Sam Taylor: Blues man who provided the whistling on 'Dock of the Bay'

Pierre Perrone
Monday 16 February 2009 01:00 GMT

When the soul singer Otis Redding died in a plane crash in December 1967, he had already recorded "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" with the help of the producer and guitarist Steve Cropper, the song's co-writer. After Redding's death, Cropper had a difficult time doing the final mix of the track, briefly thought about asking the Staple Singers to add a gospel touch, but eventually settled on seagulls from a sound-effects record and the whistling of Sam "Bluzman" Taylor at the end. Three months' later, the evocative single topped the US charts and became Redding's posthumous signature song.

A noted singer-songwriter and guitarist, Taylor had been Redding's bandleader and had worked with many other R&B acts of the Fifties and Sixties, among them Sam and Dave, The Drifters, the Isley Brothers, as well as Joey Dee & The Starliters, one of the first racially integrated bands in the US. He also mentored the funk group BT Express and wrote "Everything Good To You (Ain't Always Good For You)" on their best-selling debut album, Do It ('Til You're Satisfied) in 1974, and has been sampled by rap acts EPMD, Ma$e and DMX.

Taylor recorded 10 solo albums in the blues genre, showcasing his soulful vocals and stinging guitar playing, including I Came from the Dirt (1999), Voice of the Blues (2004) and Portrait: The Funky Side Of Sam (2006). "People think 'cause you say the blues, the music is going to be something that makes you feel bad. Nah. The blues takes your blues away," he said. "It lets you know there is someone out there going through the same things you are. It's a music of feeling. It can't cure your ills, but you'll leave feeling better. I promise you that."

Born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934, Taylor grew up in a musical family, surrounded by relatives involved in minstrel and vaudeville shows; by the time he was three years old, he was singing gospel in church. He moved to Brooklyn, New York, in his early teens and later spent five years on a US Air Force base on Long Island. He was a keen boxer but, after leaving the service in 1957, decided to pursue a career in music. Taylor backed the soul singer Maxine Brown when she played the Apollo in 1959, and travelled to the UK when the Starliters' novelty number "Peppermint Twist" made the British charts in 1962. The following year, they shared the bill with the Beatles on a European tour. When Taylor left the Starliters in 1964, he was gracious enough to suggest a young Jimi Hendrix as his replacement.

In the Seventies, he moved to Santa Monica, California, and then Tucson, Arizona, where he overcame his drug addiction and began concentrating on playing the blues. In the mid-Nineties, he went back to Long Island and carried on gigging, coming to Europe on a couple of occasions, and also hosted the Blues With A Feeling radio show on WUSB. Taylor always wore a sailor's cap and was planning to publish an autobiography entitled Caught In The Jaws Of The Blues.

Sam Taylor, singer, songwriter, guitarist: born Mobile, Alabama 25 October 1934; married (three daughters, two sons, one son deceased); died Islandia, New York 5 January 2009.

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