Lewis Taylor is funky. Lewis Taylor is white. Guess that about covers the major criteria.
Click here to hear “Lucky,” which should suffice for the purposes of our topic. But it bears mentioning that funky is only one of many things Lewis Taylor is.
This gifted Brit multi-instrumentalist has been referred to as his generation’s great undiscovered soul man. While the frequent Marvin Gaye comparisons are apt – Lewis often crafts intimate, urgent soundscapes evocative of Marvin’s more personal works (think “Trouble Man” or “Here, My Dear”) – equally legitimate are comparisons to Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Syd Barrett and Radiohead.
He has covered the compositions of Stevie Wonder, David Sylvian, Deep Purple, Thom Bell & Linda Creed, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Buckley with equal facility. He even offered his own reinterpretation of (about half of) Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica.”
Born Andrew Taylor (no relation to either Duran Duran or Mayberry R.F.D.), the artist who would be known as Lewis is a cult figure who should be king. From his mid-’80s beginnings as a guitarist with the Edgar Broughton Band to his late-’80s incarnation as a solo artist under the sobriquet “Captain Jack” (perhaps an early indication of his aversion to the spotlight) through his late-’90s, two-album tenure at Island Records, he crafted a musical identity of relentlessly ambitious scope.
Small wonder that the folks at Island, who didn’t know how to market him in the first place, gave up by 2000, at which point Lewis began releasing his work independently under his own Slow Reality imprint.
Along the way, his music reached the ears of his fellow artists, leaving a number of them awestruck. Among his admirers were David Bowie, Elton John (who once interrupted a television appearance to hold up Lewis’s CD and implore viewers to buy it), Aaliyah, Paul Weller, Chaka Khan and Daryl Hall.
Lewis’s work was said to have reduced Leon Ware to tears. And D’Angelo even “summoned” him to New York to discuss a possible collaboration.
I was first introduced to Lewis’s brilliance in 2005 by my good friend Kenny Farrall. (A Google search of “Lewis Taylor” will turn up some of Kenny’s music forum posts under the name Paligap). The timing was serendipitous, as HackTone Records had just released one of his albums in the U.S. and was preparing to release another – and with the accompanying promotional push came the announcement of Lewis’s first-ever U.S. concerts.
The first one was at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom on January 26, 2006, and Kenny and I drove up from D.C. to catch it. It was an evening of high energy witnessed by an overflow crowd of word-of-mouth insiders, some of whom had driven from as far away as Atlanta.
Sandwiched between his own material were covers by Yes, Rundgren, Buckley and Funkadelic (“Hit It and Quit It”). If Lewis appeared surprised when the crowd sang along to his entire setlist, he looked positively moved at the end of his encore when folks began shouting requests for other tunes from his catalog which he hadn’t even rehearsed.
And he proceeded to jam his way through several of them, calling out chord changes to his three sidemen. (Nobody got around to shouting out my personal favorite, the hauntingly beautiful “Cherry Blossom.” Click here to hear it. As with “Lucky,” all instruments and voices are his.)
All in all, it looked like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The next night, he appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” And then the wheels began to fall off.
An Atlanta gig was soon postponed (as was another one at the Troubadour in L.A.) then canceled. Then Lewis began his slow retreat to the background. He has since “retired” the Lewis Taylor persona, all the way down to shutting down a once-comprehensive fan site (which now reads: “closed up shop, due to mindless fuckwittery”).
I’ve tried to set any frustrations aside and bear in mind what our host, David Mills, told me back in the ‘90s regarding musical heroes who no longer deliver on demand: that in some cases, they’ve given what they came to give.
It’s probably more practical to appreciate what Lewis has given than to resort to Sly Stone comparisons. Lewis was last seen campaigning again as Andrew Taylor and (after a brief stint touring as bassist with Gnarls Barkley) playing second guitar with the Edgar Broughton Band.
And thus, the circle is closed – at least for now. The bottom line, however, remains the same: this is one badd ma-focka. And he funky, too.
– Larry Alexander