The Godfather of Southern Soul/Blues. Period. Also nicknamed the "Philosopher of Soul" during his Stax days, Johnnie Harrison Taylor was born in Crawfordsville, AK, on May 5, 1934 (or maybe1938 as he sometimes claimed); but grew up mostly in nearby West Memphis. He began singing in church as a young child, and later moved to Kansas City, where he performed with a gospel group called the Melody Kings; it was through this outfit that he initially met and befriended Sam Cooke, singer for the popular Soul Stirrers. In 1953, Taylor left home and moved to Chicago, where he joined the doo wop group the Five Echoes; shortly thereafter, he began performing concurrently with the gospel group the Highway QCs. In 1957, Taylor would replace Cooke in the hugely influential Soul Stirrers, after Cooke departed for a career in secular music. in 1961 Taylor joined Cooke's Sar label for a few singles. Cooke was killed in 1964 so Taylor switched to Stax the following year. His first significant hit came in 1966 as "I've Got To Love Somebody's Baby" reached #15 R & B. This was swiftly followed by the #19 "I Had A Dream". But in 1968 he shot through the roof with the #1 R & B smash "Who's Making Love", which also hit #5 on Pop charts. Over the next five years Taylor racked up hit after hit for Stax until the label went bankrupt. From there JT joined Columbia Records and jumped on the disco bandwagon. And it worked at first. His first single with the label, "Disco Lady" became a #1 Pop record. Some lesser hits followed via "Somebody's Gettin' It" (#5 R & B #33 Pop), "Disco 9000" (#24 R & B) & "Your Love Is Rated X" (#17 R & B) but the general quality of the albums was uneven and the commercial appeal declined. JT next cut one record for Beverly Glen that spawned two charting singles before he found a new permanent home with Malaco Records in 1984, a Southern label dedicated to preserving the region's classic soul and blues sounds debuting with 1984's "This Is Your Night", Taylor and Malaco began a twelve album run of terrific Southern Soul/Blues for the label. Although Taylor's albums charted on R & B Charts he hadn't had a Top 40 single until "Good Love" sneaked in at #39 R & B in 1996. Of course his songs were always hits in the South but "Good Love" and album of the same name became the biggest record in the label's history. It reached #15 on R & B Charts and even crossed over to the Billboard Top 200 albums at #108. , After two successful follow ups Johnnie Taylor died of a heart attack on May 31, 2000.
"Wanted: One Soul Singer" (Stax 1967)
1. I Got to Love
***1/2 Johnnie had some minor hits on Sam Cooke's Sar and later Derby labels but his solo career truly began with this Stax debut. Forceful Memphis soul, rhythmic soul and a helping of soul/blues became the outline for JT albums. Isaac Hayes & David Porter (a virtual Lennon/McCartney of soul music) provide the hits "I Got To Love Somebody's Baby" & "I Had A Dream" and also "Toe Hold" (before Wilson Pickett claimed it), "Outside Love" and the now classic slow blues "Little Bluebird". JT also cut the first version of Homer Banks' "Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)". Perhaps the most interesting cut is the funky transformation of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man", albeit none too successfully.
"Who's Making Love" (Stax 1968)
1. Who's Making
****1/2 The album that made Johnnie a star commencing with the #1 R & B smash "Who's Making Love" plus the #2 hit "Take Care Of Your Homework", both co-written by Homer Banks. But it wasn't just thumping Memphis jams that JT was becoming famous for. His entreating, gospel-tinged tone and distinctive phrasing (influenced by Sam Cooke) is already matured on "Not The Same Person" and "Mr. Nobody Is Somebody Now"
"Raw Blues" (Stax 1969)
1. Where There's
Smoke There's Fire
**** When you hear the term "raw blues" you probably think of someone the likes of R.L. Burnside rather than pretty-voiced Johnnie Taylor. And honestly, that would be more fitting. Although JT can muster plenty grit in his voice and this outing has a greater percentage of blues, it's really mannered "soul blues". Midnight lounge readings of "Where There's Smoke There's Fire", "Hello Sundown", "Party Time Love" and "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down" are the purest blues he recorded for Stax, however. But there's also a couple of Staxy funk n' soul cuts like "That Bone" and "You Can't Win With A Losing Hand".
"The Johnnie Taylor Philosophy Continues" Stax 1969)
1. Testify (I Wanna)
*** Stax fits Taylor with a cache of hit-minded songs on album number 4. It's transparent they're gunning for that runaway "Who's Making Love" success here with frantic workouts like the #10 R & B hit "I Could Never Be President" and sweaty romps like "I Wanna Testify" (#4 R & B #36 Pop) and "Love Bones". This later track has a humorous footnote. Near the end JT name checks James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Tyrone Davis- warning them to check their "love bones". Then Tyrone Davis covered the song and calls out Brown, Pickett and Johnnie Taylor to do the same! What a band JT has backing him too: Al Jackson, Duck Dunn, with Steve Cropper and Marvell Thomas. Marvel at the groove they lay down with the rollicking funker "Love Is A Hurting Thing".
"Rare Stamps" (Stax 1970)
1. Who's Making Love
N/R out-of-print compilation of Taylor's hits.
"One Step Beyond" (Stax 1971)
1. Time After Time
***1/2 This was JT's highest charting LP since "Who's Making Love" (at #6) and it contained the #1 R & B classic "Jody's Got Your Girl And Gone" (featuring some terrific organ by Barry Beckett) plus the #4 R & B (#39 Pop) hit "I Am Somebody". Our man even handles jazzy soul brilliantly on "Time After Time".
"Greatest Hits" (Stax 1971)
"Taylored In Silk" (Stax 1973, 1995)
1. We're Getting
Careless With Our Love
***** Only 8 songs appeared on the original release of this classic LP but three of them reached the Top 5 on R & B charts. "We're Getting Careless With Our Love" (#5 R & B #34 Pop), the funny finger snappin' "Cheaper To Keeper" (#2 R & B #15 Pop) and the gorgeous "I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)" (#1 R & B #11 Pop) made this the highest charting album of his Stax years (#3 R & B #54 Pop). Even better is the 1995 CD issue that adds the bonus tracks "Standing In For Jody" (#12 R & B), "Hijackin' Love" (#10 R & B), "Doin' My Own Thing" & more. One of JT's essential records.
"Super Taylor" (Stax 1974)
1. It's September
*** This confident set of elegant soul and funky R & B was his swansong for Stax. It was a significant step down in terms of quality and sales from his previous triumph but it did contain "It's September" (#26 R & B) and the chuggin' R & B "I've Been Born Again" (#13 R & B). Plus the tender "Just One Moment" and "Try Me Tonight".
"The Best Of" (Stax 1976)
1. Who's Making Love 2:46
"Eargasm" (CBS 1976)
1. Disco Lady
**** A profitable beginning for Columbia Records with this monster LP that spawned the colossal "Disco Lady", which hit #1 on both R & B and Pop charts. Though the disco stench permeated JT's music there is some debate whether this track is actually disco. The heavy bassline could just as easily be considered funk. Track 2 "Please Don't Stop (That Song From Playing)", however, is unmistakably discofied with it's four on the floor bounce. By track 3 ("Don't Touch Her Body (If You Can't Touch Her Mind)") you'll likely want to jump back to "Disco Lady". But later the unassuming rhythm of "Running Out Of Lies" will grow on you followed by the sly "Somebody's Gettin' It". The album closes with a string-enhanced soul number "Pick Up The Pieces" that isn't far removed from earlier days.
"Disco 9000" (CBS 1977)
1. I Don't Know
What I'd Do Without You
** The soundtrack of the flop movie "Disco 9000" aka "Fass Black". Johnnie Taylor had a small role performing "Disco Lady" in the movie but the song isn't even included. The title track is a generic disco hit (#24 R & B) and two of the seven tracks are instrumentals.
"Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits" (Stax 1977)
1. Who's Making
"Reflections" (RCA 1977)
1. I Want You Back
**1/2 Third of four albums featuring JT released in 1977 is a one-off record for RCA that pretty much fell through the cracks upon it's release. It's schizophrenic overall. Part of the album has more in common with his Stax years than his new disco phase. "I Want You Back Again" sounds like it could've been on "Who's Making Love" and "Stop Half Loving These Women" is a moving slowie. But then again "I Wanna Get Into You" is a song the disco crowd would embrace. Also "Please Don't Stop That Song From Playing" had already appeared on "Eargasm".
"Rated Extraordinaire" (CBS 1977)
1. Your Love is Rated
**1/2 Anxious to capitalize on the runaway success of "Disco Lady" JT releases an even more disco-imbued album that kept the wallets fat for another day. It spawned a huge hit with "Love Is Better In The A.M." (#3 R & B) and "Your Love Is Rated X" (#17 R & B) but overall Johnnie's just trying to survive the public's whims until the next fad. Sales steadily declined following this record.
"Ever Ready" (CBS 1978)
1. Hey Mister Melody
** Another year and more product for the market. Disco Johnnie is running out of steps by this point. "Keep On Dancing" reached #32 R & B and the title track scratched the bottom of Billboard's Hot 100 but the rest are random.
"She's Killing Me" (CBS 1979)
1.Little Dancin' Queen
**Mostly forgettable filler with two memorable songs, "(Ooh Wee) "She's Killing Me" (#37 R&B) and "Play Something Pretty" (#79 R&B).
"New Day" (CBS 1980)
1.The heart break kid
** Four years after having a #1 album with "Eargasm" Johnnie finds himself unable to place a single on the charts. It's listenable because it's Johnnie Taylor but you won't miss it if you never heard it again.
"The Best Of" (Columbia 1981)
"Just Ain't Good Enough" (Beverly Glen 1982)
1. What About My
*** Released on the Beverly Glen label in 1982, this short record spawned two R&B hits "What About My Love" (#24) and the Bobby Womack-penned "I'm So Proud" (#55). The album also peaked at number 19. There's only 6 lengthy tracks but all above average. "Reagonomics" is naturally dated, however. If you remove the reference to Ronald it's a slick jam about struggling to get by. But things just weren't trickling down for this protagonist.
"This Is Your Night" (Malaco 1984)
1. This Is Your
**** The final label home for JT is Jackson, Mississippi's famed Malaco Records and this debut effort lays down the blueprint with slinky Philly-soul slow jams and chugging Memphis soul groovers. Producers Tommy Couch and Wolf Stephenson like live horns in their mix and it raises the music to another level. "A Love To Call Mine" borrows a page from the Hi Records cookbook. But "L.O.V.E" is a prime example of how live horns lay on the frosting. In they come blasting after the refrain- it's a double hook. Harrison Calloway, Jim Horn, Ben Cauley, Harvey Thompson, Charles Rose are the brass culprits. Another upbeat horn-dipped keeper is the shuffle bumping "Good With My Hips". See, Johnnie was "good with my lips" but the other "dude was quick with his lips" and stole his woman away. It was written by genius songwriter George Jackson who also penned 6 others like the soul/blues "She's Cheating On Me" and sweeping soul ballad "This Is Your Night". But Paul Kelly's "Lady, My Whole World is You" is the only charting single (#74 R & B).
"Wall To Wall" (Malaco 1985)
1. Wall to Wall
***1/2 Modern production techniques (drum machine, synths) detract from the otherwise funky title cut. Ditto for the similar "383-Emergency". It was the sound of the times but JT is more properly suited with organic settings like the blues "There's Nothing I Wouldn't Do", the evocative "Nothing As Beautiful As You", "When She Stops Asking", " just Because" & "I'm Changing". Four standout slowies by a master of the form.
"Loverboy" (Malaco 1987)
1. Don't Make Me
**1/2 Once again JT opens his album with a sweeping, romantic Philly-blessed slowie called "Don't Make Me Late" (#74 R & B). Nobody does it better. Overall, though, "Lover Boy" is fairly average Taylor. Bob Johnson & Sam Mosley contribute the sturdy blues "Something Is Going Wrong" and Willie Clayton's "Happy Time" is a sugary midtempo toe-tapper.
"In Control" (Malaco 1988)
1. You Knocked My
Heart Out of Line
*** Another quality retro-soul album from the king that for the most part doesn't succumb to flavor-of-the-year production tricks. The synthed-up title cut sounds rather dated though. Elsewhere Taylor's music is as authentic in its emotional evocation as any soul or blues music. From the Motown-styled ballad "Let's Get Closer" to the funky R & B "You Knocked My Heart Right Out of Line." But JT's matchless voice could make nearly anything sound good. It's a plus that he gets Grade A material like the bittersweet "Everything's Out In The Open" and songs by George Jackson ("Got To Leave This Woman", "Love's Easy To Fall Into").
"Crazy 'Bout You" (Malaco 1989)
1. Still Crazy
**** JT never made a poor album but some are simply better than others. "Crazy 'Bout You" is poured in the mold of romantic Southern Soul and slick R & B dancers- all expertly produced. The lead-off "Crazy For You" is instantly memorable with a timeless melody and mellifluous vocals. Credited to Rich Cason who would score a huge hit on JT years later with "Good Love". The Pop/dance tracks are better this time- the comical "Money's Running Funny" & "Dance Floor To The Back Door". Upbeat Memphis soul by George Jackson is found in "Airtight Alibi" and there's even two finger poppin' jazz/soul tunes ("She's No Lady" & "Nothing But The Blues") that remind one of "Cheaper To Keep Her".
"Little Bluebird" (Stax 1990)
1. Little Bluebird
*** Stax decided to start mining the vaults on it's flagship artists and this release by JT is mostly alternate takes of previously released material plus a handful of live tracks. Being that the originals are superior this really only appeals to the Taylor diehard.
"I Know It's Wrong...But I Can't Do Right" (Malaco 1991)
1. Crazy over You
**** Johnnie enters a new decade with Malaco and is now releasing records on a two to three year superstar interval. As usual some of the best writers in the soul/blues realm are on board to give JT's regal chops some exercise. The duo Bob Johnson & Sam Mosley contribute the sweet rolling soul "I Want You Love" and the laidback blues "Change Your Habits". The master of modern Memphis movers George Jackson (with co-author Johnny Barranco) offers "Guilty As Charged" once again featuring those delicious Malaco horns and "What Kind Of Man Do You Want". Plus the sound of Philadelphia is in the house with "Only A Woman Can", written by Larry Chambers and John Ward. Another satisfying slice of soul.
"The Best Of Johnnie Taylor On Malaco, Vol. 1" (Malaco 1992)
1. Still Crazy
****1/2 14-track comp taken from JT's first six albums for the label. Goodies like "Still Crazy", "Everything's Out In The Open", "Don't Make Me Late", "Cheaper To Keep Her", "Nothing As Beautiful As You", "Just Because", etc... Casual fans will delight over this collection but there's still plenty meat left on the bone. Picking up the full albums is a better bet.
"Real Love" (Malaco 1994)
1. Back Street Love
***1/2 An especially polished set from Johnnie Taylor features exquisite covers of the Temptation's "Lady Soul", Frank-O Johnson's magnificent love-triangle tale "Back Street Love Affair" and a surprising cover of pop singer Chris DeBurgh's immortal love song "The Lady In Red". JT's version is good but the original was more vulnerable and that was it's charm. One major highlight is John Ward's "Changing My Life With Your Love"- an instant classic that was bettered (and sped up) by W.C. Clark's version. Ward also wrote the sweet title track. The production is flawless (Tommy Couch, Wolf Stephenson, Frederick Knight) as are the horn arrangements (Harrison Calloway). Surprisingly this was one of Taylor's lowest charting LP's for Malaco (#76 R & B).
"Good Love" (Malaco 1996)
1. Good Love
**** Finally! This album and the smash title cut put JT back on the radio in a major way. Allegedly, Johnny Taylor didn't even like Rich Cason's modern production effects on the song "Good Love" but finally acquiesced. Smart move as the song became JT's highest charting single in 14 years (#39 R & B). Cason also wrote and produced the slick "Sending You A Kiss", which hit big in the South. The tough soul/blues "Last Two Dollars" (George Jackson) and an "Electric Slide"- cousin "Slide On" got plenty radio play as well. The latter cut even charted #87 R & B. Even better the CD climbed to #15 on R & B Album charts and even crossed over to pop (#108) for the first time in nearly two decades.
"Rated X-Traordinaire: The Best Of" (Legacy 1996)
1. Disco Lady
**** Much needed compilation cherry picks from Taylor's uneven disco-effaced CBS albums 1976-1981. All the hits are here- "Disco Lady", "Somebody's Gettin' It", "Your Love Is Rated X", "Love Is Better In The A.M.", "Disco 9000". These 16 tracks are really all you need from this creative nadir in JT's illustrious career.
"Stop Half-Loving These Women" (Paula 1996)
Re-issue of the 1977 MCA album "Reflections".
"Cheaper To Keep Her" (601 Music 1998)
1. Everything's Out in the Open
**1/2 Budget line comp taken from JT's Malaco years is only for the curious. Like all the releases in the 601 Music series there's a few hits and mostly album tacks (albeit quite good in this case)
"Taylored To Please" (Malaco 1998)
1. Groove Me
**1/2 Less than stellar follow up to "Good Love" features a superfluous remake of "Disco Lady" ("Disco Lady 2000") that sounds so much like the original you ask yourself, "what's the point?". At least the remix that closes the album is fresh. It even features some guest rappin'. Frederick Knight wrote the evocative "If You Take Your Love Away" with the prophetic line "there's no good in goodbye". Rich Cason's back with the maudlin "I'm Not The Man You Need" and three others but no hits this time.
"Gotta Get The Groove Back" (Malaco 1999)
1. Big Head Hundreds
***1/2 The final LP recorded by Johnnie Taylor before his death was made even more melancholy with the inclusion of the gripping "Soul Heaven". Johnnie pays tribute to great singers who he dreams were jamming in another realm. Johnnie soon joined them. This song, by Rich Cason, has become a standard during every death of a soul singer. Of course the first cover version was dedicated to JT. Another hit was the thumping "Big Head Hundreds" that's off-sprung from "Money (That's What I Want)", even borrowing the "money money money" hook. JT went out an a high.
"Funksoulbrother" (Varese 2000)
Yet another re-issue of the 1977 MCA album "Reflections".
"Lifetime" (Stax 2000)
**** 3-CD 65 song opus comes close to proving the case. The set spans the years 1965-1999 pulling tracks from his pre-Stax days on though his final album for Malaco. Collectors will be happy to note the first 6 cuts are gospel tunes taken from his days with the Spiritual QCs & the Soul Stirrers, followed by a handful of tracks recorded for Sam Cooke's SAR label. In addition to the many Stax hits that form the bulk of this collection, there's 8 alternates. But the Malaco years get the shaft as only 5 tracks were licensed for this box. It's a portrait for sure; chronicling how he moved from gospel to soul to disco to retro-soul/blues but it's not the definitive retrospective you want it to be.
"Greatest Hits" (Malaco)
1. Who's Making Love
"Super Hits" (Legacy 2002)
1. Disco Lady
"There's No Good In Goodbye" (Malaco 2002)
1. If You're Lookin' for a Fool
***1/2 This posthumous release gathers 16 outtakes recorded between 1984-1999 for the Malaco label. You'd never guess these were the ones left on the cutting room floor as it's nearly as good as any album released during those 15 years. The first single "This is The Night For Making Up" is another JT Philly-soul gem that should have been released sooner. There's also a duet with son Floyd on Paul Simon's "Take Me To The Mardis Gras", originally recorded in 1988. "Crazy About My Baby" is a poppin' Soul number better than many that were released. "Baby Sittin'" was a hit. Six of the tracks were recorded during the "Gotta Get The Groove Back" sessions, which means that album could've been much better. "Please Sign The Dotted Line" alone would've raised it a point or two. Hopefully this isn't the end and there's more gold in the hills (Malaco vaults).
"Disco 9000" (Collectables 2004)
Despite the title this is NOT a re-issue of the 1977 movie soundtrack. Though it does include the title track.
1. Disco Lady
"Stax Profiles" (Stax 2006)
1. I Dreamed That
Heaven Was Like This
"Live At The Summit Club" (Stax 2007)
1. Introduction -
(featuring Rufus Thomas)
"The Very Best Of" (Stax 2007)
1. I Had a Dream
"The Best Of The Old & New" (Solaris 2014)
About My Love
***1/2 Ridiculous title to this reissue of the 1982 album "Just Ain't Good Enough" with the addition of the three B-Sides used for singles when current.