10, 2002, Sunday - NEW JERSEY WEEKLY DESK
Travels of Shooby Taylor
By MARC FERRIS
LOVE it or loathe it, the bizarre
scat singing of William (Shooby) Taylor, who named himself the
Human Horn, is hard to forget.
can also be difficult to digest. As he tries to approximate the
sound of a saxophone solo with his voice, he hits sour notes.
He spits out nonsense syllables like a machine gun, communicating
in a private language nearly impossible to imitate. And he rarely
meshes with his background music, whether it is the skating-rink
organ in ''Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing,'' songs by the country
singer Christy Lane or Mozart.
who seek out music that swims against the mainstream have been
entranced by his originality -- even as they have been mystified
by how little was known about the man himself. Indeed, for years,
fans were unsure whether he was alive or dead.
who lived in Harlem most of his life, could have used the encouragement
of such fans in his early years. In homage to his hero Babs Gonzales,
who died in 1980, Mr. Taylor began honing his scat stylings in
the mid-1950's after serving in the Army. After his shift at
the post office ended at midnight, he frequented jam sessions
at Manhattan clubs, but most musicians shunned him.
negative feedback, he persevered.
In the early
1980's, Mr. Taylor recorded dozens of tracks at Angel Sound,
a walk-in studio then in Times Square and now on West 57th Street.
was just bedlam and wackiness,'' said Craig Bradley, an engineer
at the studio who enjoyed Mr. Taylor's music so much that he
transferred 14 songs onto cassette.
''We had a
lot of characters come in, and Shooby was one of the tops,''
Mr. Bradley said. ''He was eccentric and boisterous and had a
great personality. He really enjoyed what he was doing, but he
took it seriously; it wasn't tongue-in-cheek for him at all.''
passed copies of the Shooby tape around after he took a job in
1989 at WFMU-FM, an alternative music station in Jersey City.
''I had listened
to the station before I worked there and figured they would love
something like that,'' he said. ''What else could I do with it?''
host of the ''Incorrect Music Hour,'' often broadcast Mr. Taylor's
songs. Despite Mr. Taylor's lack of polish, or because of it,
his recordings spread around the world, and his fan base broadened
along with expansion of the Internet.
The lack of
information about Mr. Taylor vexed fans. Andy Mardesich, who
lives in San Francisco, created a Web site, www.shooby.com, in
1997 and dedicated it to one simple quest: ''Where's Shooby?''
''When I first
heard the tape, I said, 'I've got to find this guy,' '' Mr. Mardesich
said. ''Someone sent me an e-mail and said he was sure that Shooby
was dead. I thought: 'Give me the proof. Where's the proof?'
In his book
''Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music''
(A Capella, 2000), Mr. Chusid included a chapter about Mr. Taylor
based on the existing evidence. He concluded that Mr. Taylor's
whereabouts were unknown.
As it turned
out, the object of the search, oblivious to his cult following,
was alive, though not well.
In 1992, looking
for a change, he had moved from Harlem to an apartment in Newark,
15 minutes from WFMU's broadcast studios. He had a stroke two
years later and lost the ability to perform. He then shuttled
between his apartment, a nursing home and the Veterans Administration
Hospital in East Orange. A few years ago he had a mild heart
attack, and he undergoes kidney dialysis treatment three times
July, Mr. Taylor got a call bringing the vindication he had always
It came from
Rick Goetz, senior director for artists and repertory at Elektra
Records, who had been introduced to Mr. Taylor's version of ''Lift
Every Voice and Sing'' earlier in the year by a friend.
''I had to
meet the man who would make such sounds,'' he said.
So he started
making calls. The William Taylors in Brooklyn and the Bronx yielded
nothing. Hugh McCarten, who had also worked at Angel Sound, remembered
that Mr. Taylor had lived in Harlem. Mr. Goetz hit pay dirt in
the Manhattan phonebook: a listing for Mr. Taylor's son, William
H. Taylor Jr.
On July 30,
a message was posted in red on www.shooby.com: ''Shooby Taylor
has been found.''
had been in contact with Mr. Chusid throughout his search and
the two set up a meeting with Mr. Taylor.
first went to the nursing home, they took along a video camera,
a digital audio tape deck and a boom box to play Mr. Taylor his
music on CD.
wouldn't let us bring anything in, so we got him out on a pass
and went back to his apartment,'' Mr. Chusid said. ''There were
a lot of tapes lying around, some water-damaged, others sitting
on top of a ventilation duct.''
Mr. Taylor appeared on WFMU, fielding calls from fans and previewing
some of the newly discovered material. On Sept. 19, his 73rd
birthday, people from the station delivered 30 cards to him from
fans around the world.
Like any musician
striving to reach an audience, Mr. Taylor is eager to release
his music on CD.
and me, we're a team,'' he said. ''The only thing I have to do
is get better.''
who is Mr. Taylor's de facto liaison to the outside world, has
posted a detailed journal of his meetings with Mr. Taylor on
his Web site (www.keyofz.com).
has transferred most of Mr. Taylor's tapes into digital format
and plans to release at least some songs, although copyright
snags will probably prevent most of the material from being released,
since Mr. Taylor scatted over commercial recordings.
a way of getting this to people, but I haven't figured out how,''
Mr. Goetz said. ''It won't be for Elektra. This is for fun, not
work, but I intend to help find an independent and sympathetic
will never hit the top 10, of course, but listeners attuned to
off-kilter musical frequencies will probably be receptive to
no other kind of music in the world,'' Mr. Chusid said. ''It
may seem to be incompetent and it may be laughable, but it has
an identity and a palpable sense of joy. Shooby is so absurd
it's impossible to be depressed and listen to his music.''
Text above is © 2002
THE NEW YORK TIMES