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Johnnie Taylor to be honored with Beale Street Brass Note

Crittenden County native had first platinum-certified record in 1977


Crittenden County native had first platinum-certified record in 1977


Younger music fans may not know the songs and the legacy of Johnnie Taylor, but he is considered a pillar of blues, R& B, soul and disco music by most industry experts and millions of fans.

Walker was born in 1934 in Crawfordsville, growing up in West Memphis. From there, he went on to become one of the best selling musicians of the 1960s and 1970s as part of a career that spanned nearly half a century.

Taylor got his start in music in Chicago, working for SAR Records with Sam Cooke. Following Cooke’s death in 1964, Taylor returned closer to home, joining up with Stax Records in Memphis. Beginning in 1966, Taylor had a string of hit records for Stax, whose other acts at the time included Booker T & The M.G.’s, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. Some of Taylor’s best-selling records of that era included “I Had a Dream,” “I’ve Got to Love Somebody’s Lady,” and “Who’s Making Love,” which hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968 and was certified gold.

“Gold” wouldn’t be good enough to reflect the sales of Taylor’s biggest hit, however, the 1976 smash hit “Disco Lady,” which went to No. 1 on the Hot 100 and stayed there for four weeks. The single, of of Taylor’s hit album “Eargasm,” sold two million copies, prompting the Recording Industry Association of America to create a new designation, the “platinum record” to mark the song’s performance.

During his years with Stax, Taylor was one of the top stars in R& B, with over a dozen charting singles in the 1970s, including “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone”, which reached No. 23 on the Hot 100 chart, “Cheaper to Keep Her” and “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)”, which was a top-10 hit and was also certified gold in 1973.

After Stax folded in 1975, Taylor switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded “Disco Lady” and several more successful albums and R& B single hits.

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 16year stint.

In 1996, Taylor’s eighth album for Malaco, Good Love!, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart. It was the biggest record in Malaco’s history.

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.

Taylor died of a heart attack at Charlton Methodist Hospital in Dallas, Texas, on May 31, 2000, at the age of 66. Upon news of his passing, Stax officials remembered Taylor as “The Philosopher of Soul”.

He was also known as “the Blues Wailer”.

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

In 2015 Taylor was inducted into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

In 2022, Taylor was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. His induction citation stated “Taylor liked to emphasize that he could sing more than blues, as indeed he amply proved when performing gospel and soul, but among African-American audiences, he reigned as the top headliner of his era at blues events.”

Next month, Taylor will receive another honor, with the installation of his Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame. The Brass Notes recognize some of the most important contributors to music, music history and culture.

His daughter, Fonda Bryant, recently shared some more information about her father.

“Johnnie Taylor made music history and black history by being the first-ever artist with a platinum record certified by the RIAA.,” she said proudly. “Plus, when Disco Lady became the first-ever platinum record, there was no streaming or downloading music. You had to get your butt off the couch and go to a record store.”

She also explained the delay with is Brass Note ceremony.

“He has an exhibit in the Stax Museum and 2022, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Now he is getting ready to receive a Brass Music Note on Beale Street that was supposed to be done in 2019, but between the dragging of feet and Covid, it has been delayed until now. It will finally be installed in April 2024. HBO is doing a four-part documentary on Stax Records later this year. I can’t wait to see it. My father should be all in it.”

Johnnie Taylor’s Brass Note, originally planned for installation on Beale Street before being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be mounted next month in Memphis, Tennessee.

Photos courtesy of Fonda Bryant

Crawfordsville native Johnnie Taylor during a reflective moment.

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