Monday, July 22, 2019

Interview -- Alvin Taylor (Drummer w/ Eric Burdon, George Harrison, and many others...)

"It's like being
in the right place
at the right time." 
~ Alvin Taylor ~

As a very young teenager,  Alvin Taylor was already the drummer for the iconic Little Richard band that included Billy Preston and Jimi Hendrix.  (Let that sink in a minute.)  And if he had decided to put his sticks away forever after that stint, Alvin Taylor would still be way cooler than the rest of us.  Oh, but wait.  Taylor also provided some funky bottom for Billy Preston and Sly Stone.  Rolled thunder for The Eric Burdon Band.  And provided a different kind of bonza for Elton John and George Harrison.  But really, I'm cherry-picking here, because Alvin Taylor has left behind enough chilly-cool drumming to crack even the longest of heat indexes.  Alvin Taylor.  Go get you some.

Alvin Taylor Interview -- July 2019
Alvin Taylor

Casey Chambers:  Let's jump right into it.  Before getting hip to all the many artists you've been associated with, I first became a fan of your craft from your work with Bob Welch.  How did you and Bob hook up?

Alvin Taylor:  Well, that's interesting.  I'll try to make it short. (laughs)  Through working with Capitol Records, I was with Eric Burdon.  I was one of the founding members of The Eric Burdon Band.  And John Carter, we all called him Carter...may he rest in peace...was an A&R man for us.  He'd travel around the world with us and meet us at various locations.  And every night he'd come sit behind the drums while I was playing.  And he'd say, 'Man, you are the most amazing drummer I've ever seen.  I'd like to do some work with you someday.'

(Check out this firestick!)
"River Of Blood" - The Eric Burdon Band / "D K Rock Concert" (1974)

And after The Eric Burdon Band broke up, Carter called me and said he was going to be producing a new artist that Capitol Records had signed by the name of Bob Welch.  I didn't know who Bob was at the time.  Of course, I knew Fleetwood Mac...the band.  But I wasn't familiar with any of the members except for Fleetwood.  Mick Fleetwood.  Bob had left and was pursuing a new career as a solo artist.  So Carter asked me to take responsibility for being his band leader and finding band members for him to record with.  I asked him to give me a tape so I could hear what these members should sound like.  And lo and behold, I got the tape and probably about three minutes into it, I was convinced the musicians on the tape were the guys that needed to be on the album.

So I called Carter back and asked, 'Who's the guitar player?'  He says, 'Oh, that's Bob Welch.'  I said, 'Well, what about the bass player?'  "No, that's Bob Welch.'  I said, 'How about the keyboard player?' 'Well, that's Bob Welch, too.'  I said, 'You gotta be kidding me! Well, who's doing the singing in the background?'  Carter said, 'That's all Bob Welch.'  I thought, my goodness!  Why should I be looking for a band?  We have the band, ya know?  So for the recording of the "French Kiss" album  (1977), with the exception of the one song Bob had done before with Fleetwood Mac ...called "Sentimental Lady"...all the other tracks were done by Bob Welch and myself.

"French Kiss" - Bob Welch (1977)

I had worked with Barry White, so I knew a very amazing string arranger by the name of Gene Page, who's also passed away.  He had done hundreds of records with Motown and various other famous artists.  I asked him if he would come in and do some string arrangements for us on "French Kiss."  Especially on "Ebony Eyes" and then later on the song "Precious Love."   The next thing I know, the record went Gold and then went Platinum.  And Bob and I secured a very meaningful relationship as friends and I was friends with him right up until his tragic death.   And that's how we got together.

"Ebony Eyes" - Bob Welch / "Live At The Roxy" (1981)

Casey Chambers:  It was a great album.  Did you guys do a lot of road promotion after the album's release?  I watched an awesome show with you guys performing at the Roxy and it was sick.

Alvin Taylor:  That was "Bob Welch and Friends Live At the Roxy" (1981) and that was just a fun, fun night!   I never toured with Bob, unfortunately.  The financial end of things at that time didn't work out from my management's point of view.  I would have done it for whatever...'cause I loved working with Bob.  The money wasn't important to me.  But we did do The Roxy together and yeah, we had a lot of fun.  And it was a good chance to mix it with a lot of our friends.  Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood.  Christine McVie.  And some of the really great players.  Joey Brasler playing bass.  And Robbie Patton, who is an amazing singer from England with his own career, on percussion.  Congas and tambourines and cowbells.  And of course, Stevie was playing a tambourine and singing background with us.  And a lot of friends just showed up.  Carmine Appice came and did one song and that was really nice.  He was like...' No, you're not doing this show without me.' (laughs)  The Roxy was just a fun, fun night.  I was using a custom-built set of Rogers that was made for me through a company called Far Out Productions who created the band...WarJerry Goldstein, a producer, and songwriter with the band wanted me to have whatever it was that I thought I needed to play with Eric Burdon.  I told him my favorite drums was Rogers, so he arranged for them to make a special custom made drum set for me.  And that's the drum set I used with Bob live as well as during the recording sessions.  And I used Zildjian Cymbals.  Basically, customized hardware.  That's why the live stuff pretty much sounds like the record.

"Precious Love" & "Hot Love, Cold World" - Bob Welch / "Live At The Roxy" (1981)

Casey Chambers:  It's always kinda cool learning about what was the first...something.  Trivial or not.  And I think this is a pretty neat deal.  You get to share the banner for being...The First Musical Act To Perform On "Saturday Night Live."  What a cool bag to carry.  How did that happen?

Alvin Taylor:  I was with Billy Preston at the time.  He was the musical guest and I was working with him.  Janis Ian was also on that show.  And George Carlin was the host.  It was 1974 or '75, I believe.  So yeah, it was the very first show that ever appeared on television for "Saturday Night Live."  We did "Nothing From Nothing" and a song called, "Fancy Lady."  He had a ranch up in Topanga Canyon and that was a horse that Billy was in love with.  Billy Preston was a very intricate part of my career way back in the day.  When I was first discovered, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Little Richard, and Billy Preston were all together at a show that I was playing.  And Little Richard loved my playing and came back to the kitchen where I happened to be the busboy at this place.  I doubled as a drummer every now and then when the other drummer got drunk. (laughs)  Little Richard asked me to be his drummer and I ended up on the road with Little Richard opening up a show for Elvis Presley.

Jimi Hendrix was playing guitar in the band and Billy Preston was the organist.  And Little Richard made the age of 13...not only his drummer, but his bandleader.  I conducted an 18 piece orchestra at the same time.  And like I said, Jimi Hendrix was playing guitar in our band. (laughs)  When Richard wasn't working though, he was doing promotional tours to promote his artistry and, you know, he kinda left us waiting for him to be ready to go on tour again.  Billy Preston and I became really good friends.  And we thought...well, we need to make a living.  And Billy had connections over at Motown Records and we'd go and do sessions for Motown artists.  People like...Smokey Robinson.  Marvin Gaye.  Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The Temptations.  I even had the privilege and the pleasure of working with Teena Marie and Rick James on a song called, "I'm A Sucker For Your Love."  Anyway, later Billy needed a drummer after the great Manuel Kellough left, so I ended up playing drums for him.

"Nothing From Nothing" - Billy Preston / 1st episode of SNL (1975)

Billy's manager was Robert Ellis, who was Diana Ross' husband and managing Rufus with Chaka Kahn at the time.  He ended up sending us to New York to do the show.  We didn't really mind that the show had no name yet or wasn't famous because they were paying us really well.  They were taking care of our hotel and flying us out to New York and back.  So we went and did it and had a chance to meet some amazing people.  We used Tower Of Power's horn section and Bobby Watson, the bass player from Rufus and Tony Maiden, the guitar player from Rufus.  Along with a friend of ours by the name of Steve Beckmeier, an amazing guitarist who's worked with a lot of famous people.  So that's how I ended up working with Billy and having the privilege and the pleasure of having that opportunity to do the very first "Saturday Night Live" show.  It's like being in the right place at the right time. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  "Live...from New York!"  (laughs)  Exciting times.  I know Billy Preston had a close relationship with The Beatles.  Is that how you found yourself working with George Harrison?

Alvin Taylor:  Well, absolutely.  Just like I said...having the 'face in the place.' (laughs)  Being in the right place at the right time.  What happened was...George Harrison came out to Billy's ranch to visit and say hello to him.  I guess he was in town while we were doing pre-production for The Stairsteps...known as The Five Stairsteps.  They had the song..."O-o-h Child, things are gonna get easier.'   We were rehearsing an album called "2nd Resurrection." (1976)  They were getting ready to resurrect and make a comeback in the business.  Which they did.  And Billy was producing that band along with the famed producer Robert Margouleffwho had produced some of Stevie Wonder's biggest albums.

So at that time, I'd been spending a lot of time rehearsing out at Billy's ranch.  And I just happened to be there when George Harrison showed up and he was like, 'Oh my God, who's that drummer? I got to have that drummer on my album.'  And Billy came out and said, 'Hey, George really likes your playing.'   I'm like...' Yeah, sure.  Right.'  (laughs)  But then the next thing I know, I actually get a call from George Harrison!  I thought it was someone faking an English accent and I was like, 'Yeah, right. Sure, George.'  He just ignored me.  He...he just kept on talking. (laughs)

George Harrison's Friar Park Castle 

He said, 'Oh yeah, I 'd like to have you on an album I'm doing a year from now.'  I'm thinking to myself...'A year from now?  Who knows what I'll be doing a year from now?  But, I made the agreement.  I consented to be available. To go to London.  He said we'd probably do it in London at a place called Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames...which is where his castle was at.  He had a studio in his castle.  And then a year later, sure enough, I got a call asking if I would still be available on a certain date to come and live in George Harrison's castle.  And at the same time, participate in the recording by playing drums on his album..."Thirty-Three & 1/3" (1976) along with some other really great players.  Tom Scott was producing the album.  David Foster was one of the keyboard players.  Gary Wright.  Richard Tee.  Billy Preston.  We had four keyboard players and they all played a major part on that album.  Along with the most amazing bass player in the world...a guy by the name of Willie Weeks. And there were some other great players.  The percussionist...Emil Richards.  And I got the chance to meet Kumar Shankar, who's a nephew of Ravi Shankar who was one of our engineers.  So yeah, that's how I met George and that's how I got involved with him.

Casey Chambers:  That's a great story.  I gotta get myself a castle. (laughs)  And this was a really good album for George.

"Crackerbox Palace" - George Harrison / "Thirty-Three & 1/3" (1976)

Alvin Taylor:  Oh, yeah.  "Crackerbox Palace" and "This Song."  There was also "Beautiful Girl."  That one is definitely one of the great songs.  But my favorite happens to be "Crackerbox Palace" because of the unique drumming that I was able to do on it.  Not the usual norm, but something really different.  And then I also really liked "This Song."  It was actually a song that was kind of making fun of the "George getting sued" situation.  "This song has nothing tricky about it / This song ain't black or white / and as far as I know don't infringe on anyone's copyright."  George had gotten sued for "My Sweet Lord" because of the similarity to The Chiffons song..."He's So Fine."

Casey Chambers:  "This Song" was about as close to an "FU" song as George Harrison ever got.  Another writer might've gone for the angry retort.  George politely flips the bird with some eye-rolling sarcasm instead.

Alvin Taylor:   He was just telling it how it was.  George was such a gentleman and a person that lived a life of mutuality.  He would just go with the flow in the spirit of grace and mercy.  Had a God he relied on and chose to honor and worship and you could see it in his lifestyle.

Casey Chambers: It definitely wasn't done for fashion.  And you were part of a really important album in his discog.  Does Alvin Taylor have any new projects in the works?

Alvin Taylor:  I do.  I have a book being written as we talk.  We were thinking of calling the book, "From Drum Major To Major Drummer."  I was a Palm Springs High School drum major growing up.  I started all the high kicking stuff that you see back in the day.  But we're not tripping on the title, we're just getting the content involved right now.

Casey Chambers:  Good title for a book.  Let us know when it drops.  Well,  I know we've barely scratched the surface, but I wanna thank you for taking the time to share a few stories with us.  And for the great music.

Alvin Taylor:  Well, it's a privilege. It's a pleasure. And it's an honor.  And I would not want to close without giving thanks to Big Papa.  The people who discovered me.  Frank Sinatra, may he rest in peace.  Billy Preston. Sammy Davis Jr.  May they rest in peace.  Little Richard.  And my friend Candy Hunter.  I thank them all for giving me my big break in the business.  And once again, thank you for allowing me to share.

"This Song" - George Harrison / "Thirty-Three & 1/3" (1976)

Alvin Taylor Facebook

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Exceptional interview, Casey!
Thanks for introducing me to Alvin Taylor.