Johnnie Taylor

Johnnie Harrison Taylor (May 5, 1934 – May 31, 2000) was a three-time Grammy-nominated American recording artist and songwriter who performed a wide variety of genres, from blues, rhythm and blues, soul, and gospel to pop, doo-wop, and disco.


Early years

Johnnie Taylor was born in Crawfordsville, Arkansas, United States. He grew up in West Memphis, Arkansas, performing in gospel groups as a youngster. As an adult, he had one release, "Somewhere to Lay My Head", on Chicago's Chance Records label in the 1950s, as part of the gospel group Highway QCs, which had been founded by a young Sam Cooke. Taylor's singing then was strikingly close to that of Cooke, and he was hired to take Cooke's place in the latter's gospel group, the Soul Stirrers, in 1957.

A few years later, after Cooke had established his independent SAR Records, Taylor signed on as one of the label's first acts and recorded "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day" in 1962. However, SAR Records quickly became defunct after Cooke's death in 1964.

In 1966, Taylor moved to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was dubbed "The Philosopher of Soul". He recorded with the label's house band, which included Booker T. & the M.G.'s. His hits included "I Had a Dream", "I've Got to Love Somebody's Baby" (both written by the team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter) and most notably "Who's Making Love", which reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1968. "Who's Making Love" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. In 1970, Taylor married Gerlean Rocket and they remained married until his death in 2000.

During his tenure at Stax, he became an R&B star, with over a dozen chart successes, such as "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone", which reached No. 23 on the Hot 100 chart, "Cheaper to Keep Her" (Mack Rice) and record producer Don Davis's penned "I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)", which reached No. 11 on the Hot 100 chart. "I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)" also sold in excess of one million copies, and was awarded gold disc status by the R.I.A.A. in October 1973. Taylor, along with Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers, was one of the label's flagship artists, who were credited for keeping the company afloat in the late 1960s and early 1970s after the death of its biggest star, Otis Redding, in an aviation accident. He appeared in the documentary film, Wattstax, which was released in 1973.

Columbia Records

After Stax folded in 1975, Taylor switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded his biggest success with Don Davis still in charge of production, "Disco Lady", in 1976. It spent four weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and six weeks at the top of the R&B chart. It peaked at No. 25 in the UK Singles Chart in May 1976. "Disco Lady" was the first certified platinum single (two million copies sold) by the RIAA. Taylor recorded several more successful albums and R&B single hits with Davis on Columbia, before Brad Shapiro took over production duties, but sales generally fell away.

Malaco Records

After a short stay at a small independent label in Los Angeles, Beverly Glen Records, Taylor signed with Malaco Records after the company's founder Tommy Couch and producing partner Wolf Stephenson heard him sing at blues singer Z. Z. Hill's funeral in spring 1984.

Backed by members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, as well as in-house veterans such as former Stax keyboardist Carson Whitsett and guitarist/bandleader Bernard Jenkins, Malaco gave Taylor the type of recording freedom that Stax had given him in the late 1960s and early 1970s, enabling him to record ten albums for the label in his 16-year stint.

In 1996, Taylor's eighth album for Malaco, Good Love!, reached number one on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart (No. 15 R&B), and was the biggest record in Malaco's history. With this success, Malaco recorded a live video of Taylor at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, Texas, in the summer of 1997. The club portion of the Good Love video was recorded at 1001 Nightclub in Jackson, Mississippi.

Taylor's final song was "Soul Heaven", in which he dreamed of being at a concert featuring deceased African-American music icons from Louis Armstrong to Otis Redding to Z.Z. Hill to The Notorious B.I.G., among others.


In the 1980s, Johnnie Taylor was a DJ on KKDA, a radio station in the Dallas area, where he had made his home. The station's format was mostly R&B and Soul oldies and their on-the-air personalities were often local R&B, Soul, blues, and jazz musicians. Taylor was billed as "The Wailer, Johnnie Taylor".


Taylor died of a heart attack at Charlton Methodist Hospital in Dallas, Texas, on May 31, 2000, aged 66. Stax billed Johnnie Taylor as "The Philosopher of Soul". He was also known as "the Blues Wailer". He was buried beside his mother, Ida Mae Taylor, at Forrest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.

His highly complex personal life was revealed after his death. Having six accepted children and three others with confirmed paternity born to three different mothers, the difficulties associated with executing his will were presented in the TV programme, The Will: Family Secrets Revealed: The Estate of Johnnie Taylor. (Season 2, Episode 5. November 16, 2011).

Awards and nominations

Taylor was given a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999. Taylor was also a three-time Grammy Award nominee.

Grammy Awards

Taylor has been nominated for three career Grammy Awards without a win.

|- |rowspan="1"|1969 |rowspan="1"|"Who's Making Love" |Best Male R&B Vocal Performance | |- |rowspan="1"|1977 |rowspan="1"|"Disco Lady" |Best Male R&B Vocal Performance | |- |rowspan="1"|2001 |rowspan="1"|Gotta Get the Groove Back |Best Traditional R&B Vocal Album | |- |}

Musical influence

In 2004, the UK's Shapeshifters sampled Taylor's 1982 "What About My Love?", for their No. 1 hit single, "Lola's Theme".



  • Wanted: One Soul Singer - Stax 715 (1967)
  • Who's Making Love... - Stax 2005 (1968)
  • Raw Blues - Stax 2008 (1968)
  • Rare Stamps - Stax 2012 (1968)
  • The Johnnie Taylor Philosophy Continues - Stax 2023 (1969)
  • One Step Beyond - Stax 2030 (1971)
  • Taylored in Silk - Stax 3014 (1973)
  • Super Taylor - Stax 5509 (1974)
  • Eargasm - Columbia 33951 (1976)
  • Rated Extraordinaire - Columbia 34401 (1977)
  • Reflections - RCA APL1-2527 (1977)
  • Disco 9000 - Columbia 35004 (1977)
  • Ever Ready - Columbia 35340 (1978)
  • She's Killing Me - Columbia 36061 (1979)
  • A New Day - Columbia 36548 (1980)
  • Just Ain't Good Enough - Beverly Glen 10001 (1982)
  • This is Your Night - Malaco 7421 (1984)
  • Wall to Wall - Malaco 7431 (1985)
  • Lover Boy - Malaco 7440 (1987)
  • In Control - Malaco 7446 (1988)
  • Crazy 'Bout You - Malaco 7452 (1989)
  • I Know It's Wrong But I... Just Can't Do Right - Malaco 7460 (1991)
  • Real Love - Malaco 7472 (1993)
  • Good Love! - Malaco 7480 (1996)
  • Taylored to Please - Malaco 7488 (1998)
  • Gotta Get the Groove Back - Malaco 7499 (1999)
  • There's No Good in Goodbye - Malaco 7515 (2003)
  • Live at the Summit Club - Stax/Fantasy 8628 (recorded 1972; released 2007)
  • FunkSoulBrother - Fuel/Universal. Retrospective album