R&B singer Johnnie Taylor, who stayed current for 40 years by moving from doo-wop to smooth soul to disco and then returning to his roots, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Dallas. He was 62.
Taylor’s career embraced gospel, pop, blues, R&B, doo-wop, Memphis soul and disco, earning him the title of the “Philosopher of Soul.” Vocally, his peer group included Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, though his sales figures never matched theirs.
His biggest hits were “Who’s Making Love” in 1968 and “Disco Lady,” a million seller that topped the charts for a month in 1976. It was also the first single ever to be certified platinum by the RIAA.
Johnnie Harrison Taylor was born in Crawfordsville, Ark. He made his first recording in the early 1950s as part of the Five Echoes, a doo-wop group that had one release on the Chance label in Chicago.
Taylor quickly turned to gospel music, joining the Highway QC’s to record “Somewhere to Lay My Head.” His voice bore a striking resemblance to that of Sam Cooke, who would handpick him as his successor in the Soul Stirrers in 1957.
Taylor made several recordings with the group before leaving to become a preacher. That career was short-lived as Cooke sought out Taylor to record for his new SAR label, for which he had a minor hit with “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” in 1962.
Following Cooke’s death in 1964, Taylor settled on Stax in Memphis.
While at Stax in 1967, Taylor recorded “Who’s Making Love,” which topped the R&B charts and reached No. 5 on the pop side. The record, released in November 1968, sold more than 2 million singles, establishing Taylor as one of the nation’s premier soul attractions.
Between 1968 and 1976, Taylor landed 11 records in the pop top 40 along with 30 singles on the R&B top 40. As Stax fell into financial disarray, Taylor moved to the Columbia label, waxing “Disco Lady.” He made one album for Beverly Glen Records before moving to Malaco Records in 1984 where he would record until his death.
His recordings at Malaco, which has been a haven for soul singers such as Bobby Bland, Little Milton and Z.Z. Hill, were among his biggest-selling albums and included “This Is Your Night,” “Good Love!,” which topped the blues chart in 1996, and “Gotta Get the Groove Back,” which was released in November.
Taylor is survived by his wife, Gerlean, and four adult children.