Whenever anyone I love is feeling especially gloomy, I have one very reasonable, reliable cure-all recommendation. It’s not exercise, or sex, or drugs, or comfort food. Simply this:
Download “Stout-Hearted Men” by Shooby Taylor
These are the joyful and uninhibited sounds of Shooby Taylor, the Human Horn. It’s my opinion that anyone who doesn’t at least crack a smile listening to this singular scat musician is probably beyond all hope and should be taken out behind the barn and humanely dispatched.
Born in 1929, William “Shooby” Taylor lived in Harlem for the majority of his life, toiling as a New York City postal worker for 21 years. From a 2002 article in the NYT:
[His music] can be difficult to digest. As he tries to approximate the sound of a saxophone solo with his voice, he hits sour notes. He spits out nonsense syllables like a machine gun, communicating in a private language nearly impossible to imitate. And he rarely meshes with his background music, whether it is the skating-rink organ in ”Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” songs by the country singer Christy Lane or Mozart.
…In homage to his hero Babs Gonzales, who died in 1980, Mr. Taylor began honing his scat stylings in the mid-1950’s after serving in the Army. After his shift at the post office ended at midnight, he frequented jam sessions at Manhattan clubs, but most musicians shunned him.
For decades, Shooby persisted in following his dream, enduring endless ridicule and rejection. One day in the early 1980s, he walked into a vanity-press recording studio called Angel Sound. Located in sleezy, pre-Disneyfied Times Square, the studio had seen its share of feisty characters. Shooby proved one of the most memorable, laying down 14 smokin’ vocalese tracks ranging from jazz to country to show tunes to… unclassifiable…
Recently, footage of Shooby’s only known television appearance (on Night at the Apollo) has surfaced. Shooby is booed from the stage mere moments after he begins to sing. It’s heartbreaking to watch. I won’t link to it here, but you can find it easily enough online.
Angel Sound engineer Craig Bradley remembers Shooby as being “eccentric and boisterous and [having] a great personality. He really enjoyed what he was doing, but he took it seriously: it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek for him at all.” Bradley loved Shooby’s style so much, he transferred the 14 songs onto cassette. After taking a job in 1989 at the honorable WFMU alternative radio station in Jersey City, Bradley passed copies of the tape around. The songs quickly became popular on WFMU playlists and among bootleg swappers.
For years, no one knew where Shooby Taylor was, or even if he was still alive. In the late ’90s, around the same time I first discovered him (through outsider music scholar, Irwin Chusid, author of the excellent book Songs In the Key of Z), a website called www.shooby.com went up. Admin Andy Mardeisch asked the same question so many of us were wondering: “WHERE’S SHOOBY?”
Rick Goetz, a senior director for artists and repertory at Elektra, was finally able to answer that question in 2002. After calling every single William Taylor in the five boroughs, he finally reacher a William Taylor Jr. listed in the Manhattan phone book. Shooby was his dad. It turned out the Human Horn was alive, but very ill, living in a nursing home, and completely unaware that he had a cult following. Chusid and Goetz arranged to visit the ailing musician, and informed him that he was indeed “a little bit famous” after all.
A very happy Shooby during his 73rd birthday party, held at Newark Extended Care Facility, 2002. Photo © Irwin Chusid. Chusid has published an extensive journal about his time with Shooby, read it here.
So it was, at the very end of his life, after decades of rejection, the Scat-Man finally received vindication. He passed away on this very day back in 2003.
A proper release of Shooby’s music (including some never-before-heard songs from William Taylor Jr.’s collection) has been in the works for years, but copyright issues are delaying it. Meanwhile, you can download most of his music onwww.shooby.com.
Play it for your friends, play it when you’re blue, and in the immortal words of Shooby Taylor: “Bim, soo-dee-lee dee-dah-lah-bay oo-dayt, dayt, dwee-bay-doo!