from London, England
July 14, 1939 - August 28, 1991 (age 52)
Vince Taylor will most likely be remembered for being the model for David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character, his 1958 B-Side Brand New Cadillac (later covered famously by the Clash), and for his erratic on-stage and off-stage behavior as much as for his actual musical contributions to rock & roll, but as Bowie undoubtedly realized, if Taylor hadn't existed, he would have had to have been invented, which, in fact, he was. Born Brian Maurice Holden on July 14, 1939 in Isleworth, Middlesex, England, Taylor's family moved to New Jersey when he was seven years old. Around 1955, after Taylor's sister married future Hanna/Barbera cartoon mogel Joe Barbera, the family moved again, this time to California where Taylor ended up attending Hollywood High School. At 18 he fell in love with the high-energy music of Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent and tried his hand at singing, doing several local amateur gigs. Accompanying his brother-in-law Barbera to London on a business trip, Taylor checked out the rock & roll scene there, meeting drummer Tony Meehan and bassist Tex Makins at a coffee bar where Tommy Steele was playing. In a scene straight out of a bio pic, the three agreed to form the Playboys, and Taylor, realizing that Brian Holden wasn't the ideal stage name, plucked the name Vince from the side of a Pall Mall cigarette pack and officially became Vince Taylor, rebel rocker. That initial version of the Playboys didn't last long, though (none of Taylor's various incarnations of the band lasted very long, due in no small part to his often difficult and diffident manner, not to mention his drug use, and he was actually fired from the band on at least one occasion), but a revamped and expanded lineup recorded I Like Love and Right Behind You Baby for Parlophone Records in 1958, following that single with another, Pledgin' My Love b/w Brand New Cadillac, later that same year. Neither single performed as expected, and Parlophone let the band go. Taylor and the Playboys moved to Palette Records and released I'll Be Your Hero b/w Jet Black Machine for the new label in 1960. Following a pair of striking performances in Paris, with Taylor dressed in his now-trademark black leather stage gear, Eddie Barclay of Barclay Records signed Taylor to a six-year recording deal. Taylor became a major player on the French rock & roll scene, looking the part of a rebel rocker maybe even more than he performed at it. This version of Taylor and the Playboys recorded five EPs and an LP for the Barclay label and topped bills as they toured the country. The off-stage chemistry in the band was nearly always askew, though, and by 1963 Taylor was essentially performing with whatever pickup band was at hand, always calling them the Playboys. A new single, Memphis Tennessee b/w A Shot of Rhythm and Blues, appeared from the Barclay imprint early in 1964. Then things started to tumble into chaos as Taylor, his mind all but blown by acid, speed, and alcohol, became increasingly erratic both on-stage and off, even at one point declaring he was the biblical prophet Matthew -- all in front of a large audience at an important gig in London. It was to be the closest to the sun Taylor would ever get as a rock & roll star (although by proxy, as the model for Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, he enjoyed a sort of revival a decade or so later), and he became yet another erratic casualty of the 1960s drug scene, occasionally rising out of his confusion to give a good performance, but more often he was bafflingly incoherent and erratic on-stage. Taylor next, maybe not surprisingly, joined a religious movement, which hardly helped his rock & roll credentials. Still, he was much revered in Europe, and Eddie Barclay allowed Taylor to record intermittedly for his label and a few scatter-shot tours and shows were mounted in the '70s and '80s, but Taylor's career, at least as an effective cultural and creative force, never really survived the '60s. He spent his last years in Switzerland working as an airplane mechanic (he had gotten his pilot's license way back in high school in California) and he reportedly said that they were the happiest years of his life. He died on August 28, 1991. ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi
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