Taylored In Silk, Johnnie Taylor's seventh album, marked a turning point in the veteran vocalist's career. Unlike his earlier recordings for SAR, Derby and Stax, the 1973 album brought out the mellower side of Taylor's singing style. He'd become famous for the way in which he'd punched the lyrics of earlier hits as I Got To Love Somebody's Baby, Who's Making Love and Testify (I Wonna). When freed from the blues and sockin' soul that had constituted much of his previous secular repertoire, he emerged as a balladeer of the first order. In this new, more relaxed setting, fashioned by producer Don Davis, Taylor was better able to focus on the effortlessly gliding elasticity that had been a hallmark of his mid-50s to early-60s gospel sides with the Highway QC's and the Soul Stirrers.
Davis had never heard of Taylor when Al Bell asked him to produce the singer, but was impressed after listening to some of his earlier discs. "I felt he was really singing this gospel style which I couldn't find in Detroit" the producer recalled. "So I started laying down some tracks. I think the basic difference from what Johnnie had been doing with Isaac Hayes and David Porter producing him was they kept him in a very dark blues bag. I put a little beat with him and sped him up some. The first record I did was Who's Making Love. When it came out, it overpowered everybody. It was close to two million, the biggest record Stax had ever had.
By the early 70s, Davis had reverted to making records in increments, much as he had done earlier in Detroit. Taylored In Silk exemplifies this process. With the exception of Cheaper To Keep Her, where the rhythm section was recorded in Memphis, and Talk To Me, recorded in Detroit, the basic tracks were cut in Muscle Shoals, then taken to Detroit for horn, string and background vocal sweetening before Taylor's vocals were added, usually in Dallas. The album yielded three hits: I Believe In You (You Believe In Me), Cheaper To Keep Her and We're Getting Careless With Our Love.
Super Taylor was Johnnie Taylor's final LP for Stax (featured here with three additional tracks, two also produced by Don Davis). Don't You Fool With My Soul Parts (1 & 2) was produced by Taylor and recorded in Hollywood with a large band under the direction of veteran studio ace Harold Battiste and with a background vocal group led by Julia Tillman.
The Davis-produced selections had their rhythm section cut in Muscle Shoals, the horns in Memphis, strings and background vocals in Detroit, and Taylor's leads perhaps in Dallas. Davis' productions were pieced together a bit at a time. Expense vouchers show him and keyboard player/rhythm arranger Rudy Robinson flying from city to city, in once case cutting basic tracks for Taylor, Little Milton, Carla Thomas, the Mad Lads, and jazz flautist Frank Wess during a four-day stay in Muscle Shoals. Through this production-line process, Davis was able to give Taylor's Southern soul sound a Motown-like gloss that proved immensely popular.
As Davis once told Record World, "Hits are not made by one person, and sometimes you need some outside help". With Davis' expert help, Johnnie Taylor scored three chart hits from Super Taylor: It's September, I've Been Born Again and Try Me Tonight, but every track is a prime slice of one of the most convincing soul men ever to wrap his voice around a song.
Johnnie Taylor died at home in Detroit on 31 May 2000 after a heart attack.
By Lee Hildebrand