. .

with Shooby Taylor
The Human Horn
. .

Sunday afternoon, July 28, 2002, at his apartment, Newark, NJ
Interview conducted by Irwin Chusid
Rick Goetz
videotaped the interview
Transcribed by Dawn Eden

Irwin Chusid: Time for a drink.

Shooby Taylor: Well, I don't have no sodas, and I don't drink alcohol no more.

IC: Did you drink alcohol?

Shooby: Yes.

IC: A lot?

Shooby: Yes. A lot.

IC: Did you hang out with musicians?

Shooby: Sometimes. A lot of times they wouldn't let me sing, and I had to go other places. I had to go downtown. Not all the musicians, but I had my share of it. Being put down and all that kinda stuff.

IC: Did anybody ever encourage you?

Shooby: Yeah. Like one musician, an organ player, he told me I am an artist, all that kind of stuff. I had some compliments, yeah.

IC: So when you made the recordings, you paid for them right out of your pocket?

Shooby: That's right!

IC: How much were you paying per hour at Angel Sound?

Shooby: About over $30 an hour.

IC: Did they give you an open-reel tape when you were done?

Shooby: I had an open-reel tape and everything. I got the tapes, but they might be messed up.

IC: What's the "H" stand for in "William H. Taylor"?

Shooby: "H" stands for my grandfather, whose name was Harold. I didn't know my grandfather personally when I was a kid. I don't remember him.

Rick Goetz: Where and when were you born?

Shooby: I was born in Pennsylvania, a town called Indiana Township. I don't know anything about Pennsylvania, because I think my mother and father -- the reason why I say "think" my father and mother brought me here, because my father died when I was a youngster. He died when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I don't know him. So I asked my mother one time, "Where was I born at?" She told me, "You were born in Pennsylvania, but we brought you here to New York when you was 18 months old." So I'm a full-fledged New Yorker. I only moved to Newark ten years ago, and that was when I was 62. Now I'm 72. But basically I'm a New Yorker.

IC: Where'd you go to school?

Shooby: I didn't go very high in school, and I'm not ashamed of it. I only went to first year of high school, because, when I was a kid, I used to stutter a lot, and I was self-conscious of my stuttering. That was the only reason why I stopped going to school, because I was so self-conscious of my speech. I stuttered so bad. But I always kept going to school, but I just don't have no diploma. But, thank God, I did always work. Before I worked for the Post Office, I had a lot of jobs. I worked in hospitals, I worked in theaters off 42nd Street, I worked in restaurants, oh man, I worked in factories. So, what helped me and I made it with the help of Jesus Christ, I made it through work.

IC: Were you listening to music when you were a kid?

Shooby: Yeah.

IC: Who were your favorites?

Shooby: Everybody, because I didn't pick up on the scat, not until Babs Gonzales. I picked up on Babs in the '40s. So I listened to music before the '40s -- Duke Ellington, all that kind of stuff.

IC: Fletcher Henderson?

Shooby: Yeah, well

IC: Fats Waller?

Shooby: Fats Waller, all those cats.

IC: Louis Jordan?

Shooby: Yeah! I used to go to the Apollo to see Louis Jordan. Yeah. Louis Jordan, Andy Kirk, Lucky Millinder, Erskine Hawkins

IC: Ben Webster?

Shooby: Ben Webster, Tiny Bradshaw, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, all those beautiful, wonderful people. I listened to, and sometimes tried to copy off them. When I latched on to Miles Davis, I was so intrigued by Miles Davis, I used to dress like he dressed.

IC: What Miles Davis period was that? He's gone through so many changes. When he first started out?

Shooby: No, I'm talking about the '50s and the '60s. Because Miles changed up, he went into funk and all that

IC: Porgy and Bess maybe?

Shooby: Yeah. But the '50s and '40s --

IC: Birth of the Cool? 'Round Midnight?

Shooby: Yeah.

IC: Do you like Monk?

Shooby: Not too much, becausesome things I like, but not everything.

IC: How about Billie Holiday?

Shooby: Billie Holiday was a great, great singer. A tragedy.

IC: How about Sarah Vaughn?

Shooby: Sarah Vaughn, the Divine One. Excellent. She was the Divine One.

IC: Dakota Staton?

Shooby: I don't have nothin' by her.

IC: Ella?

Shooby: I heard something by Ella Fitzgerald before you fellas came to my apartment. Ella is the Queen of Scat. I'm the King of Scat.

IC: Someone's gotta be the King. It might as well be you.

Shooby: It might as well be me, because I paid my dues.

IC: You were born William Taylor. Where'd the "Shooby" come from? When and where?

Shooby: All right. That's a good question, because I love that name. And the reason how I got that name, Dizzy Gillespie was appearing at Birdland on Broadway. That used to be when Birdland had a club on 46th Street or 47th Street. I went to the club one day and Dizzy Gillespie was appearing there. I went downstairs -- you see, when you go down to the Birdland, you used to walk downstairs -- they said, "Can I help you?" I said, "I'd like to speak to Mr. Gillespie." They said, "Wait right here, I'll get him." "Thank you." So Mr. Gillespie came up, and I said, "Mr. Gillespie, can I use the name 'Shooby'?" He looked at me, and he smiled. He said, "Yeah! Go ahead. Right on." And that's how I got the name "Shooby." Because I love the name.

IC: So you made it up. And Dizzy just sort of gave you his benediction?

Shooby: He gave me his benediction. He gave me his blessing. And, well, to make a long story short, I am Shooby.

IC: The King.

Shooby: The King of Scat.

IC: Who named you "The Human Horn"?

Shooby: I named myself.

IC: At the same time or a little later?

Shooby: Before.

IC: Now, this came about because you heard sounds in your head, and you thought you should express them through a saxophone, right? But that didn't work. Tell us about that.

Shooby: When I first got out of the service, in '55, I enrolled in Hartnett Music Studios. They had a school on 8th Avenue between 49th Street and, I think, 48th Street, around that area. I enrolled in there and I wanted to play the saxophone, because I thought the ideas that I got in my head, I was supposed to express that through an instrument, through a horn. But later, after years of aggravation and hard work, and lugging that horn around, I came to realize that I'm the horn. Because when I first bought my horn, I bought it from 48th Street between 7th Avenue and 6th Avenue, they had a lot of instrument [shops] around there. So what I did, I contacted a local musician. I heard him playing at Small's Paradise in Harlem. And I approached him, and said, "Would you, on your day off, would you come with me and buy a horn? Because I'm going to a school for music and I want somebody who can know whether I'm getting a good horn or not." He said, "Yeah. Come by my house at such-and-such a time, and I'll go down with you." So the guy was true to his word. I went by his house, we went downtown, and he practiced on the horn [imitates horn sounds]. He said, "Yeah, this one's good." I said, "How much?" The guy says, "$100." I said, "Yeah, well" The musician says, "It's good for $100." So that's why I bought my horn.

But through all the aggravation of studying -- because, when I went to music school, my minor was voice and my major was the horn -- the saxophone. One time, my voice teacher at the studio, she heard me scatting with the fellas, and she called me in her office, and she said, "Shooby. You gonna ruin your voice -- you scatting like that and trying to sing." So I had a decision to make: whether to stop scatting and just sing [sings feebly], or whether to go with the scat.
I thought about that, maybe for one day or a couple of hours. And I went back to her, and I says, "My decision is to scat." And the reason why is because I can express myself better. I can express myself more fully when I scat.

IC: When you were performing, you went to clubs in New York in the '70s and '80s to perform?

Shooby: Yeah.

IC: What clubs?

Shooby: Oh, different clubs, man. But, listen, it wasn't easy for me. I didn't go on the regular bill. I went on jam session night. That's when you walk in. It could be Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, every night except Friday night. I used to go to them. The reason why: so I can get heard! Nobody wanted to bill me at a club, because they didn't know me. So I had to build myself up by making jam sessions, so musicians would get to know about me. "Hey, this guy -- he's all right." So that's what I was trying to do, build a name for myself.

IC: So you went around to the clubs and they let you sit in on open mic night, or at jam sessions?

Shooby: Not right away. I was put down a lot of times. Put down.

IC: Name names. Time to settle scores, Shooby!

Shooby: No, no, no, no.

IC: Gonna be graceful, huh?

Shooby: I can't remember the names. [laughs] I'm not the only one who pays dues here. Everybody pays dues. Someone would tell me, "Hey, you only paying your dues." So I paid my dues.

IC: Did you ever actually jam with musicians, or only with the recordings?

Shooby:  With musicians, on jam session night -- when they would let me sing.

IC: So they'd say, for instance, "Take it, Shooby!" And you'd do 32 bars?

Shooby: Yeah. If they let me. A lot of times, they would let me. A lot of times, I got put down.

IC: How did you feel about that? Did you feel like you were misunderstood?

Shooby: I felt bad. I felt lonely. I felt like they didn't give me a chance. But I kept at it, until I got to the point that I started making records. I said, "Well, if they won't let me sing with them, I'll make records so I can sell 'em out to record companies and pass it out to people." That's one way to make it.

IC: When they rejected you, when they didn't want you to play with them, did you think at any time that maybe you weren't that talented, that you didn't have the chops, that maybe they were right? Or were you convinced that you were talented and they just didn't understand you?

Shooby: I didn't give up. A lot of times, they didn't give me a chance. Not everybody. Put this in perspective. Not everybody. But a lot of cats gave me a hard time. Not all of them. But most of 'em gave me a hard time.

IC: How do you feel about being rediscovered?

Shooby: Great.

IC: Shooby, thank you very much.

Shooby: Oh, thank you fellas. Thank you for coming to the nursing home, because I was lying there, hoping you would come.

Rick Goetz: Our pleasure, Mr. Taylor, for sure.

Sunday afternoon, August 11, 2002, at Newark Extended Care, Newark, NJ
Interview conducted by Irwin Chusid
Jeff Winner
also in attendance

Shooby: I used to leave Harlem, go look for work. I looked for work at that time as a delivery man on a bike, and I worked as a messenger, as a grocery man, I did that so I could feed myself. Because my mother, she had a good idea. She said, "You can stay here, but I'm not gonna feed you." All right, mom. So I had to feed myself. That means I had to look for work. I did the best of my ability, because I only had one year of high school, and at that time, there wasn't no computers. There was work -- if you wanted to work. And I wanted to work. So I did that, a grocery man, and then I would come back to Harlem after I'd made my money, and eat.  

And then I learned about the Post Office. They had a job for a janitor. I'm not proud. I'll take any kind of job. If you were a veteran, you got 10 percent [added to] your [test] score.  I was right up there in the category, so I took [the test], I passed it, but I had to tell the Post Office that I got arrested one time. I got arrested because one time I worked for the U.S. a U.S. government agency, not the Post Office, it was another people. I didn't tell them. They asked me, "Were you ever arrested?" I had just came out of the service. I was staying with my mother. I didn't want to stay with my mother, I wanted to get my own place. So that's the reason why I lied, and I said, "No, I wasn't arrested." Six months later, the same lady called me in her office. She said, "Taylor, don't you remember I asked you whether you was arrested? And you were arrested, because we dug up your record and find out." They was gonna let me go. The U.S. it was a hospital. The U.S. something.

IC: Not the VA.

Shooby: No. I tried to get in the VA one time.

IC: In New York?

Shooby: It was in Kingsbridge, in the Bronx. I tried, but they said no. They told me, "You're better off at the Post Office." So I thanked them and I stayed with the Post Office.
So, anyway, to get back to these people, they was gonna let me go. I was a good worker, so I told them why I lied. I just came out the service, I was staying with my mother, I was taking care of my son. My son wasn't with me, but I used to give support. He never stayed with me, but I supported him and did what's right. I made some mistakes, because he wasn't under my roof. It means a lot when your son is down under your roof. [When] you have to travel to see him, it's an ordeal.

IC: You were married then, right?

Shooby: I was married.

IC: You were 17 when your son was born?

Shooby: Yeah, but it was a shotgun marriage. I didn't marry for love. I married because our parents had worked out something -- get married and you can have the marriage annulled in six months, or something like that. But I didn't go along with it. After the marriage was for about a year, I got grounds for divorce.

IC: With "Peaches," right?

Shooby: Yeah, "Peaches."

IC: What was her real name?

Shooby: Sadie Taylor.

IC: What was her name before she got married?

Shooby: Sadie Green.
So the lady said, "Hey, Taylor, we gonna let you go, because we asked you point-blank " But after I explained myself, I told her I was a disabled veteran going to school under the GI Bill of Rights, working at this hospital as a pot-washer [laughs], and I told her this and that, and they decided to have compassion on me and not to let me go. I learned a lesson from this. So when a janitor job came through, I learned from the U.S. hospital to tell the truth right away. I wrote a letter to the Post Office, I said I was arrested, and the arrest was not a felony, it was a misdemeanor. All this talk about a misdemeanor!

IC: What was your disability in the Army?

Shooby: I had no disability.

IC: You said you were a disabled veteran.

Shooby: My feet. Bad feet.

IC: Tell us how you started scatting.

Shooby: I started scattin', I used to copy off Babs Gonzales. You see, Babs Gonzales was my idol. He used to call himself "Babs: Three Bips and a Bop." And I used to follow his records. So what I did, when I jumped to music school, I put Babs aside, because voice was my minor and the saxophone was my major.

IC: Where was this?

Shooby: The Hartnett National Music School, on 8th Avenue near 48th Street or 49th Street. I don't know whether the school is still there. A lot of good musicians went there. The fellow who used to play for oh, man, he was very good, and he played piano, he was very serious, because I don't know whether he went under the GI Bill or he had to pay no playin' around, he was there to learn his thing. But we guys, we got paid under the GI Bill.    

But I loved the horn! So, one time, my voice music teacher, she was at the studio and she heard me jamming with the fellas with my voice. And she called me in her room, and said, "Shooby, you shouldn't scat like that with your voice, because it will ruin your voice." See, my voice was a dramatic tenor. That was my voice -- dramatic tenor. You know, smoking.

IC: Were you a smoker? Marijuana?

Shooby: Yeah, I was a smoker for 20 years.

IC: You smoked marijuana for 20 years?

Shooby: No, no, no, no. I'm talkin' about smokin' cigarettes. I'm not talkin' about no part of nothing like that.

IC: Didn't do that?

Shooby: I did that, but I don't wanna go into that. I got 15 years' clean time, 15 years and seven, eight months clean time. I don't go to AA like I used to because AA is not my priority right now. My priority right now is serving God and doing the right thing.

So, anyway . where was I at?

IC: They said you were going to ruin your voice.

Shooby: Oh, yeah. She said, "Shooby, singing like that with the music, it's your real voice." So I had to make a decision. It was my decision whether to obey a full-fledged teacher on the GI Bill, and she knowed what she was talking about because she was teaching me music, voice. But I had to make a decision, and it was my  decision, and I made it [in] one day. I said, "Teacher, I'm going to still scat, because the reason I wanted to scat was that I can accomplish more musically with the scatting than I can with the do-re-mi." So, she accepted my decision and wished me well.

IC: How many different studios did you record at?

Shooby: This fellow mentioned Angel Sound, but there's another studio

IC: On 23rd Street?

Shooby: No. I recorded with him, but I forgot -- you know, because I suffered a stroke in '95. But what I went through now -- and what I'm going through here! And don't forget -- I went to the VA by ambulance on a Monday night. But they shipped me to another hospital -- what's that other hospital in Newark?

IC: Beth Israel?

Shooby: No. They did a number on me. They did work on me, they did something like a biopsy, a heart thing, they operated over here, they did something down here. And then I stayed there for two days, then they shipped me back to, uh uh

Hey -- how about playing my tape that you brought for me?

[Points to Walkman, which contains tape of Shooby with unidentified jazz organist.]

IC: That's you with Jimmy Smith?

Shooby: No, not with Jimmy Smith. With another organ player.

IC: I fixed this tape. It was broken. The little pad was missing. I took the little screws out, opened the shell, replaced the little bracket with the pad, and it plays perfectly now. This is the Mozart, Miles Davis and Ink Spots tape.

Shooby: Side one -- the organ player is a very good player.

IC: Freddie Drew?

Shooby: No. It's not Jimmy Smith, because Jimmy Smith is Number One out there on the organ.

IC: So it was Number Two or Number Three on the organ?

Shooby: Number Two or Three -- but he's very good.

IC: Richard "Groove" Holmes?

Shooby: Not Richard "Groove" Holmes. He was another guy who played at the but, anyway

[Found out later that the organist was Charles Earland. Meanwhile, the Ink Spots/Miles Davis/Mozart tape is put on the Walkman.]

IC: When you say, "You lied, you bitch!" [uttered at the beginning of tape before "You Were Only Fooling" by the Ink Spots] -- who were you talking to? Who lied?

Shooby: I'm talking to all the women who gave me a hard time when I used to be a fornicator. But I was a good fornicator, I was a good one. I gave them the money and everything, and that's why I say, "You bitch -- you lie!" Because they go to your apartment, they steal. So that's why I don't do that no more. I'm 72 now. Gee whiz, it's about time.

IC: You got in a lot of trouble, huh?

Shooby: Well, after I talked to them and find out their ways and don't do that no more, and if I'm still doing this thing, they -- one of them, she was nice, but she got in an accident. Somebody told me she got with a bulldagger, and got her throat cut. Gee whiz, wow!

IC: That doesn't sound like an accident to me.

Shooby: I tried to go to the funeral and everything. And I'm a newcomer around here. But I couldn't do it. People wouldn't connect with me to give me the address so I could make it to the funeral.

[Lull in conversation while tape plays, Shooby listening under headphones.]

IC: Sounds good?

Shooby: Beautiful.

IC: It's like oxygen to you, isn't it?

Shooby: Yeah yeah.

© Irwin Chusid




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