April 1, 2001
SAM TAYLOR happy to be home
Bluesman is proud and serious, whether entertaining or out on the golf course
By Jim Purdy
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Sam Taylor's got a lot of stories to tell --- enough to write an autobiography, "Caught in the Jaws of the Blues," which should be
out later this year.
Taylor was born in Alabama, but the family soon moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he grew up as a boxer, not a musician. He
fought in the ring for 13 years, from the age 11 to 24.
"Then I bought me a guitar. I got my first guitar and amp for $24 at Sears and Roebuck," he said.
In 1961, Taylor got his first taste of being a music director, when he played guitar during a show at Harlem's Apollo Theater.
The show included, among others, the Miracles, "Before there was a 'Smokey Robinson and the Miracles,'" Taylor said.
Comedian Red Foxx acted as master of ceremonies.
For the first show, Taylor followed the music director, playing his guitar after a Foxx lead-in joke.
For the second show, Taylor looked around desperately for the musical director, who'd split the scene.
After Foxx's cue, Taylor said he stood there for a beat or two.
"So I went, 'Two, three, four' and started playing," he said.
The show went off without a hitch, but the other musicians bristled.
"After we were finished, we all went back stage and all these guys - in their black suits, you know - walked right by me without
saying nothin'. Finally the last guy said, 'We run these shows at a pace. You can't be going 'two , three, four' - it's got to be
'three, four,'" Taylor said.
"That was my introduction to the Apollo," he said.
Taylor has had many blues adventures during his 46-year career, like touring Europe with Joe Frazier and the Knockouts. He's
played with James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Lang and Albert Collins.
His blues languished in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to '59.
"It took me that long to realize I wasn't no soldier," Taylor said.
He played music with actor Joe Pesci in about 1963, and the golf nut is looking for a golf game with his former band mate, too.
"I'm waiting to kick his ass. After him, I want Alice Cooper," Taylor said.
"Pesci was a great guitar player - I learned some things from him, but he's too embarrassed to say it," he said.
As Sam Taylor waited on the first tee of Silverbell golf course recently, a player scurrying to join his twosome noticed the big,
shiny eighth note pinned to the bluesman's captain's hat.
"Hey, good to see you, bluesman," golfer Jay Johnson said warmly when he recognized Taylor as the man he'd watched play
the blues countless times in countless Tucson nightspots.
"Where've you been?"
Well, the Arizona Hall of Fame bluesman is back after packing up his guitar and leaving for New York City about five years ago.
And he's back with a vengeance - doing his part to rekindle his presence in Tucson's blues scene by playing regularly at
nightspots such as Margarita Bay, the Speak Easy, the Boondocks, and the Chicago Bar.
"I think he's one of the most dynamic and commanding stage presences I've ever seen - and I've been in music for 35 years.
You don't see a man own a stage like Sam does," said Lynnette Bennett, president of the Tucson Blues Society.
Taylor's also looking to set his roots firmly into Tucson's caliche with a still-in-the-planning-stages blues club.
He wants it to be a friendly place that can be a safe haven for people in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous,
organizations that help him battle his own addictions.
In 1996, Taylor left for New York to reconnect with his family - some of his 13 children, their children and their children's
children live there.
"I wanted to go back to New York to see my grandchildren. There were a lot of them who knew of me, but who didn't know me,"
the 66-year-old said.
Taylor also says the Tucson Blues Society drove him away when the folks there didn't book him for the yearly blues festival at
Reid Park, citing its policy of rotating talent from year to year.
"It's Tucson's celebration of the blues. How can I not be there?" Taylor asked incredulously.
"They broke my heart, man. If you could get B.B. King every year, would you get him? Damn right," Taylor said.
"'Well, we get what we can afford,' that was the answer."
"I think he wanted to play every year and that's not fair to other bands," Bennett said, recalling the break.
For another blues festival, Sam resented the amount of money the Blues Society was paying him, she said.
"He asked about getting out of his contract and I said OK," Bennett said.
"I don't see it as a rift. We contracted in February and in early October he wanted an amount of money that we were paying an
"We're friends and the Tucson Blues Society and members are among his most loyal fans. He's a much-adored performer,"
"Unfortunately, he feels he doesn't get from people what he should, but he has more loyal followers than I've seen from some
rock stars, bless his heart," Bennett said.
Of course, Taylor played the blues while he was away, winning 2000 Bluesman of the Year honors from the New York and
Long Island blues societies.
The return home pleases him.
"I love it here - I'll always come back here," Taylor said.
He first arrived in Tucson in 1986, after his neighbor in Los Angeles, longtime KXCI disc jockey Kidd Squid, told him about this
It was a much-needed scenery change for Taylor.
"I was strung out. This town saved my life, man," he said.
While in Tucson, Taylor kicked an addiction to free-based cocaine, and made a name for himself in the local blues scene.
"Playing the blues is my life. I don't just play 'em, I live 'em," Taylor said.
And he's good at it.
"Yeah, I'm good," Taylor said. "I've been doing this for 46 years, and if you don't know if you're good or not after 46 years, then
Fans have packed the houses everyplace he plays.
"It's hard to get respect in your home town. People don't appreciate you until you're gone," he said.
Tucson's blues persevered without Taylor.
"I don't think the scene hurt, because there are so many excellent blues musicians in Tucson," Cathy Warner, co-owner of the
"He was missed, certainly, but it wasn't like there was no place to go to hear good blues when he was gone," she said.
Local musicians missed him.
"He's great. I love Sam. He's just a good musician and a good guy and he's definitely made an imprint in the blues scene in
Tucson," said George Howard, who invited Taylor to join his Statesboro Blues Band in the late-'80s.
"Tucson always misses him because there's not a lot of established blues bands," Howard, also an Arizona Blues Hall of
The Blues Society has also shown its love for Taylor many times over the years.
When he was laid up after a 1993 quadruple bypass operation, which left him hospitalized and unable to use his hands, the
Blues Society held fund-raisers to pay for physical therapy and other expenses.
"We raised tens of thousands of dollars for his heart surgery," Bennett said.
In 1997, a couple months after Taylor left town, his son, Bobby - a Tucson soul and r&b musician - died of a heart attack while
playing park basketball.
When Taylor returned to Tucson to bury his son, Blues Society members and many others rushed to his side.
"They put their big arms around me and held me up," Taylor said, clenching his brawny arms together in a mock hug.
"They wouldn't let me fall, man. I love them for it," he said with intense, almost misty eyes.
"I cried a little bit, but they grabbed me."
Taylor doesn't just play the blues; he nurtures them.
Another Arizona Blues Hall of Famer, Heather "Lil' Mama" Hardy, played violin with the Sam Taylor Blues Band when she
moved to Tucson in 1992.
Taylor encouraged her to start singing. She did, and now thrills New York crowds with her voice and fiddle.
Keeping the blues interesting is the key to success.
"If you keep things fresh and new and interesting and not have the same old gig every night, you can keep yourself
established," Howard said.
"We can't play stuff from 1912 and expect people to get their rocks off on it. You've got to take it to the next level."
On Silverbell's 18th tee, Taylor hits yet another powerful drive, that draws from right to left into the center of the fairway, just like
he's been doing all day long.
The golf ball bounds past his playing partner's rather long tee shot.
"Looks like the ol' bluesman outdrove the young guy," Taylor laughed.
Yep, there's no keeping Taylor down. He'll always come back in the end.
Photo by: Karl "BigDaddy" Reamer
Sam and Band opening for BB King at Westbury Music Fair. 11/16/06.