Vintage postcard, nr. 25.
British ‘Rebel Rocker’ Vince Taylor (1939-1991) was successful - especially in France - during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. His trademark was his black leather stage gear and his large Joan of Arc medallion. Taylor’s dynamic on-stage performances can be seen in several films. His reckless lifestyle including acid, speed, and alcohol, quickly took its toll. ‘The black demon of rock’ fell into obscurity, but later he became a cult hero and his 1958 B-side Brand New Cadillac is now a rock and roll classic.
Vince Taylor was born as Brian Maurice Holden in a London suburb in 1939. He spent his early life in Isleworth, Middlesex as the youngest of five children. In 1946, when he was seven years old, the Holdens emigrated to America and settled in New Jersey where his father took work in a coal mine. Around 1955, his sister, Sheila, married Joe Singer (the later Barbera, of cartoon moguls Hanna-Barbera). It was then decided that the whole family would move to California. Brian went to Hollywood High and studied radio and weather reports. He also took flying lessons and got his pilot license. At age 18, impressed by the music of Gene Vincent and Elvis Presley, Taylor began to sing, mostly at amateur gigs. He was good looking, got a great voice and for him the most important was to be able to sing. Barbera, his brother-in-law, became his manager. When Barbera went to London on business he asked Taylor to join him. In London, Taylor went to a coffee bar on Old Compton Street in Soho, The 2I's Coffee Bar, where Tommy Steele was playing. There he met drummer Tony Meehan (later of The Shadows) and bass player Tex Makins. They formed a band called The Play-Boys. After some changes, the final line-up of The Play-Boys was: Bobbie Clarke (drums), John Vance (bass), Alain Le Claire (piano) and Tony Harvey (guitar), who changed on an off with Bob Steel. Whilst looking at a packet of Pall Mall cigarettes he noticed the phrase, 'In hoc signo vinces', and decided that his new stage name would be Vince Taylor (Brian very much liked the actor Robert Taylor). His first singles for Parlophone, I Like Love and Right Behind You Baby, were released in 1958, followed several months later by Pledgin' My Love b/w Brand New Cadillac. Parlophone weren't very happy with the results of the records and decided to break the contract. Taylor moved to Palette Records and recorded I'll Be Your Hero b/w Jet Black Machine, which was released in 1960.
Vince Taylor’s unpredictable personality, although dynamic on stage, caused several arguments within the band, and The Playboys fired Taylor and changed their name to 'The Bobbie Clarke Noise'. The 'Noise' was contracted to play at the Olympia in Paris in July 1961. The top of the bill was Wee Willie Harris. Despite his sacking Taylor remained friendly with the band and he asked if he could come to Paris too. Here he dressed up for the sound check in his trade mark black leather stage gear, and added a chain around his neck with a Joan of Arc medallion, which he had bought on arrival at Calais. (According to Jacques Mercier on his website on Vince Taylor, Taylor had found the gear “walking through the streets of London, he stopped dead in front of a winter sports shop window, a model dressed in black leather from head to toe, caught his eye. He bought the whole kit and wore it the same night on stage, increasing the reactions and enthusiasm of the public.”) Reportedly he gave such an extraordinary performance at the sound check in Paris, that the organizers decided to put Taylor at the top of the bill for both shows. As a result of these two shows, Eddie Barclay signed him to a six-year record deal on the Barclay label. During 1961 and 1962, Taylor toured Europe with Clarke's band, once again called Vince Taylor and his Playboys. Between gigs they recorded several EP’s and an album of 20 songs, at Barclay Studios in Paris; these songs included covers of Sweet Little Sixteen and Long Tall Sally. He also performed in such films as Le quatrième sexe/The Fourth Sex (1961, Alphonse Gimeno), Paris je t'aime/Paris I Love You (1962, Guy Pérol) and Universo di notte/Universe of the Night (1962, Alessandro Jacovoni). By the end of 1962, Vince Taylor and The Playboys were the top of the bill at the Olympia, in Paris. Sylvie Vartan was the opening act. Despite of an on-stage rapport with The Playboys, the off-stage relationship faltered: as a result, the band once more broke up. Taylor played several engagements backed by the English band The Echoes (who also backed Gene Vincent whenever he played the UK), but he still presented the band as The Playboys.
In 1964, Vince Taylor released a new single Memphis Tennessee b/w A Shot of Rhythm and Blues on the Barclay label. A new highpoint was reached later that year when Taylor played as the opening act for The Rolling Stones on their first concert at the Olympia in Paris. Then things started to tumble into chaos as Taylor, his mind badly affected by a combination of drugs and alcohol, became increasingly erratic both on-stage and off. At an important concert in London Taylor declared he was the biblical prophet Matthew in front of a large audience. The band disbanded and Taylor joined a religious movement. Later, Clarke was involved in a comeback for his friend Taylor, a one month tour across France, billed as Vince Taylor and Bobbie Clarke backed by Les Rockers. More often than not, he was bafflingly incoherent and erratic on-stage. Eddie Barclay gave a new chance to Taylor who recorded again and performed intermittently throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, until his death. He also appeared in two films, Rebelote (1983, Jacques Richard) with Jean-Jacques Léaud, and the Belgian comedy Max (1984, Freddy Coppens). His song Brand New Cadillac has been covered by many other artists, such as The Renegades, The Shamrocks and The Clash on their 1979 album, London Calling. Taylor was a major source of inspiration in 1972 for Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, the ‘Leper Messiah.’ Known as the Black Leather Rebel, Taylor may have been the first rocker to dress in head-to-toe cowhide. To the late Joe Strummer of The Clash, he was the immaculate conception of British rock 'n' roll: "Before him there was nothing. He was a miracle." During his last years, Taylor lived in Switzerland and worked as an airplane mechanic. He purportedly said it was the happiest time of his life. At the age of 52, Vince Taylor died from cancer in 1991 in Lutry, Switzerland. He was buried in Lausanne, Switzerland. Taylor had a son, Ty Holden, who was in the indie band, Crown of Thorns, managed by Miles Copeland. Ty Holden is now a DJ on the London underground dance scene.
Sources: Jacques Mercier (iFrance), Steve Leggett (All Music), James Sullivan (Spinner), Dik de Heer (BlackCat Rockabilly), Wikipedia and IMDb.