One of the world’s most obscure artists may very well be it’s best…and we have lost him forever. Well, maybe not. It’s not as if he’s died, or anything that cataclysmic. However, he’s made it quite apparent that he has no desire to return to the music industry. Who am I speaking of…?
Lewis Taylor is by far and away one of the most inspiring, genre-bending artists of our day and age. His music has spanned over 20 years and we, being the fickle and careless music listeners that we are, have let his gift roll on by. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his loyal fan base—all cult figures do. The saddest part of this story, however, is the fact that even when the States did momentarily notice him as a buzzworthy artist, he was already so disillusioned with the mainstream music industry at about 40 years old he effectively said, “Fuck it!”
Now, I say “about”. Not much is known about this man because, being the G that he is, he has been able to keep his private life and anything concerning his past out of the public eye—not that that really makes much of a difference considering that even in his home country of England he was pretty much a nameless artist. But, for the sake of trying my best to introduce America yet again to its inherent stupidity, I will try my best to muster up some sort of biographical information.
As if it were any sort of surprise, Lewis Andrew Taylor was a child prodigy, being able to play the piano as early as four years old. There is little to no information on his upbringing besides a bit of insight from the man himself. “[My dad] was a percussionist in a jazz big band. My mom was always playing Stax and Motown.” Now, multiple sources who’ve come relatively close to providing a bio of Taylor have said that it was a life-altering accident that inspired him to play the guitar. However, what Taylor provides is, “I got into the guitar around the age if eight.”
Early on in his career, Taylor spoke of working with other bands, which he describes as “crap”, playing “other people’s music” and generally not being allowed to tap into his own wealth of musicianship and lyricism. Fast forward to the years in which he was known as Captain Jack and you have a breadth of work that rings very much like the psychadelia and red lace of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Fast forward a bit more and you come to the point where he’s back to calling himself Lewis—quite literally with his “first” solo album entitled Lewis Taylor. All one word songs, the album is probably one of the most innovative soul albums to be released—so under the radar that it sort of seems as though the plane hadn’t even taken off at all.
His subsequent albums leading up to his one and only real brush with notoriety, Stoned Pt. 1, highlighted a two key factors that separated him from all those pretending to understand soul music at the time—the smooth as silk layering of his vocal stylings and his untouchable guitar prowess. Saying of his early ventures as a singer, “It was the last instrument I learned how to use properly.” He continues, “ I wanted to be a rock screamer. Like Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple fame), or Little Richard, or Wilson Pickett. And just found out really quickly that I didn’t have that kind of voice. It was a long journey. Even on that first album on Island [Records] you can still hear me trying to find my voice.” Yet that one factor, a strength that had him outshining most anybody in the business, also became something of an Achilles’ heel for him. He could never escape the image of a “blued-eyed soul crooner”, which is a category I’m sure no one if they think about it really wants to be lumped into—reserve that for the flash of Justin Timberlake and hit or miss of Remy Shand.
Is that enough background? I truly hope so because I’m so ready to explain to you my love of this man. I was first introduced to Lewis Taylor via another prodigal son of music, Jeff Buckley—who, sadly, never made it passed his debut. A song that Taylor covered on his second album, aptly titled Lewis II caught my attention as quite possibly the most beautiful love songs post-70s. “Everybody Here Wants You” was the most luscious R&B sex drive that I’d ever heard. Inevitably, I ended up scourging the Internet trying my best to find anything that I possibly could on this man. It was sheer insanity my—yes, I’ll admit it—obsession with Taylor’s voice, his guitaring, and his unabashed lyrics and attitude.
It was after listening to Stoned Pt. 1 for the 50th time today that I realized how much of a true mark of musical excellence Taylor was and probably still is. His ability to melt effortlessly from genre to genre—first blues, then prog, then soul, then free jazz—caught me off guard. His heart in soul is in everything, and I do mean everything that he sang, wrote, played. After trying, with no luck, to contact him via e~mail, MySpace, and whatever other technological social outlet at my disposal—all I got was a response from his HackTone Records MySpace page that informed me that he had left the industry and preferred not to be contacted—I decided that it was best to just do what I could to spread his perfection across the world—no matter how delayed I was in my ability to do so. The magic that is this man is tragically underrated and I hope my lucky stars that I get a chance to watch him perform in my travels. Whether it’s promoting another album—which, from what Taylor says himself is the fattest of chances—or touring with his four-piece band of friends doing prog and acid rock covers.
As you can probably guess, I’ve been following Lewis Taylor for some time now, and though he’s given himself to the annals of musical retirement, I can’t help but think what this world will be like without his obscure album releases every couple of years.
To get a glimpse of his greatness, check out NPR Interview for an exclusive interview Taylor had with NPR show World Café. Also check out Say I Love You. If you’re up for dropping a few bucks—alas, my dear hearts, Mr. Taylor has done the most amazing disappearing act known to man and removed damn near everything regarding his name from the Internet, never to be seen again. So tough luck trying to get his stuff for free (trust me, it’s so worth it)—I suggest starting from the beginning with his debut album Lewis Taylor, though his most mature work is his latest and last Stoned Pt. 1—don’t be seduced by the slipshod Robbie Williams remake of “Lovelight.” Just listen to Lewis’s voice and be prepared to have your fucking mind blown off its stem.