale, with a bunch of parts and cymbals for $60.00.  He said I'd have to pay him back but he would bring them if I wanted.  So…I had drums at some point in the summer of '67.

 

So we had the typical American neighborhood in the 60's.  Every kid wants to play the electric guitar!  So you end up with all of your friends in somebody's living room or garage or front porch.  Maybe one kid has a makeshift drumset and 25 electric guitars, all from Sears, ha  ha ha ha!   But it was cool because things kind of started progressing.  I started singing some of the tunes you know?  Sooner or later the fluff falls off and you have 2 or 3 cats that can kind of play and everyone else goes back to football. Some of my first gigs were like teen parties.  I played guitar half of the night and drums half of the night, split with my friend who started me out.  

Later, I got with some other guys and then re recruited better guys from the group before…these types of things until we had a pretty good unit going.  We started playing recreation centers and stuff at the local air base…assemblies at their junior high schools (I was still in primary school)…sneaking into clubs to see the better local bands and making friends with them.  Summers were great because all bets were off.  My parents were very lenient in that way.  I probably had too long of a leash but I'm still here.  

 

We got  kind of a break when Bubble Puppy, who had national success with their single "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" asked us to open for them at a local club.  There were some complications with the local union but we ended up doing the gig anyway at their request.  All of this time I was with my guys trying to make a name for ourselves.  Everyone was super talented and we were all very young.  I was 11 at this time. The oldest guy in the group was 16.  

 
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